The New Guy

by Lynn Grant

Molly Gleeson, the Project Conservator for In the Artifact Lab has been very busy over the last nine months, conserving lots of Egyptian artifacts and she’s finished treatments on a human mummy, an animal mummy and has done a lot of work on PUM I. So, as these projects finish up, it’s time to start some new ones – there’s never any shortage of projects for the Museum conservators. Earlier this month, we brought another of our human mummies out of storage and into the Artifact Lab. And what a mummy he is:

E 16229, a Predynastic mummy.

E 16229, a Predynastic mummy.


Not what you were expecting, right? No stiff upright form tightly wrapped in bandages. That’s because this is a very early mummy, probably dating to “4000-3600 BCE (or from the Badarian Period to Naqada IIB to use Egyptological time periods”, to quote Dr. Jane Hill, an Assistant Professor at Rowan University, who’s been studying this mummy. Dr. Hill will be presenting some of her initial findings at a mini seminar hosted by ARCE-PA (American Research Center in Egypt – Pennsylvania Chapter) and held at Penn Museum this Saturday, June 1st, open to the public.

Because Molly is going to be away at a conference this week, I’ve begun familiarizing myself with this ‘new’ mummy so I can talk about him to the seminar attendees and our other visitors. When I say ‘new’, he’s only new to the Artifact Lab. Not only is he at least 5600 years old, he’s been in our collections since 1898. He was donated to the Museum by Ethelbert Watts, a prominent Philadelphian who was serving as an Assistant American Consul in Cairo. His history in our collections is a little unclear: we know he was x-radiographed in 1932 and we have this undated early photograph from the Archives. Since this image comes from a glass plate negative, it could date anytime between 1898 and the early 1930s, when the Museum finally switched to film based photography.

An early photograph of the mummy from a glass plate negative

An early photograph of the mummy from a glass plate negative

We think he may have been on exhibition some time in the past but we haven’t tracked down those records yet. For at least the past few decades, he languished in a box in the Egyptian storerooms until Dr. Hill and Dr. Joe Wegner ‘excavated’ the box in 2011. Since then he’s been the subject of quite a lot of interest – Dr. Hill and her Rowan colleague Dr. Maria Rosado have been examining samples of materials associated with the mummy and sent samples for AMS/C14 dating.

Cool stuff about this mummy: he was buried in the flexed or contracted position, like many Predynastic mummies but he was also buried inside an animal skin bag, which had the animal’s hair left on the inside. He has a small, finely woven basket by his side and an animal skin cap covered by a basketry framework on his head.

Details of some of the items buried with the mummy

Details of some of the items buried with the mummy

Clearly, this guy has a lot to tell us and we’ll keep you posted on what’s up with Bruce (yes, Bruce – it gets hard to refer to the mummies by their accession number and so many get nicknames. This guy has been Bruce to us pretty much since he came out of his box. No disrespect meant; he’s a fascinating individual and I look forward to getting to know him better).

Coming Soon: Nefrina’s Mummy Mask

In 2011 I had the privilege to work on the mummy mask shown below, and I am excited that it will soon be on display In the Artifact Lab! Since this mask will be a new addition to the gallery, it seems fitting the mask have an introduction to the blog as well.

mask croppedFunerary masks, like this one, were placed over the wrapped mummy as an idealized representation of the deceased. This mask is made of cartonnage which is a complex composite material. It was made by wrapping a head shaped core (probably made from mud or straw) with layers of linen and papyrus impregnated with glue. The exterior of the mask was then covered with plaster and painted. To help you visualize the stratigraphy of the mask, here is a diagram:

stratigraphy

A diagram showing the multiple layers that make up Nefrina’s mask, with the inner linen layer represented in blue at the bottom and the outer paint layer(s) represented in black at the top

The face of this mask has a slightly different preparation from the rest of the head, as it has gold leaf and required a predatory layer called red bole.  Bole is a fine clay ground layer that is applied before putting down gold leaf as it creates a richer color and provides a good surface for burnishing the gold. Once finished, the mask would have been removed from the core and be ready for use.

