Looking After a 22nd Dynasty Egyptian Bead Net

7 minute read

Over the past few months, conservation work has been underway on an impressive 22nd Dynasty Egyptian bead net, composed of multicoloured faience beadwork largely on its original string.

A delicate Egyptian bead net is mounted on a white board.

Figure 1: The Egyptian bead net before its conservation treatment started. Egypt. 900 BCE. Collected by Horace J. Beck. Donated by Gundred Beck. MAA 1947.2604.

As a traditional funerary piece of Egypt’s Late Period, this would originally have laid atop a mummy’s wrappings and would have held the amuletic function of protecting and preparing the deceased for the afterlife. Interestingly, this example is special for its intricately detailed beaded frieze, which depicts a central beetle flanked by two djed-pillars on either side, as well as the figure of Anubis in his jackal form framing the scene (Friedman et al, 1998, 249). All three motifs form part of Ancient Egyptian religious symbolism. For example, the beetle represents the god of the morning sun, Khepri, who rolled the sun across the sky daily. By extension, themes of rebirth and regeneration became connected to beetle imagery, leading to its use in funerary contexts (Andrews, 1994, 51). Djed-pillars were similarly connected to Osiris, god of the dead, who despite dying was revived once more. Therefore, as the MET points out, this symbol represented permanence, often in spite of death. Lastly, the god Anubis was very commonly depicted as a jackal, and his role as the god of funerary practices explains his presence and positioning in this scene, overseeing this funerary preparatory process. The imagery depicted here is further clarified when compared to a similar bead net frieze from the Louvre, allowing an even greater appreciation for the detail and beauty present.

A collage of two bead nets. The one on top is in worse condition and partly torn, and the one at the bottom is in better condition.

Figure 2: Top – the beaded frieze of the bead net from Cambridge’s MAA. Bottom – the frieze from a different bead net, from the Louvre. Photograph: Friedman et al, 1998, 160.

Regarding the bead net’s initial condition, this had been adhered to two perspex boards in the past, presumably as an old display method. While the process of adhering objects for display purposes was unfortunately more common in the past, this would no longer be carried out today because it could unintentionally cause damage. For instance, by applying an adhesive on this bead net’s ancient thread, the already fragile fibres were now degrading further and falling apart in areas of direct contact. Moreover, the bead net as a whole was not entirely stable, as various faience beads had been missed during the adhesive’s original application, which led to a large number of them coming loose and running the risk of being lost. It therefore quickly became evident that these plastic boards had to be replaced with a newer, less damaging and more secure backing medium.

In order to detach the bead net, testing was initially done to determine a suitable solvent that would help dissolve the adhesive, with the results pointing towards acetone as the most effective solution. A small, thin brush lightly dampened with acetone was therefore methodically used to detach each bead and thread section requiring it, by placing the brush between the board and the object and allowing the acetone to soften and dissolve the adhesive. A secondary wooden tool was then employed to nudge each beaded section free from the board, all the while taking care not to allow lengthy or direct contact between the acetone and the thread. While such a process was long and certainly required patience, it ultimately proved very effective in fully detaching all sections of the bead net!

From here, the next steps involved making a new, more suitable board for this object, and subsequently attaching it in a more stable, yet less invasive way. As a result, it was decided that a padded board would be made from conservation grade, acid-free materials, onto which the bead net could be gently but securely sewn. For the making of the board, archival, buffered box board was used as the base, due to its acid-free, non off-gassing nature. Polyester wadding was then cut to size and placed atop the base to both softly support the bead net better and allow sewing to take place. Two types of fabric were then used to wrap and secure the box board and wadding in place, providing better grip and additional padding: domette and calico fabrics. Once all these components were sewn together, the new board was complete!

A board onto which acid free polyester wadding has been attached.

Figure 3: Top – back view of the board while it was still being stitched together. Bottom – back view of the board once complete.

At this point, moving the bead net from the old boards to its new one was a two-person job, requiring coordination and patience while the object was slowly slid across. With this done, the beadwork and thread is in the process of being secured to the board, carefully looping over the ancient thread in a discrete, yet reversible and non-damaging way.

A beaded net is being sewn to the board. Arrows point out the top of the net which has already been sewn.

Figure 4: Process of the bead net being sewn to the board, by looping over the ancient thread as pointed out by the arrows.

While this sewing process is not yet complete, both the overall stability and appearance of the bead net have already improved significantly without the additional stresses caused by the old display method. Soon the intricate nature of this object, which incredibly has survived millenia against all odds, may finally be safely and fully appreciated once more.

References

Andrews, C., 1994. Amulets of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press.

Friedman, F.D., Borromeo, G., & Leveque, M., 1998. Gifts of the Nile: Ancient Egyptian Faience. London: Thames & Hudson.

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with us

If you'd like to get involved, then please get in touch with us at digitallab@maa.cam.ac.uk.

About the Museum

Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology
Downing Street
Cambridge
CB2 3DZ

admin@maa.cam.ac.uk
+44 (0)1223 333516

Visit the MAA Website
Search the Collections

Support

Follow us

Donate

If you wish to donate online, then please go to the University of Cambridge campaign webpage.

 

 

Subscribe

Subscribe to receive notifications when we post new blog entries:

Subscribe