What a relief! A practical, inexpensive approach to the conservation of a large XIX Dynasty sandstone stela

Christina Krumrine and Lisa Kronthal


The authors recently conserved a XIX dynasty stela of Ramesses II from The Brooklyn Museum’s collection in preparation for its reinstallation in the newly-renovated West Wing Egyptian galleries. The sandstone stela was excavated in five large fragments and had been restored several times before The Brooklyn Museum acquired it. Assembled, the stela measures approximately five feet by three feet and weighs over three hundred pounds. A large part of the conservation treatment involved the reversal of old structural and cosmetic repairs which were both unstable and unsightly. The authors developed new, inexpensive and practical techniques to reassemble the heavy and cumbersome stone fragments.

These new techniques were first developed during the conservation treatment of a large limestone sarcophagus lid that had broken into two heavy pieces. The goal was to rely completely on doweling and gravity to join the heavy fragments rather than to employ commonly-used structural adhesives which are difficult to reverse. To achieve this, the dowels have to be perfectly parallel and fit snugly into absolutely aligned sleeves. Using basic materials that were readily available in the conservation lab, a simple rig was constructed to align the dowels and the sleeves.

The five heavy fragments of the stela, however, posed new challenges. Again, using materials readily available in the conservation lab, the authors developed a system that allowed the conservators to move and align the fragments easily without the aid of art handlers or expensive riggers. The authors refined the original dowelling rig so that it could be used to align multiple dowels along a single break edge. Because of the careful alignment of the seven dowels, no adhesive was needed. Riggers were only used once, to raise the stela into its upright position. After being placed in its display case, the authors filled losses along the break edges of the stela using a new fill material which was readily reversible in solvents and easy to apply, carve and inpaint.

With minimal adaptation and refinement, these inexpensive techniques can be employed in the treatment of even larger and heavier stone objects.

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1995 | St. Paul | Volume 3