Reattaching a mangled “ear”

If you read our blogposts back in February and March about x-raying our animal mummies (see Animal Mummies: contents revealed part I and part II) you will see that the cat mummy we x-rayed actually has no cat remains inside the wrappings. Here is the image of the cat mummy and radiograph:

50-17-1: mummy paired with radiograph

50-17-1: mummy paired with radiograph

Just because there is no cat inside, it doesn’t mean that we don’t treat it just like any of our other animal mummies. (And it doesn’t mean that these empty mummies were any less significant in ancient times either – check out this article which we’ve linked to in previous posts about the Manchester Museum and University of Manchester project which found that 1/3 of the 800 mummies they imaged have no remains inside.)

In the case of this cat mummy, it was in the lab for treatment so that it could be reinstalled in our Secrets and Science gallery. One of its major problems was that its right ear was mangled and partially detached.

Two views of the cat mummy's head, with red arrows pointing to the mangled ear

Two views of the cat mummy’s head, with red arrows pointing to the mangled ear

Repairing this area was slightly complicated because so much original material had been lost. I ended up flipping the cat mummy over and working on it from the back, and secured the ear using Japanese tissue paper toned with acrylic paint, adhered with 5% methylcellulose in deionized water.

Our little kitty patient wrapped in tissue paper and being supported on its belly for treatment

Our little kitty patient wrapped in tissue paper and being supported on its belly during treatment

This treatment worked well and will prevent further damage in that area in the future.

Two views of the cat mummy's head after treatment

Two views of the cat mummy’s head after treatment

Besides the ear, there were unraveling and torn areas of linen wrappings that needed to be secured. These areas were stabilized with strips of nylon bobbinet, toned with acrylic paint. The bobbinet was secured with hair silk toned with acrylic paint.

Overall view of the cat mummy before (left) and after (right) conservation treatment

Overall view of the cat mummy before (left) and after (right) conservation treatment

It doesn’t show up so well in some of these images, so here is a detail of the cat’s face, just because it’s so cute!

Detail of 50-17-1

Detail of 50-17-1

This cat mummy is now happily reinstalled in the Secrets and Science gallery, so you can see it anytime you visit the museum.

Tiny discoveries

As conservators, we derive great joy from the tiny discoveries we make every day as we carry out our work. Since Alexis North joined our Conservation Department as the Project Conservator for the Egyptian Storage Move Project, I have had a regular companion in the Artifact Lab, and so she and I get to share these tiny discoveries with each other on a regular basis. Not a day goes by without one of us yelping with surprise, or delight, when we see something unexpected, or beautiful, or just really, really cool.

Today, Alexis started working on our mummy Hapi-Men. I’ve posted a video of his CT-scan awhile ago on the blog, and he has been on exhibit here in the museum for decades. A mummified man dating to the Ptolemaic Period (30th Dynasty), he was excavated by Sir Flinders Petrie in cemetery G at Abydos in 1902.

Alexis carefully removing accumulated debris from Hapimen's beautifully wrapped fingers

Alexis carefully removing accumulated grime from Hapi-Men’s beautifully wrapped fingers

Just a few minutes ago, over the hum of the HEPA vacuum, Alexis exclaimed, I think I found an amulet! She has been cleaning accumulated grime and dust from the surface of Hapi-Men’s wrappings, and underneath all of that grime she indeed revealed an amulet that appears to be a scarab. We know from his CT-scan that he has many amulets included in his wrappings, but we didn’t expect that we’d be able to see one from the outside.

A detail of the amulet (highlighted with the yellow box) just below Hapi-Men's right hand

A detail of the amulet (highlighted with the yellow box) just below Hapi-Men’s right hand. Click on the image to view a larger version.

Super cool! More about his treatment soon.

APPEAR Project – Reflectance Transformation Imaging of the Fayum Mummy Portraits

Hi! This is Eve Mayberger with more information about the Ancient Panel Painting: Examination, Analysis, and Research (APPEAR) project. During the past few months, I have been investigating the three Fayum mummy portraits in the Penn Museum with digital photography, multispectral imaging (MSI), portable x-ray fluorescence (pXRF), and x-ray radiography. Recently, I completed reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) on the portraits with the help of Aislinn Smalling (Leventis Foundation Fellow) and Archer Smith (archaeology post-baccalaureate student). I was grateful to have help because RTI data capture is much easier with multiple people.

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APPEAR Project, Capturing RTI data for E16214 with Aislinn Smalling and Archer Smith

RTI is a type of computational photography that uses digital computation instead of optical processes to create new data. The principles of RTI are that the object and camera are placed in fixed positions. The light source (we used a triggered flash) is moved around the object at different angles. To ensure that the flash is at a set distance from the object, we tied a string to the light. Black spheres are included in each photo and the exact light position is determined from the highlight on the reflective spheres. Normally there are between 36-60 images collected to create one RTI data set.

