About two wooden Egyptian heads…

“You have a wonderful job!” It’s a sentence that a conservator often hears. But what is really this incredible job? I propose to you to have a closer look at what a conservator usually does by following step by step the conservation of two artifacts recently arrived in the Artifact Lab.

Laura blogpost1Not really the glamorous objects you imagine when you think about Ancient Egypt, right? But they can reveal so many things to us.

Let’s begin with all what we knew when they arrived in the Lab: these artifacts are two Egyptian wooden statue heads. They bear remains of polychromy (blue and red painting) and have inlaid eyes. In their storage drawer were three labels: one quoting a publication about Dendera (the place where they were excavated) describing the heads, and two others mentioning a previous treatment in 1965 with an adhesive called Vinylite.  Other information about these objects came from our curators, who knew that the heads are from the site of Dendera, more precisely the mastaba of Adu II, excavated by Flinders Petrie, a famous British archaeologist. Moreover, the heads are from the Sixth dynasty (2374-2140 BCE). That’s all we knew about those two heads before beginning our work !

Let’s have a closer look at them…

Left: one of the wooden heads viewed in profile Right: a front view of the other wooden head

Left: one of the wooden heads viewed in profile.  Right: a front view of the other wooden head.

A long quest is ahead and we’re only starting to think about an appropriate conservation treatment. Indeed, before any scalpel reaches their surface, we need to gather as much information as possible about the artifacts. Stay tuned to hear more about our discoveries and the decisions that we make based on what we learn.

 

  • ArchyBell

    Those are very impressive heads–I remember seeing them through the glass when I visited the Museum a few weeks ago. I know you’re just starting in on them, so you may not be able to answer yet, but I’m struck by how well-defined (well-preserved?) the margins of the eyes are in comparison with the rest of the surfaces. Do you have any idea why those areas look so sharp? Would it have something to do with the inlay materials, wear patterns, some sort of surface treatment, or something else altogether? Or are the edges of the eyes also an inlay rather than part of the wooden object? Thanks!

    • lauragalicier

      Hello,
      The edges of the eyes are part of the inlay and are made of a copper alloy (meaning that we have a mixture of copper and tin, just like in a bronze, but we don’t know the respective percentage of each one so we use a general name). There is no wood at all in those edges and they are indeed well-preserved, apart from some (usual !) copper corrosion products.
      If you are interested in those eyes, a post to come will focus on them and their materials, but for now we are still analyzing them, especially using pXRF (to know more about pXRF in the Lab: http://www.penn.museum/sites/artifactlab/2012/10/26/pxrf-in-the-artifact-lab/). Thanks for your question !

    • mgleeson

      Hello,

      The edges of the eyes are part of the inlay and are made of a copper
      alloy (meaning that we have a mixture of copper and tin, just like in a
      bronze, but we don’t know the respective percentage of each one so we
      use a general name). There is no wood at all in those edges and they are
      indeed well-preserved, apart from some (usual !) copper corrosion
      products.

      If you are interested in those eyes, a post to come will focus on them
      and their materials, but for now we are still analyzing them, especially
      using pXRF (to know more about pXRF in the Lab: http://www.penn.museum/sites/artifactlab/2012/10/26/pxrf-in-the-artifact-lab/). Thanks for your question !

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