This mask belonged to a woman from the Ptolemaic period (300-30 BC) named Nefer-iin-e (Nefrina). Nefrina’s mummy and coffin are on display at the Reading Public Museum, just about an hour from Philadelphia in Reading, PA, and it is from the translation of the text on her coffin that her name is known in addition to information about her parents. Her father, Irthrrw (Irethorrou) and mother, Ir(ty)-r-w (Irty-rou), both served in the temple for the Egyptian fertility god Min.

The Reading Public Museum has made this great video where you can learn more about Nefrina:

In 2012 the mask was reunited with the coffin and mummy at the Reading Public Museum for the first time in 82 years as part of an exhibit called Nefrina’s World. Now that the mask is back at the Penn Museum, we are excited that it is going to be on display here too! Once it is in the gallery we will follow up with a post about it’s conservation treatment.

- posted by Tessa De Alarcon

 

From the field

Those of you familiar with the Penn Museum know that we have a lot of ongoing research projects, not all of which are based here at the museum. Since the museum was founded, it has supported and initiated archaeological excavations around the world, and this work continues today.

In fact, we have a team out in the field right now – Egyptian Section Curator Joe Wegner recently headed back to the field with a small team of graduate students to continue his work excavating in Abydos at the mortuary complex of Pharaoh Senwosret III.

Excavations underway in Abydos

Excavations underway in Abydos

Excavation of a tomb in progress

Excavation of a tomb in progress

Abydos is located 300 miles south of Cairo and is the cult site of Osiris, king of the afterlife and god of the netherworld. It was a place of pilgrimage and considered sacred throughout Egypt’s 3000 year history. The Penn Museum excavations there are focused on the classical phase of the Osiris cult during the Middle Kingdom (Dynasties 11-13, ca. 1050-1650 BCE) and has concentrated on three principal areas: (1) the subterranean tomb of pharaoh Senwosret III; (2) the mortuary temple and associated structures dedicated to the cult of Senwosret III; and (3) the urban remains of the Middle Kingdom town at South Abydos.

Senwosret III built the first hidden royal tomb there, abandoning the pyramid form and setting the stage for the later hidden tombs in the Valley of the Kings.

During the last field season, Joe’s team completed the construction of a cover building over the entrance to the tomb of Senwosret III. There are double iron doors to the left side, which lead down iron stairs set above the ancient mud-brick stairs down into the tomb.

The new tomb covering over the entrance to the tomb of Senwosret III (this photo was taken before the covering was plastered and painted to blend into the surrounding desert).

The new covering over the entrance to the tomb of Senwosret III (this photo was taken before it was plastered and painted to blend into the surrounding desert).

So far this season the team has been busy. One project is the continued excavation of newly-discovered tombs – one of which can be seen in the image below. In the photo, you can see the sloping passage which ends in a blocked doorway. It is evident that the tomb robbers who originally emptied this structure entered through the vault in the center of the image. To the right of the image is where the next chamber lies, through another door and down, and more excavation is required to enter this area of the tomb.

tomb 2_1One interesting feature of this tomb is that it seems that whoever made the bricks signed their work by impressing two fingers into the top of the wet mud before the brick dried (seen in the image below). Only one, seen in the center of image, has a single dot.

tomb 2 bricksThe team is also searching for fragments of artifacts which may help to indicate the date of this, and other tombs. I will continue to provide updates as they make new discoveries!

Special thanks to Kevin Cahail for sharing information and photos from the field.

Conserving a child mummy

A couple weeks ago, I introduced you to our child mummy Tanwa, and now I’m happy to report that I’ve completed her conservation treatment.

Tanwa before conservation treatment

Tanwa before conservation treatment

Tanwa has been in our collection since 1898; she was collected through the American Exploration Society, an organization founded by Sarah Yorke Stevenson, the museum’s first curator of the Egyptian section.

Tanwa was exhibited in the museum early on, but she has not been on display for a long time. When she came up to the Artifact Lab, we could see that she was generally in good condition, expect for the fact that some of the narrow bandages wrapped around her body, especially those around her feet, were fragile, torn, and partially detached. Many of the strips on the underside of her body were also damaged – although these aren’t usually visible since Tanwa is always lying on her back, they are at risk of detaching with any movement or handling.