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APPEAR Project, Four (4) out of the forty-eight (48) photos taken for the RTI data set for E16213

The real power of this technique is the interactive RTI Viewer tool which allows the subject to be re-lighted from any direction. Different rending modes can be helpful to bring out certain surface details such as incised designs or impressions. It is important to remember that this technique is only “pseudo 3D” and while it can be very informative on surface characteristics, it is not scalable or measurable.

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APPEAR Project, Screenshot of RTI Viewer for E16213

The results for E16213 were particularly interesting because we were looking to see if the “curls” visible under MSI were visible with RTI. While RTI showed the working techniques characteristic of encaustic painting, no incised lines corresponding with the curls were detected. Perhaps the curls visible with MSI relate to a pigment that had faded to the point where it is no longer visible under normal light. One possibility is that it could be madder but more research is needed to confirm this hypothesis.

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APPEAR Project, Comparison of the curl region with MSI VIVL and RTI for E16213

In a few weeks, I will be presenting my research on the Penn Museum mummy portraits at the interim APPEAR meeting at the British Museum. Be sure to visit the blog in the upcoming weeks to read more about the APPEAR project and my experience in London!

Eve Mayberger, Curriculum Intern

APPEAR Project – X-Ray Radiography of the Fayum Mummy Portraits

Hi! This is Eve Mayberger with more information about the Ancient Panel Painting: Examination, Analysis, and Research (APPEAR) project. During the past few months, I have been investigating the three Fayum mummy portraits in the Penn Museum with digital photography, multispectral imaging (MSI), portable x-ray fluorescence (pXRF), and most recently x-ray radiography.

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APPEAR Project, Processing the x-ray radiographs

X-ray radiography is an incredibly useful technique to understand different materials, manufacturing techniques, later alterations, and condition issues. The x-ray radiograph of the Portrait of a Young Man (E16213) illustrates tool marks characteristic of the encaustic technique. The pigmented wax is worked warm and one can see the individual brush strokes. The background is made with a wide brush while the face is heavily worked with small tools to create the delicate shading in the flesh tones.

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Young Man (E16213); Digital photography; Digital x-ray radiography (36 kV 6mA 6s)

X-ray radiography can help record decorative elements that are difficult to see and documented under normal conditions. The gold frame around the Portrait of a Boy (E16212) is ornamented with raised decorations. The sheen of the gold and the later surface alterations make it difficult to see the overall design; however, the decoration is easily discernible on the x-ray radiograph. It is also interesting to note that the wood grain is visible.

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Boy (E16212); Digital photography; Digital x-ray radiography with annotation (36 kV 6mA 6s)

Sometimes x-ray radiography can show alterations to the surface or substrate. The Portrait of a Woman (E16214) shows that the artist decided to change the outline of the face. The annotated image highlights how the contours of the of the woman’s face was changed to give her a fuller cheek. Observe that the dark resin circle around the face is not visible in the x-ray radiograph. It is important to remember that not all materials (especially if they are of different densities) can be shown in a single radiographic image.

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Woman (E16214); Digital photography; Digital x-ray radiography with annotation (36 kV 6mA 6s)

Be sure to visit the blog in the upcoming weeks to read more about the APPEAR project!

Eve Mayberger, Curriculum Intern

A Roman Period boy mummy and his coffin

This child mummy recently joined us in the lab:

97-121-114A: child mummy

97-121-114A: child mummy

As confirmed through digital radiography, this is a young boy, age currently undetermined (we will need to consult with our physical anthropologist to confirm an approximate age). He came to us in 1936 from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, from an unknown location in Egypt. He dates to the Roman Period, approximately 31 BCE – 395 CE. Because he was partially unwrapped prior to joining our collection in the 1930s, we can see how well-preserved his body is, including his hair and eyelashes.

As of yesterday, he seemed to be stuck to the bottom of his coffin, so we were brainstorming ways to liberate him so that we could carry out a full condition assessment and also to allow for conservation treatment. But it turns out that won’t be necessary! Before turning to more drastic measures, I decided to do some more prodding and pulling and managed to pry him from the bottom. We are especially pleased that he came out with no problems, because the inside of the coffin is painted with an image of Nut:

View inside child mummy's coffin, 97-121-114B

View inside child mummy’s coffin, 97-121-114B

We believe that this is an image of the goddess Nut, based on comparison with images of her inside coffins dating to the Roman Period from other collections, like this double coffin in the collection of the National Museum of Scotland. Nut was the sky-goddess and would have been painted inside the coffin to protect the child.

We will now work on getting this boy mummy and his coffin ready for re-installation in the Secrets and Science Gallery by early April.

