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  • Description

    Arched harp: with naviform soundbox (stringing restored). The underside of the soundbox is rounded and of one piece with the lower end of the neck. The sides of the soundbox are finely carved and at a steep angle; one of the sides is now badly damaged. The upper end of the soundbox is rectangular, the lower rounded and gently sloping, though the details are now damaged. The wedge-shaped suspension rod has four notches on the underside, unevenly spaced, for securing the strings. At the butt end, on the upper side, is a notch; the other end narrows to a point and fits into a socket on the inside of the rectangular shoulder of the soundbox.

    The gently arched neck is elliptical in section, except that the back has been carved flat to take the four pegs, which survive intact. On one side of the neck marks possibly left by the ancient strings are apparently angled towards the suspension rod. The underside of the neck is damaged.

    The soundbox and lower end of the neck are covered with skin, now hard and badly cracked. Above the soundbox the skin has been pierced to allow the correct positioning of the suspension rod. Towards the lower end of the instrument, eight holes have been burnt in the skin, in two rows of four, possibly for acoustic reasons. Underneath, the skin has been fastened with thongs, of which some traces survive; the thongs have been covered with a further strip of skin, perhaps originally glued into position. A decorative strip of skin, cut into diamond shapes, has been placed round the lower end of the neck.


  • Culture/period

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 113.6 centimetres (overall)
    • Width: 9.7 centimetres (soundbox)
  • Curator's comments

    Burton Sale Catalogue, (1836), pl. II, iii (lot. 246).

    Wilkinson, Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians I, (1878), p.466, 474, fig.240.2, p.483 n.5.

    'A Guide to the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Egyptian Rooms, and the Coptic Room' (1922), p. 211

    Manniche, Ancient Egyptian Musical Instruments, (1975), p.60.

    Anderson, Catalogue of Egyptian Antiquities III, Musical Instruments, (1976) p.78-80 (108), figs. 141-2.

    Lawergren, JEA 66 (1980), p.165ff.

    Manniche, Music and Musician, (1991), p.41, pl.4.

    J.H. Taylor & D. Antoine, Ancient lives, new discoveries, London 2014, p. 126.


  • Bibliography

    • Anderson 1976 108 bibliographic details
  • Location


  • Exhibition history

    2014, 22/5/-30/11. London. BM. Ancient Lives.

  • Condition

    fair (strings missing and skin cracked)

  • Conservation

    See treatments 

    Treatment date

    29 January 2014

    Reason for treatment

    Temporary Exhibition

    Treatment proposal

    Clean. Remount and relay and support leather


    A large proportion of the wooden sounding board, including the tip is later restoration. This has been painted an odd orangey colour, unliken the remainder of the wood. The strings also are replacements. The wood rod, on which the strings tie above the sound chamber, appears original. About 60% of the 'drumskin' on the sounding board is present, though this could be less as there are detached pieces of skin stuck on that may or may not belong. The skin is brittle, deformed, curled, fragile, cracked, with glue stains in areas. It is backed (at the end nearest the neck) with another piece of (what looks like) original skin, also very fragile. All skin pieces are attached with blobs of a robust clear adhesive that softens and dissolves in acetone (just conceivably Paraloid B72) sometimes with an interlayer of fabric.

    On the area of the surface of the sounding board, the skin is stuck to a shaped perspex 'support' (consisting of two pieces). The perspex was stuck to the wood board and is now coming away, not well attached.

    The decorative pierced leather collar on the neck is very fragile, with lifting and loose pieces. The wood appears to have faded in colour, this is evident when the strings are removed and a line of darker wood is seen. The wooden neck and rod both have been repaired in the past, the breaks joined with an evidently strong adhesive.

    The surface is dusty. the rod and strings have been mounted erroneously, with the rod angled away from the skin surface, so not touching this - how then would sound have been transmitted? The requirement was to lay the rod down closer to its original position if possible. With its present configuation, this is not possible if it is to fit into its internal hole near the neck.

    Treatment details

    Loose dirt was removed from the surface using a soft brush and a low-powered vacuum cleaner fitted with a flexible rubber hose.Further cleaned with Groomstick (modified natural rubber) gently rolled over the contaminated surface.

    Repaired lifting areas of skin, where these were loose, by backing with a layer or pulped 'ball' of Japanese kozo (mulberry fibre) paper, charged with Cellulose nitrate adhesive (HMG). Sometimes the paper was impregnated with the HMG, allowed to dry, then inserted behind break and reactivated using acetone applied by a paintbrush, then held in place to dry. The paper had been previously painted to a matching colour with acrylic paints. A piece of skin which had detached during treatment (near the hole where the rod is inserted) was reattached, first consolidating the friable areas of the break with a c2% solution of Paraloid B72 (ethyl methacrylate copolymer) in acetone, applied to the surface with a fine brush. 10% B72 was used as adhesive to butt-join the pieces along the break. The surface was further secured using a small patch of goldbeaters skin, adhered with approx 3% B72 in acetone.

    The stringing of the harp was undone, the rod separated out. Stringing mechanisms and other relevant curatorial and mounting decisions were discussed and taken in consultation with the curators (John Taylor and Marie Vandenbusch) and AES mounters Mark Haswell and Simon Prentice. New strings were put on (elastic thread Gutermann, 64% polyester, 36% polyurethane colour 1028).After knotting in position, the knots were further secured using a c2% concentration of B72 in acetone.

    The rod was re-inserted beneath the skin cover at a lower angle than previously, so touched the sounding board and looked more convincing as a musical instrument. To hold the rod in place at the neck end, a 'bridge' was built at the neck end of the wood sounding board, made of balsa wood and Japanese kozo paper (coloured to blend using acrylic colours and watercolours). This was put in beneath the skin and perspex. The rod was inserted into the hole and tied in place at the other end (using painted vegetable cordage) over a piece of coloured balsa wood and black plastazote (polyethylene foam) to get the angle right: i.e.close to the skin but not too close so as to cause damage.

    new stringing mechanisms were researched. the pattern followed was largely that of the publication JEA66 (1980) 'Reconstruction of a shoulder harp at the British Museum' by B. Lawegren.

    About these records 

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    formerly 6384. Burton sale, lot 246.

  • Department

    Ancient Egypt & Sudan

  • BM/Big number


  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • BS.6384 (Birch Slip Number)


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Object reference number: YCA11738

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