Conserving a painted pottery group of cattle

This painted pottery group of cattle from el-Amra, Egypt has been in The British Museum's collections since 1901. In 1993, the model was wanted for display in the Museum's newly refurbished Early Egypt Gallery (Room 64). When examined, the model was found to be in a variable condition: some of the cow figures were loose or detached from the oval base while areas of the low-fired ceramic were delaminating (splitting into layers) and friable (crumbly). Restoration materials were similar to the pottery, making it difficult to determine what was original and what was not.

During microscopic examination of the model, red patches were seen on the cattle which appeared to be fibrous, perhaps a textile. Samples of this fibrous matter were sent to a Museum research scientist. The specialist confirmed that the substance was a finely woven, linen textile. This linen textile had not been mentioned in any earlier records. Its presence provoked several questions. Why was the textile there? Had the model been wrapped before being placed in the grave?

To conserve the group of cattle, the extraneous old restoration materials were removed. Fragments were positioned correctly and joined with a reversible adhesive. Missing areas were gap-filled using a soft filler which would not damage the low-fired ceramic. The fill was painted with acrylic resin to tone in with the original object. The base of the object was warped, and a silicon rubber mat was made which allowed the object sit evenly in the showcase.

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