The transportation of a pair of ancient Egyptian feet (ECM.2189-2010) to their new home in the Jafar Gallery.
The object in question was a pair of extremely heavy red granite c.3000 year old feet which were once part of a larger statue of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II (known to the Greeks as Ozymandias). It had been in ‘temporary’ storage in a window alcove for at least 2 years, awaiting a more permanent place in the Jafar Gallery.
In early September 2017, the new wooden plinth had been made, so I got the nod from Rebecca Tessier, Museums Officer, to go ahead and start planning what we would need for the move.
Firstly I needed to get a good idea of the weight of the piece. Using the dimensions, I could work out the volume and therefore have a pretty close estimate using a reliable formula. The estimated weight came out as 283 kgs, so very heavy for an object that is around the size of a large footstool!
I asked our Buildings Department if they had anything suitable to lift this kind of object but unfortunately they did not, but suggested that we might use a car engine crane. This sounded like a perfect solution so I went about sourcing one from a hire company, along with the required lifting slings.
One piece of equipment that Buildings could supply was a pallet truck which would be needed to move the wooden pallet which the feet were currently sitting on.
It was decided that we would transport the feet to the Jafar Gallery with the use of the Buildings’ van, but we still needed a strong trolley to get them from the Cloisters through the Postern Gate and onto the van.
The last piece of the plan would be to enlist some strong manpower from the Buildings team and so we were all ready for the move. The date set was 17th November 2017.
In order to be able to pick the object up it needed to be brought out into the centre of the floor, as the access to the alcove of the window was quite restricted and the base legs of the crane were not wide enough to get in close to it where it was. We did, however, manage to move it to the centre of the room with the use of the pallet truck. The next stage was to get the lifting slings underneath the object, but it was proving impossible to lift manually, even with four men, due to its relatively small size, yet significant weight. The problem was actually getting a good grip on it.
We were able to partially dismantle the wooden pallet in order to slip the first sling underneath one end, then slide it along the pallet far enough to get the second sling under the other end.
The crane could then be moved into place to attach the slings and lift the object high enough to transfer it to the trolley, which would in turn take it to the waiting van. The engine crane which we used had a maximum lifting capacity of 2000 kgs, so it was more than capable of doing the job and proved perfect as it was possible to fold it up in order to transport it easily between each step of the process.
Once we moved the object to the van we used the crane again to lift it on board ready for transport to the Jafar Gallery, where there is a lift between the ground level and the gallery level.
The lifting process was reversed to move from the van back on to the waiting trolley, then into the lift and up to the gallery level. We’re almost there!
For the final time, the trusty crane was set up next to the waiting plinth in the Jafar Gallery. We made sure to protect the polished floor between the lift and the plinth, then carefully wheeled the feet up alongside it. As can be seen in the picture below, we were again faced with the problem of the fairly narrow crane legs and found that we were literally inches away from being able to lower the feet directly down into position.
The solution turned out to be one that many believe the ancient Egyptians came up with when faced with a very similar problem. We lowered the object gently on to three wooden broom handles placed below, then used them to roll it along the plinth until we were happy that it was in the correct alignment. We could then remove the lifting straps and the broom handles and voilà, Ozymandias’s feet were safely in place.
This was a perfect example of great teamwork. Everybody involved contributed their own individual knowledge and expertise and showed that if we all pull together, we can achieve great things!
By Bryan Lewis, Foundation and Collections Handyman
Ramesses’ feet, along with a host of other objects from antiquity, can be seen by all at the Museum of Antiquities every Sunday between 2.30pm and 5pm. Please drop by!