Cleaning a terracotta model of a house

The Roxie Walker Galleries of Egyptian Funerary Archaeology in The British Museum were opened in 1999. The gallery opening provided an opportunity for conservators to assess the condition and treat objects selected by curators for display.

This terracotta 'soul house' had acquired a fine layer of general museum dust, which had dulled its appearance. Conservators and the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan had agreed that the cleaning of artefacts should be kept to a minimum. Conservators needed to give careful consideration to the cleaning methods chosen: many Egyptian artefacts have pigments or traces of organic residues that are easily removed by cleaning processes. A 'dry' cleaning method was chosen to remove the dirt from this model. A special sponge made of vulcanised rubber was pressed and gently rolled against the terracotta: this action lifted the dirt from the surface. Loose crumbs of dirt and sponge were removed using a low suction vacuum cleaner. During cleaning, the surface was periodically examined under a microscope to ensure no damage or loss of surface was occurring.

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