Animal mummies: contents revealed part II

This is a follow-up to my last blogpost, where I posted some side-by-side images of animal mummies and their x-rays. In this post I’m going to explain what we think we’re seeing in the radiographs.

Let’s start with one of the easiest ones:

50-17-1: mummy paired with radiograph

50-17-1: mummy paired with radiograph

This one is really easy. While the mummy is made to look like a cat, we can clearly see that there are no cat remains, or any remains, inside. All we see inside are very small straight pins, which were pushed into the linen wrappings in 1980 to keep them from unraveling. We know this happened in 1980 because it is noted in an old conservation report. A good example of an ancient “fake”!

The next one is also fairly easy to interpret.

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E12438: mummy from the side, paired with radiograph

We thought this was an ibis mummy, and sure enough, we see an entire ibis inside the wrappings. The GIF above highlights the distinctive skull and beak of the ibis in red.

You could say that the next one, which appears to be a crocodile mummy, has a couple extra special surprises inside:

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E17631: mummy from above, paired with radiograph

There are 3 baby crocodiles under the wrappings! The GIF above highlights the 3 skulls in red.

Next we have what appears to be a falcon mummy, but what we see inside is harder to interpret:

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E12441: mummy paired with radiograph

Upon close inspection, we can see 2 separate, and very small birds inside. In the GIF above, the red outlines the skulls and beaks and the blue outlines the bodies. We don’t think that these birds are falcons, or even birds of prey at all. They look much more like doves or pigeons (based on examination of comparative specimens with zooarchaeologist Dr. Kate Moore). It’s possible that this mummy was never meant to represent a falcon at all – the jury is still out on this one.

Lastly, we have the tiniest mummy of the bunch:

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E12435: mummy from the side, paired with radiograph

There is an animal inside, and it looks like its body is upside-down. It is very difficult to make out, but we can see its front teeth and its long tail. This one definitely called for the expertise of Dr. Moore, who brought up some comparative specimens from her collection. Ultimately, it was the teeth that convinced her that what we see inside this little mummy is a shrew.

Dr. Moore holding a tiny shrew skull

Dr. Moore holding a tiny shrew skull

To the ancient Egyptians, the shrew represented the nocturnal side of Horus. Here is a link to an image of a similar shrew mummy in the collection at the Brooklyn Museum.

Our fun with animal mummies never ends! For more information about where these mummies came from, check our their catalog records in our Collections Database:

50-17-1: Cat mummy

E17631: Crocodile mummy

E12441: Falcon mummy

E12438: Ibis mummy

E12435: Shrew mummy

Animal mummies: contents revealed part I

We x-rayed several animal mummies last week.

Here we are checking in on our patient. Isn't this little kitty mummy so cute, just lying there on the x-ray plate?

Here we are checking in on our patient. Isn’t this little kitty mummy so cute, just lying there on the x-ray plate?

Most of these mummies were on display in the Secrets and Science gallery until 2 weeks ago and several of them are going back on display soon. So now is our time to learn as much about them as possible!

We teamed up with Dr. Kate Moore, CAAM teaching specialist and zooarchaeologist, to see if we can figure out what is under the wrappings of these little (and a couple really little) mummies.

I’m going to divide the information about this project into 2 different posts. For this first post, I’m going to show side-by-side images of the some of the mummies and their x-rays, and welcome readers to make some guesses as to what is inside. I’ll follow this post by providing some information on what we think we are seeing, and some outstanding questions we still have.

E12438: mummy from the side, paired with radiograph

E12438: mummy from the side, paired with radiograph

E17631: mummy from above, paired with radiograph

E17631: mummy from above, paired with radiograph

E12441: mummy paired with radiograph

E12441: mummy paired with radiograph

E12435: mummy from the side, paired with radiograph

E12435: mummy from the side, paired with radiograph

50-17-1: mummy paired with radiograph

50-17-1: mummy paired with radiograph

You can find out more information about these little mummies by searching our Collections Database online (and also by looking at our Current in the Lab tab on this blog). We’ll blog about our interpretations soon.

Conservator Alexis North viewing a radiograph down in our x-ray room

Conservator Alexis North viewing a radiograph in our x-ray room

New mummies in the lab (teaser!)

We are working on documenting and examining the mummies and artifacts that came into the lab this week. We’ll be updating the blog as we learn more. In the meantime, we have updated our Currently in the lab page so you can get an idea of what there is to see in here at the moment.

Teaser! This crocodile mummy is one of the newest additions to the lab.

This crocodile mummy (E17631) is one of the newest additions to the lab.

Questions? Comments? Please let us know by starting a discussion at the end of this post. Thanks!

