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Conservation of an ancient Egyptian funerary stela

Funerary stela belonging to Nakhtmontu, 3rd century BC. RCIN 408372 ©

'I was looking at some excavations, which were going on behind the Memnonium; the Viceroy had been kind enough to give permission for them, and that everything that was found I might have; only a small mummy and a tablet were however found, which I took with me.’

The tablet described above by the Prince of Wales in his diary has been identified as the ancient Egyptian 3rd century BC wooden funerary stela, belonging to ‘Gods father and Prophet of Amun-Re, King of the Gods, Nakhtmontu, son of the High Priest of Amun, Nespautitawy’, shown here.

On his return to London, the Prince commissioned a carved gilt frame for the stela, which features Egyptian style motifs.

In order to bring this object to the exhibition, conservation work was first required since it had suffered structural as well as superficial damage and it was feared that further handling, moving and exhibiting without intervention would result in greater damage and loss.

It is probable that some of the damage was caused prior to the framing of the object. It is possible that during transport from Egypt to London, or during excavation, some structural damage was caused, since areas show old repairs of fragments which had been re-attached.

However, it is likely that much of the cracking and lifting of paint and gesso was caused by environmental changes: during its original burial the stela would have been in a stable dry environment and with its removal from this original environment changes in humidity and temperature would have resulted in the expansion and contraction of the wood, plaster and binder in the paint. It is likely that the stela remained untouched after it was framed in the late 19th century.

You can find out more about the conservation of this object for the exhibition on the conservation pages of our website.