Details of damaged linen around the feet (left) and on Tanwa's back (right)

Details of damaged linen around Tanwa’s feet (left) and on her back (right)

After fully documenting Tanwa’s condition, I first removed excess dust and grime from the surface of her wrappings using a soft-bristled brush and a HEPA-filtered vacuum. Cleaning the exterior surface significantly brightened the linen, and I think at this point Tanwa was already looking much better.

Tanwa had a few straight pins stuck into her wrappings in areas, apparently as a measure to temporarily secure some of the fragile linen. I removed all of these pins and adhered the linen in place as necessary with small amounts of methyl cellulose adhesive.

A pin stuck into the bandages on Tanwa's head (left, indicated by red arrow) was removed and the linen was secured to prevent further loss (right, after treatment)

A pin stuck into the bandages on Tanwa’s head (left, indicated by red arrow) was removed and the linen was secured to prevent further loss (right, after treatment)

I then proceeded to repair the linen around her feet and in all other places where the linen was fragile and at risk of detaching or becoming further damaged. All repairs were carried out using similar materials and methods to those I used to repair our falcon mummy. Distorted linen was relaxed and reshaped by humidification with either a damp blotter and Gore-tex sandwich, or using the Preservation Pencil. Detached linen was tacked down using a 6% solution of methyl cellulose adhesive, and fragile areas of linen were backed/supporting using Japanese tissue paper toned with acrylic paints.

Backing a fragile area of linen with toned Japanese tissue paper - the blue clamp is holding everything in place while the adhesive dries

Backing a fragile area of linen with toned Japanese tissue paper – the blue clamp is holding everything in place while the adhesive dries

Here are some after treatment details to compare to the before treatment shots seen in the second image on this post:

After treatment details of the linen around Tanwa's feet (left) and on her back (right)

After treatment details of the linen around Tanwa’s feet (left) and on her back (right)

All of Tanwa’s linen wrappings are now fully stabilized and she is ready to be exhibited for the first time in decades!

An overall view of Tanwa, after treatment

An overall view of Tanwa, after treatment

 

Ancient Egypt is all around us

Talk about job perks – earlier this week a group of us from the Egyptian section and the Conservation department took a little field trip to downtown Philadelphia to visit the old Wanamaker building (first department store in Philadelphia, now a Macy’s) and the Masonic Temple. These two buildings may not immediately make you think of Egypt or mummies, however, if you have been keeping up with the blog you’ll know that one of our mummies was donated to us by John Wanamaker, founder of Wanamaker’s Department Store. You can read more about that in a previous post by following this link.

But the Egypt connection we were exploring on this trip is the fact that both the old Wanamaker’s building and the Masonic Temple have Egyptian architectural elements. The Egyptian room at the Masonic Temple is something that more people may be familiar with.

A shot from inside the Egyptian Room at the Masonic Temple.

A shot from inside the Egyptian Room at the Masonic Temple.

The Egyptian Room is an incredible, ornately decorated meeting space in the Temple. It was completed in 1889 (apparently the interiors took over 35 years to finish, and you can really appreciate this when you’re standing inside those rooms-it’s impossible to take everything in during 1 visit). The room is flanked by 12 huge columns and both the columns and the walls are intricately painted and ornamented to depict scenes similar to those found the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs and temples.

A detail of one of the columns depicting the face of Hathor, goddess of love and motherhood.

A detail of one of the columns depicting the face of Hathor, goddess of love and motherhood.

Nothing in that room was left undecorated, including the ceiling, which it is painted blue and has a solar disk placed on the east end, representing Aten, the sun. Emanating from the disk are rays tipped with little hands each holding an ankh (the symbol of life).

A detail of the sun disk on the ceiling

A detail of the sun disk on the ceiling. Note that the intersections of the ceiling crossbeams have ancient mason-marks – these are some of the only non-Egyptian motifs in the room!

Our curator Dr. Jen Wegner has spent some time in this room AND translated all of the hieroglyphs, so she can attest to the fact that it is all very authentic. It is really quite a wonderful space, and the best part is that the Temple offers tours to the public and virtual tours on their website (although as I said, these photos really don’t represent the rich colors and details very well – you should really visit in person if you can).

