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.

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.

ibismummygif

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:

crocgif

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:

falcongif

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:

shrewgif

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!

 

Vampire mummy?!?

In the last couple days we found out a bit more about one of the animal mummies we recently x-rayed.

The clue is related to one of the cat mummies, which came into the lab looking like this:

CG2015-4-9 in (not original) coffin

CG2015-4-9: cat mummy in (not original) coffin

First of all, you might be asking yourselves, how did we keep this amazing detail from you before? This mummy was previously stored in an creepy/wonderful vampire coffin with a glass cover (not original to the mummy). It was sealed inside the coffin, presumably to make it more attractive (?) for collection/sale. In order to get a better look at the mummy and carry out treatment, conservator Alexis North had to remove it from the coffin. Once it was out , we could see that the head had been intentionally cut off.

CG2015-4-9, view from top showing where head was cut off and exposing bones inside

CG2015-4-9, view from top showing where head was cut off and exposing bones inside

Inside the coffin, Alexis found some bits of bones, including this:

Portion of a maxilla (upper jaw), including teeth, 10X magnification.

Portion of a maxilla (upper jaw), including teeth, 10X magnification

This is a portion of the maxilla (upper jaw) of a cat with some linen and even some fur still attached! Based on it’s size and the fact that the incisor is not fully erupted, we* estimate that this belonged to a kitten that was only a few weeks old when it died. The size of the bones corresponds well with the size of the kitten’s body we saw in the x-radiograph. Here’s that image again, showing how small the kitten is in relation to the size of the mummy:

The radiograph shows that there is only a tiny kitten under the wrappings of this cat mummy.

Left: Cat mummy. Right: Radiograph of the cat mummy, which shows that there is only a tiny kitten under the wrappings.

There are other bits of the skull that we found inside the coffin too. We’re not sure when the head was removed, but afraid that the head may have been cut off to fit the mummy into the vampire coffin. We’ve made a new box for the mummy, one that is both more appropriate for this object and for the museum environment, and that will certainly be more protective.

Cat mummy in a new storage enclosure

Cat mummy in a new storage enclosure

*Special thanks to Dr. Kate Moore for her expertise and time!

What’s inside those animal mummies?

Last week we x-rayed 8 animal mummies from our collection. These mummies were previously in storage and are in the Artifact Lab for much needed treatment and storage upgrades. As you can see in the images below, some of them are incredibly fragile with extensive damage. X-radiography is completely non-invasive and is one of the best tools we can use to study these mummies.

Recently we heard that researchers at the Manchester Museum and the University of Manchester found that about 1/3 of their mummies are “fakes” (and we use this word rather loosely – read the article in the link to find out more).

How do ours measure up? Well, even though we have a much smaller sample size, we found our stats to be a little bit better – 7 of the 8 that we just x-rayed contain animal remains, and one contains the remains of 3 animals, so the number of animals actually outnumbers the number of mummies in this instance!

Below we’ve posted paired images of the animal mummies and their radiographs. Our initial findings are written in the captions for each image. See if you can figure each one out, and if you see something that doesn’t make sense or something that we haven’t explained, please write into the comments below this post and we’ll follow up! All radiographs were captured with a GE Inspection and Sensing Eresco 65MF4 tube on a digital x-ray detector at 35kV 6mA for 6 seconds.

Cat mummy (left) and x-ray image (right) showing a complete cat body inside.

L-55-13: Mummy (left) and radiograph (right) showing a complete cat body inside.

ibismummy4

97-121-27: Mummy (left) and radiograph (right) showing an ibis in the lower 2/3 of the wrappings.

Mummy (left) and radiograph (right) showing a fragmented ibis body inside.

97-121-28: Mummy (left) and radiograph (right) showing fragmented ibis remains inside.

Mummy (left) and radiograph (right) showing an ibis inside.

E3539: Mummy (left) and radiograph (right) showing an ibis inside.

Mummy (left) and radiograph (right) showing an ibis inside, plus an extra bone and part of the ibis beak.

E3541: Mummy (left) and radiograph (right) showing an ibis inside, plus an extra bone and part of the ibis beak lying outside the mummy bundle.

Mummy (left) and radiograph (right) showing nothing inside the wrappings.

