What’s the deal with Pinahsi’s feet?

I think we can all agree that our mummy Pinahsi’s feet need a little TLC.

A detail of Pinahsi's feet

A detail of Pinahsi’s feet before treatment

A long time ago, the wrappings around his feet were damaged, exposing his toes. His toes are very well-preserved, despite the fact that 2 toes on the left foot are missing.

The second toe on each of his feet is lifted away from the others, and we have been debating whether this distortion was caused by the feet being tightly wrapped during mummification (which they were) or whether this distortion was caused by a condition Pinahsi had during his lifetime (I’m leaning toward the second possibility).

A view of the toes from the side

A view of the toes from the side

In any case, I thought it was about time his feet received a little bit of attention.

While I can’t do anything for those crooked toes, I am able to address the damaged linen and resin-coated linen wrappings around his feet. I repaired a few tears in the linen with Japanese tissue paper and 5% methyl cellulose, and then I wrapped the feet in the most damaged area with nylon bobbinett, toned to match the surrounding material with acrylic paint. Visually, the difference is subtle, but I can assure you that the feet are going to be much less prone to continued deterioration now that the damaged linen is stabilized and protected.

Details of the feet before (left) and after (right) treatment.

Details of the feet before (left) and after (right) treatment.

The back of the feet before (left) and after (right) treatment.

The bottom of the feet before (left) and after (right) treatment.

In the images above, you can probably pick out the band of bobbinett – it’s more visible on the bottom than on the top. When you get really close to the feet, the bobbinett is really obvious.

Detail of the top of the feet, showing the bobbinett overlay.

Detail of the top of the feet, showing the bobbinett overlay.

In our efforts to strike this balance between making our work more or less invisible, while also wanting to make sure that the new materials we add are easily distinguished from the original, we often refer to the “six-foot/six-inch” rule – at six feet, our work is not obvious but at six inches you will be able to see it. In this case, it is my hope that when the mummy is on display and viewed through the display case, the bobbinett I add will not be distracting to the viewer, but when you look for it, you’ll be able to pick it out.

Now I’m about to tackle the damaged linen on Pinahsi’s body. Just yesterday, we lifted Pinahsi up onto some Ethafoam support blocks, to allow me to access the damaged areas on the mummy’s sides and back.

Pinahsi raised up on Ethafoam blocks.

Pinahsi raised up on Ethafoam blocks.

I will provide updates as I complete more of the treatment!


Examination and treatment of Wilfred/a

We still haven’t gotten to the bottom of the question of whether our mummy Wilfred is indeed Wilfred or is instead Wilfreda, because there have been a few things to take care of first. In the meantime, I am referring to the mummy as Wilfred/a. Hopefully this person would not be offended by the ambiguity, but we hope to clear this up soon by x-raying the mummy using our new digital x-ray system. Before we can do this, I have been working to stabilize the remains enough to allow them to be moved safely down to our x-ray room. In the process of stabilizing the remains, I have made some observations.

The exposed remains on the upper part of the body, while very fragile and disarticulated, are remarkably well-preserved in areas. The preservation of the hands and arms is particularly notable – the fingernails are intact on the left hand, and it is clear that the arms and hands were wrapped separately with linen as part of the mummification process, due to the presence of linen and impressions of linen on the skin.

A detail of the left hand and arm. Note the presence of fingernails, and the linen and linen impressions, marked on the photo with yellow and red arrows.

A detail of the left hand and arm. Note the presence of fingernails, and the linen and linen impressions, marked on the photo with yellow and red arrows.

Unfortunately, we can also see that there has been damage to the right hand since the 1932 x-rays were taken (Wilfred/a, along with many other mummies in our collection, was x-rayed in 1932 by Dr. J.G. Cohen at the Graduate Hospital). In the old radiograph, it is evident that on the right hand, the thumb is intact, and at least most of the hand and fingers are also intact (the hand is partially cut off on the image). Today, we’re missing the thumb, all of the fingers, and part of the hand – only 3 of the metacarpal bones remain.

Left image: 1932 radiograph, showing arms crossed and right hand intact. Right image: 2015 photograph, showing damage to right hand.

Left image: 1932 radiograph, showing arms crossed and right hand intact. Right image: 2015 photograph, showing damage to right hand.

In my examination of the remains, I did not locate any detached elements from the right hand, but it doesn’t meant that they’re not in there somewhere! We may locate them once we x-ray the remains again.

