Sundays in the Lab with Julie…or Tessa… or Lynn… or….

Posted by Lynn Grant

This handsome fellow is visiting the Artifact Lab from the Near Eastern Section.  He's being prepped to go on loan.  Museum number: 29-20-3

This handsome fellow is visiting the Artifact Lab from the Near Eastern Section. He’s being prepped to go on loan. Museum number: 29-20-3

Wonderful as she is, Project Conservator Molly Gleeson can’t be working in the Artifact Lab all the days the Museum is open. When she isn’t (most often Sundays), other Museum Conservators take turns working in the ‘fishbowl’ so there will still be conservation work for visitors to see. When we started this, ten months ago, the plan was for us to work on some of Egyptian mummies and related funerary goods along with Molly. As time has gone by some issues have arisen to make this more difficult. First, there are fewer tasks that we can do to contribute toward ongoing Artifact Lab treatments when we’re only here a day or two a month. Second, we often have deadlines to meet on other projects that mean we have to use our time in the Artifact Lab to work on those projects.

So, sometimes you’ll see Artifact Lab conservators working on objects that aren’t mummies, related funerary goods, or even Egyptian. In the next few weeks you’ll see me working on Near Eastern objects going on loan to the Hallie Ford Museum in Oregon, or on Amazonian artifacts destined for Penn Museum’s upcoming exhibit, YEAR OF SOUND: Hollywood in the Amazon at Penn Museum. Julie may be working on African artifacts for rotation into our Imagine Africa gallery.

A notice board at the front of the lab will indicate when non-Egyptian artifacts are being worked on in the Artifact Lab

A notice board at the front of the lab will indicate when non-Egyptian artifacts are being worked on in the Artifact Lab

If you’re interested in knowing more about the other objects you’re seeing, you can
– ask the conservator on duty about them during open window hours, or
– check the notice board in the front of the lab, which will have basic information on the objects being worked on, including their object numbers. For more indepth information, you can use your internet-ready device to look them up on the Museum’s website.

For all you Mummy Maniacs and Egyptian Aficionados, not to worry: there will still be plenty for you to see in the Artifact Lab and on the Smart Board. During open window hours, all the conservators on duty will be ready to answer your questions about the Egyptian materials as well as what they’re currently working on. And, never forget, you can always send your questions to this blog or email them to conservation@pennmuseum.org.

Conservators-in-training

For over 10 years, our museum has organized an “Anthropologists in the Making” Summer Camp, and today we hosted 66 of these summer campers in the Artifact Lab for an afternoon of conservation training.

IALSummerCamp1This year the camp is being held over 8 weeks, with different themes each week, including Can you Dig it?, all about archaeology, and Visions and Dreams, which explores the significance of dreams and the roles of shamans and mystics (this one is coming up in August).

The camp theme this week is Mummies Unwrapped so of course we had to give the campers a taste (but not literally) of mummy conservation, in addition to what they are learning about mummies and ancient Egypt.

We organized 3 different activities for the 7-13 year olds (they were split into 2 groups according to age) to test their hand and observation skills. All 3 activities were created to mimic some of the work that we’ve been doing in the Artifact Lab, including:

- an excavation station, which challenged the campers to pick out the remains of a beaded shroud from a bin of mummy debris (similar to recovering PUM I’s beads)

IALsummercampexcavation2

- a cleaning station, where campers tried different cleaning tests to remove dirt from a painted ceramic tile (like the cleaning that we’ve been doing on our painted coffin of Tawahibre)

IALsummercampcleaning4

- a materials ID station, where the campers had the opportunity to examine “mystery” materials under magnification and then had to identify what they were looking at (an example of one of the material ID challenges we’ve encountered in the lab can be found here)

A camper compares reference materials to the magnified image of the "mystery" material on the monitor

A camper compares reference materials to the magnified image of the “mystery” material on the monitor

For each activity, we had the kids fill out worksheets to record their observations, to give them a sense of the documentation involved in our work. Before moving on to the next station, each camper needed to get their supervising conservator to sign off on their worksheet. On their way out the door, all campers received certificates declaring them “Junior Conservators for-the-day”.

certificateWe had lots of fun, not only preparing for the camp

Arts and crafts day in the Artifact Lab (left) and the painted tiles before "dirtying" them for the campers (right)

Arts and crafts day in the Artifact Lab (left) and the painted tiles before “dirtying” them for the campers (right)

but also working with the kids at each of the stations. We were impressed with their observations and how quickly they picked up on each activity (rolling swabs can be hard at first!). Special thanks to our Education Department and to all of the summer campers for increasing our department more than tenfold for the afternoon!

