Balancing Preservation and the Visitor Experience

This article about papyri conservation at The British Museum truly demonstrates the many challenges conservators face when they have to prepare fragile items for display. As the museum prepared for the Egypt: faith after the pharaohs exhibition, the conservators were given the task of repairing and framing five papyri. As Leach explains, these five papyri were just a few of many documents that provide “rare insight into the everyday life of this Roman town’s (Oxyrhynchus) inhabitants during the 1st to 6th centuries AD.” She goes into great detail explaining how papyri are made, repaired, and properly stored. However, what struck me the most was the museum’s decision to display one of the papyri without the use of glass. Leach writes:

“It was decided to exhibit Daniel in a passe-partout without glass to try and enhance viewing for the visitor. Generally papyri are so fragile that glass mounts are necessary for their protection but in this case, the fragment being small and in reasonable condition, an exception was made for the duration of the exhibition.”

Personally, I think this was a good decision. While it is certainly risky to display fragile artifacts this way, it certainly would allow visitors to feel more at home in the museum rather than feel as if they are just a visitor who needs to stand behind red ropes and glass.

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