Also of note is that the arms are crossed over the chest, right over left. From what I have read, the crossed arm position is generally not seen until the New Kingdom, when it is reserved for royalty, until about 600 BCE or later. We think that Wilfred/a dates to the Ptolemaic or Roman period, based on the style of the intact wrappings around the legs.

This mummy was elaborate wrapped with narrow strips of linen, creating a rhomboid pattern.

Wilfred/a’s wrappings are intact from the pelvis down, with narrow strips of linen creating an elaborate rhomboid pattern.

Because Wilfred/a likely dates to this Graeco/Roman period, the arms crossed over the chest do not indicate royalty, necessarily, and may have been to emulate the pose of Osiris (see this article for more information).

Once these observations were documented, I started in on the treatment. Since there are no immediate plans to exhibit Wilfred/a’s remains, I took some measures to stabilize them for the move down to the x-ray room and for eventual return to storage. If we ever do decide to exhibit them, the conservation work to prepare them for display will be much more straightforward now that some of the initial work has been carried out.

After removing Wilfred/a from the mattress (with a little help from my colleagues), I carefully removed all fully detached material and bagged it according to material type. I lightly cleaned the surface of the exposed arms and the intact wrappings on the legs and feet, recovering some insect remains and remnants of old packing materials (like cotton and wood shavings) in the process. I then wrapped the mummy in Tyvek and bolstered the sides of the chest area with pillows made from Tyvek and polyester batting. Wilfred/a is now ready to move onto a rigid support, which we plan to make from archival honeycomb board specially purchased for this project.

Wilfred/a, pictured here after treatment, is now almost ready to be moved down to our x-ray room.

Wilfred/a, pictured here after treatment, is now almost ready to be moved down to our x-ray room.


Wilfred/a’s cartonnage

While we prepare our mummy Wilfred/a to be x-rayed, we are simultaneously working on fragments of cartonnage that may belong to the him/her.

Cartonnage fragments before treatment, in no particular arrangement or orientation

Cartonnage fragments before treatment, in no particular arrangement or orientation

There are 35 pieces, some of which are assemblages of multiple fragments mended together, plus some very small fragments in a ziploc bag.

The cartonnage consists of 2 layers of linen adhered together, with a fine plaster coating on one side, which is painted, and a thinner, more coarse layer of plaster on the other side. Here is a magnified image of one of the fragments, and an image of it in cross-section:

The painted side of one fragment of cartonnage (left) and the same fragment in cross-section (right), 7.5X magnification

The painted side of one fragment of cartonnage (left) and the same fragment in cross-section (right), 7.5X magnification

It is unclear what these fragments originally belonged to. They definitely do not make up an entire object, and they are mostly flat. We can see that there are at least 3 figures depicted in the painted decoration, but we’re still in the process of trying to piece together the rest of the design, and trying to figure out which pieces join together.

Pre-program intern Yan Ling examines the cartonnage fragments with the aid of an optivisor.

Pre-program intern Yan Ling examines the cartonnage fragments with the aid of an optivisor.

Yan Ling, our pre-program intern and an art conservation undergraduate from the University of Delaware, is helping me document the fragments. As part of our examination process, we will be looking at the fragments with our Mini Crimescope, and we’ll post anything interesting that we find on here soon.


Another new mummy in the lab

We have another new mummy in the lab, and we may actually know this one’s name (unlike Wilfred, or Wilfreda, who has that nickname for some unknown reason).

E16221, Mummified man from Abydos

E16221, Mummified man from Abydos

According to our database, and the original catalog card, this is a mummified man named Pinahsi. He was excavated in 1901-02 from Abydos by Sir W. M. Flinders Petrie, and dates to the 19th Dynasty. The mummy doesn’t appear to be mentioned in Petrie’s Abydos publications, but there is a note on the catalog card that he may be related to the owner of the stela “Pa-asi” which is mentioned in his publication, and was found by Petrie in the Osiris temple at Abydos. I’m uncertain how this stela and the mummy are linked, but I’m hoping that this may become more clear once we access related information in our Archives.

Pinahsi has been on display in our Mummy Gallery since 1990, and we removed him from display for some much-needed conservation treatment. When the mummy came into the lab, I guessed that he dated to the New Kingdom, because the wrappings on the head look nearly identical to those on this disembodied head (below) that we worked on in the lab last year.