Much less accessible to the public, and virtually forgotten by many at this point, is the Egyptian Hall in the old Wanamaker’s Building. I learned about the Egyptian Hall from Rick Seifert, who visited the Artifact Lab recently and we immediately made a connection. Rick is the Historian of the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ and when he found out that our mummy PUM I came to us from John Wanamaker, we exchanged information and he extended this special invitation for us to see what’s left of the Egyptian Hall. Built in 1910, unfortunately only remnants of this room remain-much of it has been dismantled and built into/over since the store changed hands in the 1990s.

Before entering the Hall, signs of it are visible – here we see Hathor again, adorning the top of a column just outside:

Hathor wanamakersThen Rick led us into the Hall, essentially at the mezzanine level – the lower level is sealed off with a drop ceiling and any elements that may be remaining below are obscured. But what we could see gave us an idea of what the Hall may have once looked like:

It is possible to see the tops of the columns which surround the room. The details were more recently repainted, but you get a sense of what the colors may have been.

It is possible to see the tops of the columns which surround the room. The columns were recently repainted, but you get a sense of what the colors may have been.

There are also some gorgeous details in the ceilings:

The ceilings are decorated with winged sun disks and empty cartouches. The original glass set into the ceilings is now gone.

The ceilings are decorated with winged sun disks and empty cartouches. The original glass set into the ceilings is now gone.

And in the railings:

railingsIt is unfortunate that so much of the Hall has been dismantled – and so recently! To get a sense of it’s former glory, there are some nice images in this old postcard and this photograph from the 1920s.

So just in case you think that we might get enough of this stuff at the Penn Museum – it’s impossible. We were eating this up! Special thanks to Rick Seifert and to John at the Masonic Temple for these opportunities to explore ancient Egypt right here in Philadelphia.

 

An introduction to our child mummy Tanwa

In my recent post about the Philadelphia Science Festival, I put in a little teaser photograph of one of our child mummies currently in the lab:

child mummy overallNow, all of our mummies are special, but this child mummy has several qualities that make her particularly endearing. One of the things that we really love is that her name is written on her wrappings, near her feet.

Child mummy detailHer name is actually written in both Greek and Demotic – Demotic is the language/script that developed in later periods in Egypt (and is one of the languages inscribed on the Rosetta Stone, along with Greek and hieroglyphic Egyptian). In Greek, this inscription reads: “Tanous (daughter of) Hermodorus”. In Demotic her name reads as “Tanwa”.

So, based on this inscription, we know that she dates to the Ptolemaic Period, and that she is a girl. According to our Egyptologists, what is interesting about the names is that they give a good indication of the multi-cultural nature of this time period. Not only in the fact that 2 languages are represented, but that the girl’s name incorporates the name of an Egyptian goddess, Iwnyt, while her father’s name includes the name of a Greek god, Hermes.

Tanwa has been CT-scanned, which has confirmed the fact that she is a girl, and was likely right around the age of 5 when she died.

Here is a still from the CT scan showing a detail of Tanus' skull. Based on her teeth it has been estimated that she was right around 5 years old when she died.

Here is a still from the CT scan showing a detail of Tanwa’s skull. Based on her teeth it has been estimated that she was about 5 years old when she died. That pin you can see near the top of her skull is modern and not actually in her skull-it was used to secure the outermost layers of linen in that area.

One of my favorite things that CT scanning has shown is that she is wearing 2 bracelets on her left wrist. We are guessing that these might be gold.

Two bangle bracelets on the left wrist show up clearly on the CT scan.

Two bangle bracelets on the left wrist show up clearly on the CT scan.

She also has a small metal ball included in her wrappings just over her right tibia. Exactly what this is and why it was placed there is a bit of a mystery.

A detail shot of the metal ball near her right tibia.

A detail shot of the metal ball near her right tibia.

There is a lot more we can learn from these CT scans, which I will describe in a future post.

Fortunately, Tanwa is in fairly good condition; one of the main issues that we need to address here in the conservation lab is that many of the narrow linen bands wrapped around her body are fragile, torn and partially detaching. I am currently more than halfway through the conservation treatment, and I will provide a thorough report on what we are doing to stabilize her wrappings next. Stay tuned!