CG2015-4-1080: Mummy (left) and radiograph (right) showing nothing inside the wrappings (it was likely intended to be a hawk or falcon mummy).

kittenmummy

CG2015-4-9: Mummy (left) and radiograph (right) showing a young kitten in the upper half of the wrappings, missing its head.

snakemummies

97-121-8: Mummy (left) and radiograph (right) showing at least 3 snakes inside (scale not included, but this mummy is about the length and width of an iphone).

Animal mummy x-rays

The Artifact Lab has been a busy place lately (thanks in part to a big collections move project), and just last week we got a special delivery of some animal mummies from storage which have not been examined in a long time, and have never been x-rayed.

A cart with animal mummies, some which are still wrapped in tissue paper.

A cart with animal mummies, some which are still wrapped in tissue paper.

While everything has to move out of Egyptian storage, these animal mummies will not be moving offsite – we are finding a temporary home for them elsewhere in the museum. Nonetheless, this move is a chance to examine everything, to upgrade storage mounts, and to carry out minimal conservation treatment as needed.

Project conservator Alexis North photographs an ibis mummy in the Artifact Lab.

Project conservator Alexis North photographs an ibis mummy in the Artifact Lab.

A view of an ibis mummy during treatment to stabilize loose linen wrappings (the silver "kisses" are small weights)

A view of an ibis mummy during treatment to stabilize loose linen wrappings (the silver “kisses” are small weights)

So while we have these mummies in the lab, we thought we’d also take the opportunity to x-ray them using our new(ish) digital x-radiography equipment. There have been stories in the news recently about what x-rays and CT-scans have revealed about animal mummies in other collections and we’re interested in knowing how ours compare.

Alexis arranges an animal mummy on the x-ray digital capture plate below the x-ray tube.

Alexis arranges an animal mummy on the x-ray digital capture plate below the x-ray tube.

We will follow this post with some images of each of the mummies and what the radiographs revealed. Sorry to leave you hanging but I promise it will be worth the wait! Also stay tuned to the museum’s Facebook and Instagram accounts for another mystery mummy quiz!

We love ugly objects too!

Last week, I posted some photos of a beautiful stola coffin lid that I’m working on at the moment, and I mentioned that this lid might be my new favorite object. I now somehow feel a need to post images of some objects that aren’t necessarily as pretty, but I want to assure you that we’ll give them just as much lovin’ here in the conservation lab.

A Nubian jar, ca. 100 BCE-300 CE and ivory horn protectors from Kerma (Sudan), ca. 1650-1550 BC

A Nubian jar, ca. 100 BCE-300 CE and ivory horn protectors, Kerma (Sudan), ca. 1650-1550 BCE

A cat mummy head, unwrapped, Thebes, ca. 664-332 BCE

Cat mummy head, unwrapped, Thebes,                 ca. 664-332 BCE

Sections of a beaded mummy shroud covered in wax

Sections of a beaded mummy shroud covered in wax, Egypt, exact site and date unknown

I also feel the need to mention that I don’t just love pretty objects. My most favorite “object” that I’ve worked on here in this lab in not an object at all, but a mummy – our Predynastic mummy Bruce, and I don’t think anyone would call him pretty. But please don’t take that the wrong way (I don’t think he would be offended either). My interest in him goes way beyond his looks.

I promise to post photos of what the objects in the images above look like before they leave the conservation lab. Conservator Alexis North will be working on these pieces (along with some help from our interns) in the upcoming weeks.

This post was inspired in part by a great blogpost on the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s blog, “Ugly Object of the Month“. Enjoy!

 

A tiny mystery mummy

Yesterday we x-rayed mummies of 2 extremes: a full-sized human mummy (Nespekashuti), and a tiny mystery mummy:

mystery mummy

This tiny mummy is about 2″ wide and 5″ long, and easily fits into one of my hands.

We already had the x-ray tube warmed up for capturing images of Nespekashuti, so we figured we’d zap this little mummy while we were at it, to find out what is underneath those wrappings. We had lots of guesses, but ultimately, none of us guessed correctly.