E2162, New Kingdom (22nd Dynasty) mummy head

E2162, New Kingdom (22nd Dynasty) mummy head

Fortunately for Pinahsi, we have his whole body, which is wrapped in many layers of linen, ranging from coarser to very fine weave, and some of the uppermost layers are impregnated with resin (just as we see on the mummy head above). Pinahsi is very heavy, which indicates just how much of this resin was used in the process of mummifying him.


Detail of the head and upper half of Pinahsi’s body, showing resin-soaked linen around the head, and severe insect damage on the linen over the chest

We’ll be working on stabilizing his linen wrappings in areas where they are torn and detaching, and we will make a new support for him before he returns to exhibit.


Detail of Pinahsi’s feet. The linen is badly damaged in this area, exposing the toes. One visitor remarked yesterday that it looked like he was trying to wriggle out of his wrappings!

We will also x-ray his remains again; they were x-rayed back in the 1930s and you can see one of these images by clicking here, which shows that Pinahsi has amulets included in his wrappings. Hopefully with our new digital x-radiography equipment, we’ll be able to capture even better images of these amulets and his remains.

To catch a glimpse of Pinahsi before he goes back on display, visit the Artifact Lab – every day the museum is open over the holiday, we will have someone working in the lab between the open window hours, which are 11:15-11:45 and 2:00-2:30 Tuesday – Friday, and 12:30-1:00 and 3:30-4:00 Saturday and Sunday.


Analysis of the shabti box varnish

This is a long overdue post about the varnish on our beloved shabti box (in my last post I referred to the box as troubled…I’ve developed a tiny bit of a love-hate relationship with it, which I’m only now admitting).

A detail of the shabti box before treatment, showing the actively flaking and fractured orange-yellow varnish

A detail of the shabti box before treatment, showing the actively flaking and fractured orange-yellow varnish

Anyway, I’ve briefly mentioned that we believe that the varnish on our shabti box is a pistacia resin, but how did we come to this conclusion? I started out by doing some research into similar objects, and into painted wood from the New Kingdom in general. As I mentioned in a previous post, we know that some painted wooden objects were varnished with pistacia resin during this time period, and these varnishes often look like the coating we see on our shabti box. But there were some things about the coating, including the fact that it was actively flaking, and the fact that there are areas on the box where the paint is lost and where the coating extends over the loss onto the gesso below, which is strange.

In order to start characterizing the coating, I looked at the box under different light sources and did a microchemical spot test, all described here. All roads were leading toward the conclusion that the coating is pistacia resin, but since we had so many available samples (i.e. detached pieces of the varnish) I wanted to investigate further.

First, we turned to a resource that we have in-house: Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, or FT-IR. FT-IR is a method of infrared spectroscopy, where IR radiation is passed through a sample, and some of the radiation is absorbed and some of it is passed through or transmitted. A spectrum is produced that represents the molecular absorption and transmission, which is unique to that material. I collected samples of detached varnish from the shabti box and from one of the shabti figures, and passed them along to Tessa de Alarcon, a conservator in our department, and consulting scholar Dr. Gretchen Hall. Here is what the spectra look like for each:

FT-IR spectra for samples of varnish from the shabti (top) and the shabti box (bottom).

FT-IR spectra for samples of varnish from the shabti (top) and the shabti box (bottom). The characteristic peaks are labeled on the top spectrum.

They look virtually identical, which confirms that the varnish on the box is the same as the varnish on the shabtis.

Dr. Hall then compared the spectrum for the shabti box sample to spectra for mastic (Pistacia lenticus) and terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus), both pistacia resins.

Spectra for (from top to bottom): the shabti box sample, a sample of terebinth, a sample of mastic from Chios purchased in Athens, and a sample of mastic from Kremer Pigments (the Kremer Pigment mastic sample spectrum was found in the IRUG database). IRUG = Infrared and Raman Users Group

Spectra for (from top to bottom): the shabti box sample, a sample of terebinth collected from the Uluburun shipwreck, a sample of mastic from Chios purchased in Athens, and a sample of mastic from Kremer Pigments Inc. (the comparative spectra were found in the IRUG database, IRUG = Infrared and Raman Users Group)

They all look very similar, with characteristic resinous acid peaks that occur between 1700 & 1720 cm-1 (carbonyl stretching) & the acid OH stretching that occurs ~1460 cm-1.

In order to see if we could classify the shabti box resin even further, Dr. Hall took a sample to Dr. Chris Petersen, Affiliated Associate Professor in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC), where they analyzed it using Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS). GC-MS is a technique that combines 2 methods of analysis, and in conservation we use it to analyze organic compounds.