IALsummercampcleaning1

 

The “conservation story” of Nefrina’s Funerary Mask, Part 2: Tear Repair and Reshaping

As promised in the previous posting on the condition of Nefrina’s Funerary Mask, here is the next installment on its conservation treatment.  Because this treatment was so involved, in this post I am just going to talk about the temporary stabilization of the exterior and the repairs on the interior of the mask.

1)     Facing: Facings are often used by conservators to temporarily stabilize surfaces so that an object can be handled and other structural problems can be addressed first.  In this case, the flaking and cracked paint on the mask had to be temporarily stabilized before the tears and deformed areas could be repaired.  I used Japanese tissue that I adhered onto the exterior of the surface so that the object could be safely handled and the interior examined.

Left - detail of facing test before the facing was applied overall. Right - image showing     the front of the mask after facing was applied (it may look like clear tape but it’s not).

Left – detail of facing test before the facing was applied overall. Right – image showing
the front of the mask after facing was applied (it may look like clear tape but it’s not).

2)     I made a temporary support to hold the mask safely so I could flip it over, remove the storage mount made in 1993, and examination the interior.

The mask after it was flipped over in the temporary support

The mask after it was flipped over in the temporary support

3)     Removal of the previous treatment: In 1993 patches of spun-bonded polyester had been adhered onto the interior.  I had to remove some of these so that the object could be reshaped and the tears aligned.

Left - detail of a spun bonded patch; Right - detail of the same area after removal of the spun bonded polyester patch

Left – detail of a spun bonded patch. Right – detail of the same area after removal of the spun bonded polyester patch.

4)     Humidification: I humidified and reshaped distorted and crushed areas using localized humidification with our Preservation Pencil.  The preservation pencil allowed me to apply warm moisture to discrete areas of the object (you can see the stream of moisture coming through the orange nozzle in the picture below).  Once an area is humidified, it becomes soft and pliable.  The humidified area is reshaped by supporting it with ethafoam inserts or with rare earth magnets and ethafoam padding.  This support is critical to maintain the correct shape as the humidified area losses moisture and stiffens again.

Clockwise from top left - the preservation pencil in use; ethafoam supports used to hold the correct shape; interior view of rare earth magnet used to re-shape the area; exterior view of the same area with the magnet on the exterior

Clockwise from top left – the preservation pencil in use; ethafoam supports used to hold the correct shape; exterior view of rare earth magnet used to re-shape the area; interior view of the same area with the magnet on the interior

5)     The tears were repaired from the inside using Japanese tissue patches toned with acrylic paint and adhered using methyl cellulose.

Interior of the mask after tear repair

Interior of the mask after tear repair

Once the interior problems were addressed, I could return to the instability on the exterior parts of the mask, but you will have to wait for my next post to hear about that!

- posted by Tessa de Alarcon

 

Preparing to “re-wrap” PUM I

It’s been a busy week in the Artifact Lab, and I was fortunate to have lots of help from our University of Delaware pre-program intern Melissa Miller and our summer graduate intern from Cardiff University’s conservation program, Anna O’Neill.

Anna O'Neill repairs the linen on one side of PUM I's body

Anna O’Neill repairs the linen on one side of PUM I’s body

As I’ve written about previously, I have been working on the stabilization of some of PUM I’s linen on his head, chest, and body. You can read a little more about it by following this link.

This week, Melissa, Anna and I continued to relocate and repair detached linen fragments from the outer shroud and the narrow bands wrapped around PUM I (thanks to Tom Stanley in our Public Relations office, there’s a great photo of us doing this work on the museum’s facebook page). Just to give you an idea of what is involved, here are some photos documenting the process:

From top left: detached linen before reattaching with strips of Japanese tissue paper (indicated by red arrows), after reattachment, and after rejoining with the rest of the surrounding linen

From top left: detached linen before reattaching with strips of Japanese tissue paper (indicated by red arrows), after reattachment, and after rejoining with the rest of the surrounding linen

All of this work is in preparation for the encapsulation of PUM I’s outer shroud using nylon bobbinett, or netting. Encapsulating the mummy with a sheer material like the nylon netting will help to hold many of these fragile areas together and will provide support and protection for this very deteriorated fabric, BUT because it is so sheer, it will still allow details of the linen to be seen. I used a similar technique to protect the linen on the “feet” of our falcon mummy (see our post about this here).