Here is one of the x-ray images:

An x-ray image of our tiny mystery mummy

An x-ray image of our tiny mystery mummy

We had 3 conservators in the room when this image popped up on the computer screen, and we were immediately puzzled. Bird? Definitely not. Crocodile? No. Mouse? Nope. Cat? Again, a no. Could it be a…dog? We knew that the 3 of us non-experts couldn’t say anything with any certainly, so we called in the big guns…in the form of zooarchaeologist Dr. Kate Moore, who has helped us with some of our other animal mummies in the past.

Dr. Moore spent some time looking at the images, and then looking at some x-ray images of immature dogs (puppies!). She was troubled by a few things, including the fact that we can’t see any teeth and that the animal appears to have only 1 leg, also the length of the spine and front paws/feet, but ultimately concluded, based on the x-ray images that we captured, that this is indeed a puppy, who died right around the time it was born.

Based on its size, I don’t think any of us expected this tiny mummy to contain a dog, but it’s not surprising that we would have a dog mummy in our collection, since millions have been found in Egypt, notably in the Dog Catacombs of Saqqara. And this isn’t the only puppy mummy in our collection – if you visit the museum, you can see Hapi-puppy on exhibit, displayed at the feet of his owner, Hapi-men, both of which have been CT-scanned. A CT-scan of our newly-discovered puppy mummy would provide greater detail and a better understanding of this tiny animal, and would help make a more certain identification. We’ll be sure to update the blog with any new findings if we are able to do some more imaging.

 

A closer look at one of our feathered friends

We have an ibis mummy in the lab, which is revealing itself to us in an unusual way.

Unlike most animal mummies in our collection, we can actually see the ibis’ remains – in this case, its feathers! It is unfortunate that the linen wrappings were damaged in the past, but this damage does provide a unique look under the bandages.

ibiswithfeathers

Ibis mummy, 97-121-19, from Thebes, Late Period (ca. 664-332 BCE).

While x-ray radiography revealed that there is indeed an ibis inside (the beak is a dead giveaway), the feathers provide further clues about this bird that was mummified approximately 2500 years ago.

Radiograph taken from the top down. Exposure information: 35kV, 5mA, 6 seconds. Image enhanced with flash! filter.

Radiograph taken from the top down. Exposure information: 35kV, 5mA, 6 seconds. Image enhanced with flash! filter.

When researching ibis mummies, I read again and again about the African Sacred ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) being mummified, but there were other types of ibis in Egypt, including the Glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) and the Northern Bald ibis (Geronticus eremita). I don’t know if evidence has been found that these other types of ibis were mummified, but I do know that I shouldn’t immediately assume that this particular ibis mummy contains the remains of an African Sacred ibis.

So, let’s look at the feathers, and what we can learn from them. The feathers that are exposed appear to be contour feathers that may be part of one of the wings. There are a few completely detached feather fragments in this area, so I was able to take a closer look at one small fragment under the microscope.

ibisfeatherlabeled

Left: ibis feather 7.5X magnification. Right: ibis feather 50X magnification.

The most obvious feature to note, even without a microscope, is the coloration. This feather is white and black. The African Sacred ibis has a very beautiful, distinctive, black and white plumage, so in this case the color alone may be enough to identify species.

If we can’t rely on color, what else can we learn from this feather fragment? Well, we can see that it is part of a pennaceous (rather than plumulaceous, or downy) feather, the parts of which I’ve labeled in the above images. To take an even closer look at these elements, I used our polarizing light microscope and was able to see the tiny hooklets on the barbules, which “zip” the barbules, and therefore the barbs, together.

Ibis feather 100X magnification.

Ibis feather 100X magnification.

The barbules of feathers can be used for identification of species, but usually barbules from plumulaceous feathers are used, as they have a very different and distinct appearance. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to any plumulaceous feathers from this ibis mummy, so this may be as far as I can go at the moment. There are other researchers, both within the field of Egyptology, but mostly in ornithology, who have spent much more time looking at ibis feather structure than I have, and of course there is DNA research, so we may learn more in the future about this ibis mummy and its feathers.

I have a special place in my heart for birds and feathers, since before coming to the Penn Museum, I worked on an extensive project on feather coloration as part of a collaborative research effort between UCLA and the Getty Conservation Institute. Click on the links below to find out more about this work:

A Collaborative Study of California Featherwork

California Featherwork: Considerations for Examination and Preservation

And to learn more about feather structure, start by following this link: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds: Feather Structure