Building back better: A collaborative approach to reconstructing an Egyptian palace

Jessica Betz Abel and Julia Commander


The Penn Museum has a large collection of monumental architectural elements from the ceremonial palace of 19th Dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh Merenptah (reigned ca. 1213–1203 BCE). Elements from the Memphis site, including columns, doorways, and windows, were excavated for the Penn Museum by Clarence Fisher between 1915-1920 and transported to Philadelphia. A selection of the monumental objects were installed in the Museum for the opening of the Egyptian Galleries in 1926, while other elements remained in storage.

Beginning in 2019, a team of conservators at the Penn Museum established an off-site lab where treatment and reconstruction of many of these elements was addressed for the first time in over a hundred years. The ongoing work includes archival research and curatorial collaboration to better understand archaeological context, condition issues, and past interventions. Conservation treatment aims to stabilize fragments and address previous invasive reconstruction and installation efforts. In partnership with mountmakers, riggers, and engineers from the firm Simpson Gumpertz & Heger (SGH), the Penn Museum team is using recent advancements in the field to rebuild structures focusing on non-invasive and reversible techniques in combination with innovative mounting solutions to allow these monumental architectural fragments to be displayed in newly-designed Ancient Egypt and Nubia galleries.

2022 | Los Angeles | Volume 29