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Subject: Papyrus


From: Bridget Leach <bleach>
Date: Wednesday, July 2, 2003
It has been interesting to read the recent messages about papyrus
and methods for mounting it.

I was surprised to read Geoffrey Brown's comments on the
destructiveness of glass mounts as the method has been used at the
British Museum for over 200 years with reasonable success. I work on
the papyrus collection at the Museum and have examined and opened a
large number of glass mounts containing papyri and have never yet
had one that was stuck to the glass (unless it was done purposely!).
Also as regards fungal growth, I am sure this can occur if a mount
is stored in a very damp environment, but what Geoffrey Brown
describes as the "glass etched by fungus enzymes in a pattern
matching the papyrus" sounds very like salt bloom, not fungus. I
went into some detail about this bloom in a direct reply to Nicole
Gilroy's original enquiry about papyrus mounts:

    Dear Nicole,

    I saw your enquiry on the Distlist. I do have experience of
    mounting papyri here at the British Museum. The British Library
    have birch bark so maybe someone from there could advise you.

    We mount our papyri between glass plates. Over the years this
    has proved a good method. There is one disadvantage, and that is
    that over the years a bloom or haze will appear inside the mount
    on the glass. This will appear more quickly in an atmosphere of
    RH fluctuations but it still happens in very stable
    environments.This is caused by the salt contamination to which
    papyri, along with most other ancient Egyptian objects, are
    commonly affected, albeit to a greater or lesser degree. With
    papyri, in a very general way, they can be divided into the
    larger, well preserved funerary rolls found in tombs, to the
    more fragmentary material excavated from the soil. The excavated
    fragments are likely to have much more salt contamination. As
    yet, I personally have not found a way to inhibit the bloom, but
    it appears to have no detrimental effect on the mounted papyri.
    The mount may be opened and the bloom wiped away. Analyses of
    the bloom has found it to be sodium chloride.

    Having said all that it is a good method! We use 3mm plate glass
    to mount the fragments. (We use Rankens glass here in London,
    +44 207 729 4200, but I am sure you could find a supplier closer
    to home. Ask for the edges "arissed" for handling when ordering
    from a supplier or it will arrive with dangerously sharp edges,
    you don't actually need it polished though). The fragments are
    attached to the glass with a few tabs (toned Japanese paper)
    using wheat starch paste. We have found it very difficult to
    find a suitable tape to bind the edges. We have been using
    Tikkitape (basically a gaffer tape which passed the Oddy test)
    over a layer of 3M Scotch Magic Tape used to initially seal the
    glass together, but this is because we need a heavy duty tape
    for some of our papyri as they are very large and are handled a
    fair amount. Because I am not very confident about the 3M or the
    gaffer tape I have been inserting a strip of microchamber paper
    along the edges of the mount just in case of any off-gassing.
    *However*, if your glass mounts are not too large (ie 8" x 10"),
    and are not going to be subjected to too much handling, you
    could use Filmoplast T linen self adhesive tape.

    As for storage, the frames would ideally be stored horizontally
    in storage drawers of conservation specifications. However, if
    you cannot do this and have to stack them, do not stack too many
    together and interleave them with 3mm sheets of good high
    density plastazote. And of course, a stable temperature and RH
    are very important for collections of papyri.

    David Jacobs at the British Library has done some interesting
    work with anoxic environments and papyrus mounts

Niccolo Caldaro mentions a long search of the literature for
information on the preparation of papyrus for writing and there are
quite a few, not least a very informative article by Antoinette Owen
and Rachel Danzing written at the Brooklyn Museum (Journal of the
AIC Book and Paper Group, 1993). More recently I myself wrote a
chapter on Papyrus with Prof. John Tait of University College here
in London, where we attempted to provide a full bibliography of
papyrus articles as a result of our own difficulties in trying to
find information in the past. The chapter was published in "Ancient
Egyptian Materials and Technology" edited by Nicholson and Shaw,
Cambridge University Press, 2000. This may be of general interest as
it contains details of various conservation articles.

Bridget Leach
Conservator of Papyrus
British Museum
London WC1D 3DG

                  Conservation DistList Instance 17:9
                  Distributed: Thursday, July 3, 2003
                        Message Id: cdl-17-9-001
Received on Wednesday, 2 July, 2003

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