 

Out with the old, in with the…old

Since we opened in September 2012, visitors to the Artifact Lab have become accustomed to this view:

View into the Artifact Lab, with boards from Ahanakht's coffin pointed out with red arrows

View into the Artifact Lab, with boards from Ahanakht’s coffin pointed out with red arrows

The shelves lining the back wall of the lab have been mostly occupied with large cedar boards from the Middle Kingdom outer coffin of Ahanakht. We’ve written about this coffin before here, here, and here, and we’ve spent a lot of time in the lab examining, conserving, and studying the boards, alongside the Curator-in-charge of the Egyptian Section Dr. David Silverman and his graduate student Leah Humphrey.

Conservator Alexis North and Dr. Silverman reviewing details captured through reflectance transformation imaging (RTI)

Conservator Alexis North and Dr. Silverman reviewing details of the boards captured through reflectance transformation imaging (RTI)

Last week, the scenery in here changed quite a bit, as the boards were carefully packed:

Kevin Cahail secures one of the coffin boards to its custom-made palette in preparation for moving off-site

Curatorial Assistant Dr. Kevin Cahail secures one of the coffin boards to its custom-made palette in preparation for moving off-site

Large boards from Ahanakht's coffin packed and ready to be moved off-site

Large boards from Ahanakht’s coffin packed and ready to be moved off-site

Since the boards have been documented and conserved, they are moving off-site temporarily to make room for “new” things to come into the lab. These “new” pieces are actually being deinstalled from our Secrets and Science and Mummy Galleries, in order to retrofit those galleries to ensure that they will be secure during the construction project happening next door at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP).

Views into the Secrets and Science gallery, before deinstallation began

Views into the Secrets and Science gallery, before deinstallation began

Views into the Mummy Gallery, before deinstallation

Views into the Mummy Gallery, before deinstallation

Some of these objects and mummies will go back on display shortly, but need to be examined and conserved first, so they will be worked on in the Artifact Lab in the next few weeks to allow for reinstallation.

Details about the construction project at HUP and how it is affecting our museum have been described in some recent news articles, which you can find by following links that I’ve included at the end of this post.

For a couple days, the shelves in the lab were empty:

Conservator Alexis North working in the Artifact Lab with emptied shelves in the background

Conservator Alexis North working in the Artifact Lab with emptied shelves in the background

but we didn’t waste any time filling them back up again:

Shelves in the Artifact Lab filling up with new things

Shelves in the Artifact Lab filling up with new things

Note, this photo above was taken after day 1 of deinstallation; there will be more coming into the lab in the upcoming days.

We’ll post more about some of these “new” artifacts and mummies as we work on them in the next few weeks.

Penn Museum moves history (carefully) to make way for future

Demolition next door puts Penn Museum on shaky ground

Delicate process of preserving artifacts as things get shaky at UPenn Museum

Moving Marble: Penn Museum prepares for Penn Tower demolition

 

APPEAR Project – Portable X-Ray Fluorescence on the Fayum Mummy Portraits

Hi! This is Eve Mayberger with another update on the Ancient Panel Painting: Examination, Analysis, and Research (APPEAR) project (see earlier posts here and here). I recently investigated the pigments used on the three Fayum mummy portraits with the portable x-ray fluorescence (pXRF). While the pXRF results for all three portraits are interesting, I am going to briefly discuss the findings for the Portrait of a Woman (E16214).

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Woman (E16214); Annotation of pXRF test locations

One of the major advantages of pXRF is that it is a non-destructive technique that uses x-rays to identify specific elements. The technique can help to characterize pigments and metal alloy components. It is important to remember that pXRF is a surface technique and will only detect elements present on the surface. I decided to analyze the seven different colors used on the mummy portrait to determine if there are any elemental differences.

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Collecting data with the Brucker pXRF

All the test locations recorded prominent peaks for calcium (Ca), iron (Fe), and lead (Pb). Although there is some variation in peak heights across the test spots, it is important to remember that pXRF is a qualitative not a quantitative technique. See below for a representative spectrum for six out of the seven analyzed locations.

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Woman (E16214); Spectrum for sample #2 – forehead; Peaks detected for Ca, Fe, and Pb

The green used to paint the gemstones on the woman’s necklace has an additional peak for copper (Cu). This is not surprising as many greens have a copper component. In ancient Egypt, the greens were generally made with malachite or green earths, or from a mixture of blue and yellow pigments. While malachite is a copper-based compound, more analysis is needed to confidently identify the green pigment used for the gemstones.

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Woman (E16214); Spectrum for sample #5 – gemstone on necklace; Peaks detected for Ca, Fe, Pb, and Cu

It should be noted that not all pigments can be identified with pXRF alone. Some organic pigments, such as madder, cannot be detected with pXRF. In addition to using analytical instrumentation, it is also important to know what colorants are expected on specific artifacts to help limit the number of possible pigments.

Be sure to visit the blog in the upcoming weeks to read more about the APPEAR project!

Eve Mayberger, Curriculum Intern