Egyptian Wall Plasters, Paintings, and the Publications of the Luxor Conservation Conference

The Gerda Henkel Foundation has started to publish the papers from the Conservation of Theban Tombs conference, on its L.I.S.A portal.  The conference was held in Luxor in February 2016 –  I spoke there about the ongoing conservation project at the tomb chapel of Sennefer TT96A by the Belgian Archaeological Mission in the Theban Necropolis by the Université libre de Bruxelles and the University of Liège, with which I have been involved for the last eight years.  An initial post about the conference, its purpose and content is here: https://www.biancamadden.com/conservation-of-theban-temples-and-tombs-conference/.

So far the texts of the papers published are from the Getty Foundation, about their project at the Valley of the Queens, and our paper on the conservation at the tomb chapel of Sennefer.

The Getty project has included research and analysis of the wall plasters found in the Queens’ tombs.  The tombs are cut into the clay-rich limestone found in this area of the hills.  Deterioration of the wall plasters, as well as failing old repairs, led the Getty team to research into the original wall plaster materials.  The research found that while the plasters varied from tomb to tomb, as well as within individual tombs (something that we have also found in the Nobles’ tombs), a large number of the plasters had similarities of colour and composition to indicate a close relationship with the local geology.  On analysis of samples the plasters were found to be very similar to samples of local hiba – a clay, containing calcitic deposits, used up to the present day to produce plasters locally, suggesting that hiba was originally used as a source material. Analytical similarities include high calcium carbonate content, little or no anhydrite or gypsum, and the presence of clay minerals such as palygorskite and sepiolite.

This research would tie in with observations made as part of our project, on the wall plasters of the tombs of the Nobles, where there is a striking resemblance between the colour of plaster and fillers and the geological residues at various areas of the Necropolis, suggesting that the latter was used as raw material.  Tests undertaken during the research of my colleague, Hugues Tavier, with materials around the tombs have shown that powdered limestone with the natural presence of salts, clay and sulphates acts as a natural cement.  Research through this testing well as observation, has led us to believe that the plasters used in the decoration of the tombs were obtained by recycling of the rocks form the cutting of the tombs mixed with selected deposits from the area.

The Getty paper about their project and findings is attached here: Conservation of Wall Paintings in the Valley of the Queens 

While our piece is here:  The Conservation of the Tomb Chapel of Sennefer