The Griffith Institute
University of Oxford
Griffith Institute Squeeze 4.85

Griffith Institute Squeezes

A paper squeeze is a three-dimensional facsimile of a carved monument and was a recording technique used in Egypt during the second half of the 19th Century. The finely carved surface decoration on the walls of ancient tombs and temples were considered ideal for the practice by would-be squeeze-makers producing thousands of squeezes which they then sold on to tourists, who started to flood into Egypt at this time, and who were attracted to these affordable and attractive souvenirs which could be also be easily transported back home.

In his Visit to the Great Oasis of the Libyan Desert [etc.] (1837), on pages 109-10, G. A. Hoskins describes how squeezes were made: 'This method of obtaining fac-similes of sculpture in basso relievo, is very successful, and so easy ... I found stiff, unsized, common white paper to be best adapted for the purpose. It should be well damped; and, when applied to sculpture still retaining its colour, not to injure the latter, care should be taken that the side of the paper placed on the figures be dry - that it be not the side which has been sponged. The paper, when applied to the sculpture, should be evenly patted with a napkin folded rather stiffly; and, if any part of the figures or hieroglyphics be in intaglio or elaborately worked, it is better to press the paper over that part with the fingers. Five minutes is quite sufficient time to make a cast of this description: when taken off the wall, it should be laid on the ground or sand to dry.' There is also an account by Amelia Edwards, in a letter written to A. Dodgson on 5 January, 1889. She wrote that 'the way to get paper squeezes, is to have paper of a soft woolly quality - damp it - dry it off on blotting paper - lay it over the inscription, & pat it into the hollows with a fine brush, like a tooth-brush. Thus a perfect cast is easily taken, of antiquities in either relief or intaglio.'

The paper used to make a squeeze was first soaked in water in order to make it pliable, this very damp medium was then applied directly to a surface. No matter how much care was taken, this inevitably damaged or completely removed painted decoration as well as compromising the ancient wall itself, and where multiple squeezes were made from the same scene, this was often the case if they were being made for to be sold, the impact on the monument could be catastrophic. This destructive process was eventually prohibited and the practice was obsolete by the turn of the 20th Century.

The Griffith Institute Archive houses a collection of several thousand paper squeezes, the majority made for research purposes by the Egyptologists Wilhelm Spiegelberg and Francis Llewellyn Griffith, amongst others. There are also approximately three hundred of the so-called 'tourist' squeezes, which may be easily identified by their uniform paper type and size. This group of squeezes was made in three tombs: those of the pharaoh Sethos I (KV 17) and two high ranking officials, Khaemhet (TT 57) and Paser (TT 106), all of which are located at Thebes (modern day Luxor). These squeezes have now transcended their original function and provide primary documentation for the ancient monuments from which they were made. Some of the squeezes in our Archive record scenes which are now completely lost, providing the only evidence that a scene ever existed.

This group of Griffith Institute squeezes was catalogued, photographed and made available online in 2007.

Project Director, Jaromir Malek | Catalogue, Elizabeth Fleming | Scanning and photography, Junghwa Choi and Jenni Navratil