Injury and Induration:
George William Wigner and Cleopatra’s Needle

Chris Elliott, Doctoral Student in Archaeology, University of Southampton

Based on a presentation made at the Annual Conference of the Association of Public Analysts held at Canterbury Cathedral Lodge, Canterbury, on 27th October 2017.


On 20th November 1878 George William Wigner, a founding member of the Society of Public Analysts, read a short paper entitled “On Cleopatra’s Needle” to members of the Society1. In it, he gave details of the physical structure and chemical composition of weathered and un-weathered samples of the granite from which the Needle, an Ancient Egyptian obelisk, was made.

He drew particular attention to the amount of water that could be absorbed by the weathered surfaces of the granite and how this might lead to erosion of the obelisk by freezing and thawing. He went on to suggest that the best way of protecting it would be to coat it with a non-porous and neutral substance such as paraffin wax. In advocating this Wigner differed from others at the time and initial treatments of the surface of the Needle adopted an alternative approach. This paper compares Wigner’s analysis of the need for protection and the best way to achieve this with others over nearly one hundred and forty years and concludes that in a number of significant ways his views reflect contemporary ones.

Full Text of Paper


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