Dr. Hall and Dr. Petersen ran the sample and here is what the GC-MS chromatogram looks like:

L-55-23A_GCMSlabeled2Dr. Petersen labeled the peaks and included their structures. The structures are consistent with pistacia resin, either mastic or terebinth. They did identify a peak for 28-norolean-17-en-3-one (#3 above), characteristic of heated pistacia resin, which could indicate that the resin was heated before application (which would have turned it from clear to a yellowed varnish). We cannot be certain what color the varnish was when it was first applied, but the analysis does confirm the fact that the shabti box and the shabtis all have aged pistacia resin coatings.

We are grateful to both Dr. Hall and Dr. Petersen for their work on this analysis!


Putting the finishing touches on the shabti box

I have put a lot of work into our troubled shabti box, including investigating and analyzing the varnish (more on the analysis in an upcoming post), doing some pretty cool imaging, and consolidating all flaking and unstable varnish and paint with methylcellulose. After consolidation of the surfaces, the box does not look much different than it did when I started the treatment (and this is a good thing). As a reminder, here is an image of the front of the box before treatment:

shabti box frontAt this point, I could call the treatment done, or take it a step further, by filling in some of the losses of the painted surface, which appear bright white since those losses expose the gesso below. After consulting with Dr. Jen Wegner in the Egyptian Section and with Lynn Grant, the head of our department, I decided to fill in some of the larger losses which really make it difficult to appreciate the object and “read” the designs. I have even heard some visitors refer to the box as “that badly damaged piece of wood”, and that is not what we want people to be thinking when they eventually see this on display. While I know I can never return the box to its original condition, I can reduce the appearance of some of the damage. But how to fill the losses on such a fragile surface, in a way that will be reversible/retreatable?

After some hemming and hawing and some failed tests, I ultimately decided to fill the losses by first placing a small piece of Japanese tissue paper into the loss, then applying a tinted fill mixture over the paper. I did this by doing the following:

1. I took a quick snapshot of the surface I was about to work on. I then downloaded the image and copied it into a Word document. Using the scale in Word, I was able to resize the photograph in order to print it approximately true to size, and then I printed the image in black and white. This took no more than 5 minutes.

2. I placed a piece of Mylar over the B&W print-out and traced the losses I wanted to fill with a black marker.


B&W image with Mylar template moved off to the right side

3. After trimming the Mylar around one of the tracings, I taped it to a piece of Japanese tissue paper with a small piece of blue tape.

L-55-23A_template34. I cut out the Japanese tissue paper and adhered it into the loss on the shabti box with a small amount of 5% methylcellulose.

5. I then applied a fill mixture over the Japanese tissue paper. The fill mixture is made of 5% methylcellulose, glass microballoons, and powdered pigment.

Fill mixture (in the jar and on the spatula)

Fill mixture (in the jar and on the spatula)

This may sound tedious, but the whole process works very smoothly and relatively quickly. It also minimizes the amount of time I need to spend touching the object and therefore minimizes damage that might be caused by touching the very fragile surface.

I’m not finished, but so far I’m pretty happy with how the front of the box is looking:


Front view, during filling

It’s subtle, but to see the difference that filling makes, here are views before and after, side-by-side:


Before treatment (left) and during treatment (right)

The only problem is, I feel like I’ve opened a can of worms. There are so many losses and I am not going to fill them all, but as soon as the larger losses are filled, I start seeing all of the small ones! I think it’s looking better though and I will get some feedback from my colleagues before proceeding further.


Wilfred or Wilfreda?

So, there has been some controversy over the fact that our mummy Wilfred is being referred to by a man’s name because there is some suspicion that this mummy may in fact be female!

Just before Thanksgiving, Dr. Janet Monge, Keeper and Curator-in-Charge of the Museum’s Physical Anthropology Section, along with colleagues Page Selinsky and Francesca Candilio, took at peek at the mummy and there was a hot debate over some of the features on the pelvis, but they all started leaning toward the conclusion that the mummy may be a woman.

The group huddled around the mummy. Photo by Nina Owczarek, copied from the Museum's Instagram account.

The group huddled around the mummy. Photo by Nina Owczarek, copied from the Museum’s Instagram feed.

The group felt like they needed to see the bones better. One of them (half-jokingly) asked if we could just lift the pelvis out. While we plan to take some new x-rays using our new digital radiography equipment, we have to do some work on the mummy in the lab first. But in the meantime, we can take a look at the x-rays taken in 1932 over at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The only notes from this old radiographic study say “adult”.

