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Behind the Scenes in Conservation: Repairing an Ancient Egyptian Jar

by Kelly Rectenwald, Associate Objects Conservator

10/12/2023

ancient egypt , ceramic jar , objects conservation , challenging repair , CAMConservation

In the Conservation Lab, we are working on this large ceramic jar from Dynasty I Egypt (3100–2900 BCE). The two very large fragments had been repaired at some point in the past, likely in the late 1800’s, but overtime the old adhesive failed, causing these fragments to become detached and separated from the piece.

There are several challenges when reattaching large fragments like these. One is their weight. Internal supports are required to hold the heavy fragments in place while the adhesive sets. Another challenge is the narrow opening of the jar. Once repaired, any rigid supports are difficult to remove through the opening. Our solution involved using a 24-inch balloon large enough to support the fragments while the adhesive set. It could then be deflated and removed through the jar’s narrow opening.

We are happy to report that the balloon support worked beautifully, and the fragments are now, once again, joined with the rest of the jar. Now that it is reassembled, the surface details are much more visible. My favorite thing when working on ancient ceramics is being able to see the makers hands preserved in the clay. Check out the close-up photo where you can see markings in the slip where the potter’s hands ran over the wheel-turned walls.