More about those beads

Hello fellow readers! My name is Melissa Miller and I am pleased to say I recently began interning in the Artifact Lab here at the Penn Museum. I am currently a junior at the University of Delaware studying art conservation and anthropology. Needless to say when I heard about the In the Artifact Lab project, I jumped at the opportunity to help out in any way I could. Who wouldn’t love the opportunity to work with 4,000 year old human remains and funerary objects?

Melissa working at the binocular microscope, as viewed from outside of the lab

So far I have spent my first two weeks here doing everything from making support cushions for PUM I’s chest wrappings to making impressions of scarab beetle amulets. Currently, I am examining the beads Molly and the other conservators found in PUM I’s coffin and remains. There are two kinds; tubular and circular. Molly also pointed out to me several areas on the leg and face wrappings of PUM I where there are distinctive impressions of beads in a diamond shaped pattern. This has led us to believe that PUM I had a beaded shroud! Beaded shrouds became popular in the 25th dynasty and continued until the Roman period, and both men and women have been found with these decorations.

Being buried with a beaded shroud would have been very expensive due to cost of materials and labor, and imitations were sometimes made by painting the diamond pattern on the mummy or with a net of knotted string. It is evident, however, that PUM I had a real beaded shroud, which indicates that he was probably wealthy in his lifetime. This surprised me because PUM I is in pretty poor condition and his coffin (which admittedly may not be his original burial case) has little to no decoration.

Three tubular beads recovered from the bottom of PUM I’s coffin

The beads themselves, especially the tubular beads, are encrusted with some mysterious substances and soil particulates. On some of the larger tubular beads, there is a white crystalline substance on the exterior – likely salt. Were it not for small sections on the tubular beads without this encrustation it would be difficult to see the material underneath. The material below is glassy and dark blue in color. This leads me to think that they are made of Egyptian faience, which is defined as a glazed, non-clay ceramic. To me that means that faience is a sort of cross between ceramic and glass technology. The smaller beads also appear to be faience, but in different colors, including this red bead:

As seen in the image above, some of the beads also have a granular, slightly waxy, light-dark brown substance on their surfaces-this mysterious substance is also present in some areas on the surface of PUM I’s wrappings. It can be removed rather easily from the beads, especially with the help of some mineral spirits, and as you can see it tends to come off in substantial chunks.

There are at least a few possible scenarios that would explain its presence.

1) It could have been a part of the technology of the time to adhere the beads to the mummy. In fact, there is 1 circular bead adhered/stuck to the surface of PUM I’s wrappings, which we found after some initial cleaning! However, it seems to be stuck on in kind of a strange location, and we are finding that it was more common to sew or tie these beaded shrouds in place.

A red circular bead stuck to the linen on the side of PUM I’s chest

2)  It could be the remains of a wax or other adhesive method that was known to be used by Petrie, and likely other archaeologists, to fix the beads in place during excavation and recovery. As was usually the case, their original thread had long since disintegrated, so this method would allow the beads to be removed from the mummy in one piece, without losing their organization. To compare, we examined some beads in storage that are stuck together with wax-they were most likely acquired this way.

Beads stuck together with wax – note the dark, shiny appearance of the wax, quite different from what we’re seeing on PUM I’s beads.

3) The substance may be related to a material intentionally applied to the mummy at the time of mummification.

4) The substance accumulated sometime after burial.

As of right now I am not sure what this substance is and what purpose it may have served, but Molly and I will be investigating the beads and this mystery further. I will keep you updated as we learn more!

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/Toddmillerqma Todd Miller Qma

    I’m amazed at how much information and history can be gleaned from such a small object.

  • Hester Roodt

    Melissa, what is the size of these beads – the tubular as well as the circular bead? Did you guys find out yet where it was manufactured? What would the waxy substance be which is coating the beads? Could it be some of the ointments/was/what ever used during the embalming process? Would you be able to identify that (prior to cleaning it off the beads)? And what is Pum 1′s age (which dynasty)? I would appreciate you answering these questions. Thanks, Hester

    • mollygleeson

      hi Hester,

      The tubular beads are approximately 2.5mm in diameter and vary in length (due to condition) but several are close to 1cm long. The circular beads are approximately 3mm in diameter. We believe that the waxy/resinous substance on the beads may be related to the mummification process-something that may have exuded out of the mummy’s wrappings and onto the beads, but it may also be something that was intentionally applied to the surface of the wrappings. This is still unclear and we are investigating this and will be sure to post our findings (no matter how inconclusive they may be) when we know more. We are waiting to clean the beads until we have a better idea of what this substance may be. And finally, PUM I’s wrappings were radiocarbon dated, and from this he is estimated to have died in the 22nd Dynasty (during the 3rd Intermediate Period), approximately 840-820 BCE. Thanks for your questions!

      best wishes,
      Molly

    • http://twitter.com/pennartifactlab pennartifactlab

      hi Hester-
      The tubular beads are approximately 2.5mm in diameter and vary in length (due to condition) but several are close to 1cm long. The circular beads are approximately 3mm in diameter. We believe that the waxy/resinous substance on the beads may be related to the mummification process-something that may have exuded out of the mummy’s wrappings and onto the beads, but it may also be something that was intentionally applied to the surface of the wrappings. This is still unclear and we are investigating this and will be sure to post our findings (no matter how inconclusive they may be) when we know more. We are waiting to clean the beads until we have a better idea of what this substance may be.
      And finally, PUM I’s wrappings were radiocarbon dated, and from this he is estimated to have died in the 22nd Dynasty (during the 3rd Intermediate Period), approximately 840-820 BCE. Thanks for your questions!
      best wishes,
      Molly