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Subject: Egyptian ivories

Egyptian ivories

From: Linda Roundhill <artsconservation<-at->
Date: Friday, May 29, 2009
Susan White <smwhitewhite [at] aim__com> writes

>Recently I have been given two rather extraordinary ivories which I
>believe likely date from the first millennium and were likely made
>in Egypt.  The pieces are carvings of animals, one perhaps a variety
>of ibex, the other a weird cross between rabbit and cow.  Of
>interest is the fact that the two animals (which are badly
>deteriorated) are covered with an ethnographic accretion which I've
>analyzed with XRF. The accretion has a resin component but
>non-organic elements include iron (in greatest proportion), copper
>and calcium.  Under the microscope, charcoal is visible, as are tiny
>pigment spots, blue and yellow, red and yellow.  My assumption is
>the greater presence of iron oxides, but was wondering if anyone
>knows how long the iron from hemoglobin would survive in burial. The
>accretion does not appear to be a burial accretion, and I'm curious
>to know if there are others out there who have come across such
>pieces and have had them analyzed.

Any dark substance remotely resembling a burial accretion with
pigment particles in it would lead me to suspect that the layer is
hiding a restorer's join, or even that an object is a forgery.
Identification of the binder should be performed, and an X-ray may
prove very useful.

On the other hand, the Egyptians were quite fond of slathering
beautiful objects with unattractive materials for ceremonial
purposes, in ways  that often offend our modern sense of aesthetics.
Most of these substances, though, were resins/unguents of various
types and were usually not filled with pigment particles.  I would
resist removing anything until you are certain of the content,
source and purpose of all accretions.

As to the copper rings, fresh ivory is a very tough, resilient
material and could have withstood manipulation of the sort that
would have allowed copper shaping to occur, in my opinion.

They sound fascinating and I would like to see a photo if possible.

Linda S. Roundhill
Art and Antiquities Conservation, LLC
Woodinville, WA

                  Conservation DistList Instance 23:4
                   Distributed: Sunday, June 7, 2009
                        Message Id: cdl-23-4-004
Received on Friday, 29 May, 2009

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