The nylon netting is white, so we need to tone it to a color similar to the linen before use. Yesterday, Anna worked diligently to find an appropriate color – here is a shot of her color matching and testing in progress:

PUMI toning nettingRe-creating the color of “mummy cloth” is harder than you’d think – the linen is not all the same color, so we need to find a color that will blend in well with the various shades.

In the upcoming weeks we hope to start “re-wrapping” PUM I and then begin the process to reassemble all of his various pieces. As usual, there’s always something exciting to see in the Artifact Lab!

 

Investigation of a mummy bead “coating”

While we continue to work on the conservation of PUM I‘s remains, we also have been taking this opportunity to carry out some analysis on the residues and substances preserved on his wrappings and on the beads that once made up his beaded burial shroud.

Since the last time we wrote about these beads, we have recovered even more in the conservation process; we now have a total of 35 beads – all either tubular or circular in shape. As we wrote about in a previous post, all of the beads are covered with concretions, mostly a brown, waxy material. Here is an image of one of the beads before cleaning, and after partial exploratory cleaning, revealing the beautiful blue color of the bead:

A tubular bead before (left) and after (right) exploratory cleaning to remove the residue on the surface ( 10X magnification)

A tubular bead before (left) and after (right) exploratory cleaning to remove the residue on the surface ( 10X magnification)

This material does not appear to be dirt or accumulated debris from the mummy. But, it can be removed rather easily from the beads, especially with the help of some mineral spirits, which suggested to me that it is some sort of wax.

Based on this information, I was suspecting that either this material was related to a substance applied to the beads to help the beaded shroud stay in place at the time of burial (but we have yet to locating any research supporting this theory – it was more common to sew or tie these beaded shrouds in place) or that it is related to a substance applied to the shroud at the time of discovery, to assist with the removal of the shroud.

In conservation, when it comes to investigating unknown, likely organic substances, there are several analytical techniques that can be helpful. One of these techniques is Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy. FTIR works by exposing a sample to infrared radiation, which causes the sample to selectively absorb radiation, depending on the molecules present. The individual peaks in the resulting absorption spectrum can be analyzed or the spectrum can be compared to reference spectra to help characterize or identify a material.

We provided a small sample of our “bead coating” to Gretchen Hall, a consulting scholar in the Biomolecular Archaeology lab here at the museum. She ran the sample for us and provided the resulting spectrum and interpretation. Here is the spectrum produced by our sample:

E2813A_FTIR_beadThis spectrum shows that the sample is mostly organic as evidenced by the dominant peaks in the 2900 cm-1 region which are characteristic of C-H bond stretches.  In addition, there were many peaks in the “fingerprint” 1800-1000 cm-1 region where various organic molecules absorb. The absorption around 1730 cm-1 (due to C-O double bond stretches) suggests organic acids are present, possibly from resins or beeswax. Both of these families of compounds would also have bands around 1470 (a O-H bending absorption) which are seen in our sample. Importantly, the sample also shows a strong band around 720-730 cm-1 (due to the C-H in long hydrocarbon chains) which is only present in beeswax.

For comparison, here is our bead coating sample spectrum displayed just below the spectrum for a standard beeswax:

E2813A_FTIRBased on this analysis, our “bead coating” sample likely contains some beeswax, which is consistent with our observations of the solubility and consistency of the material as well. It is known that beeswax was used in ancient Egypt – as an adhesive, a sealant, a binding medium, and in the mummification process. Bees were considered by the Egyptians to be precious insects with magical and economic prestige, and these values would have extended to their wax (Ikram and Dodson 1998).

For a more definite identification of our sample, the next step would be to analyze the material using gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS).

Special thanks to the Biomolecular Archaeology Lab and Dr. Gretchen Hall for running this sample and providing the analysis.