Rediscovering Ancient Egypt: consideration of the legacy, ethics and aesthetics of previously restored Egyptian artefacts
De Bellaigue, Diana
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National Museums Scotland’s (NMS) new permanent Ancient Egypt gallery project at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh gave an opportunity for current conservators and curators to collaboratively assess and evaluate historic conservation and restoration treatments. Restoration had been an integral element in transforming archaeological fragments from Egypt into museum display objects in the UK, and restoration often went beyond the purposes of stabilisation and preservation to the point of obscuring or distorting original features. The evaluation of these earlier restorations informed treatment decisions and became one of the major challenges for conservators. Common overarching questions were applied in deciding the appropriate approach balanced against the principles of minimum intervention set out in NMS’s conservation policy and the time and resource limitations of a capital project. The process provided an important opportunity to review the collections’ history and to reassess the museum’s conservation and curatorial aims and values. This article examines some of the issues and challenges with dealing with previously restored ancient Egyptian collections through selected case studies from the project, involving gilded coffins, stone statuary, and smaller inlaid wood and faience items.