Radiograph of the chest area, showing the crossed arms, ribs, vertebrae.

Radiograph of the chest area, showing the crossed arms, ribs, vertebrae

Radiograph of the pelvis.

Radiograph of the pelvis

Radiograph of the feet.

Radiograph of the feet

Dr. Monge offered to share these images with her colleague Dr. Morrie Kricun, Emeritus Professor of Radiology, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Kricun was able to manipulate the image of the pelvis to view it as it would look like if it was undisturbed.

Manipulated radiographic image of the mummy's pelvis

Manipulated radiographic image of the mummy’s pelvis

He’s also leaning toward female, but wants to do some additional imaging, which we plan to do soon. I promise to update the blog as soon as we do this! But for now, I feel like I may need to start calling this mummy Wilfreda.


Meet Wilfred

I swear, sometimes I think we’re just trying to outdo ourselves. There has been a whirlwind of activity lately – in the museum, in the conservation department, and in the Artifact Lab. Between “finding” a 6500 year-old skeleton in storage, to moving into our new conservation suite, it’s been so busy that I haven’t been very good about writing updates (but I promise to post some of the stuff about our new digs and equipment on the blog soon). Just when I thought things were settling down, this mysterious crate showed up at my door:

Wilfred crate

Okay, so at this point, it wasn’t a complete mystery – I knew what was in that crate (more or less) because last summer, some brave souls in the Egyptian Section managed to get this crate down from a very high shelf in storage. Once it was down, they found this note pinned to the top of the box:

Wilfred label

Well, hello, Wilfred. As you can see, the team was very happy with themselves afterward, even if they had to get a little dirty in the process.

"Team Wilfred" (Dr, Joe Wegner, Jean Walker, Jamie Kelly)

“Team Wilfred” (Egyptian Section Associate Curator Dr. Josef Wegner, Assistant Keeper Jean Walker, and volunteer Jamie Kelly). Photo by innocent bystander Dr. Jen Wegner

So who/what is Wilfred, exactly? Well, inside the crate we found this:

Wilfred crate open

It’s an old, dirty mattress, with a wooden stick resting on top. And inside that mattress, we found…

wilfred in crate

A mummy! A badly damaged, but nonetheless very well-preserved mummy.The upper half of the body is where most of the damage is visible, exposing the human remains underneath, while the lower half appears pretty well-wrapped.

Today, my colleagues and I hoisted Wilfred out of the crate onto a temporary support. Here is what he looks like, sitting out on a table in the lab:

Wilfred on table

And there’s more. But I won’t write any more about him in this post, except to say that no, this isn’t the first time he’s been studied since coming to the museum in 1911 (he was x-rayed in the 1930s), but it is the first time that any of us here at the museum are really getting a good look at him.

There will be much more to follow…so stay tuned!


Tawahibre, front and center

As promised, Tawahibre’s coffin lid is now on display, front and center, in the Artifact Lab.

Tawahibre's coffin lid on display at the entrance to the Artifact Lab

Tawahibre’s coffin lid on display at the entrance to the Artifact Lab

Getting this Late Period painted wooden coffin lid ready for display required months of treatment to clean the surface and to stabilize the flaking paint, powdery and crumbly gesso, and loose wood components. I blogged rather extensively about the treatment – follow this link to view some of my previous posts.

Here are some treatment images that were posted on the museum’s Facebook page last week, showing details of the head/upper body before, during, and after treatment:

E885CbeforeduringafterCome visit Tawahibre in the lab, where you can examine the coffin lid up-close, read the conservation treatment report (which includes some materials identification reports), see more before, during, and after treatment images, and discuss the treatment with the conservator during open window times.


Hello, goodbye

We have had a very special object in the Artifact Lab for a few weeks – this Predynastic ritual vessel in the shape of a woman:


E12281, after treatment

This vessel was excavated at Abydos, and we estimate that it is at least 5000 years old.
Here is a view of the vessel from the top:

E12281_at06_compressedI have worked almost exclusively on organic materials in the Artifact Lab, so getting to work on this ceramic was a nice diversion. Conservation treatment, which involved some light surface cleaning and minor mending, was requested because this object will be featured in an upcoming publication. It will leave the lab today, but I didn’t want it to leave without posting an image of it on the blog! Once the publication comes out, I’ll be sure to include a link to it.

In the meantime, to learn more, follow this link to check out a video discussion of a similar vessel, in the collection at the Brooklyn Museum:

Brooklyn Museum female figure