Looking inside Nespekashuti

A few weeks ago I introduced you to Nespekashuti, a New Kingdom mummified man who we recently removed from display in our mummy room for conservation treatment. Even though we’ve had Nespekashuti and his coffin since 1893, we have very little information in our database about him. Working on his remains in the Artifact Lab is providing an opportunity to take a much closer look and to learn more about him.

Overall view of Nespekashuti before treatment

Overall view of Nespekashuti before treatment

One of the first things we decided to do was to x-ray his remains using our new digital radiography equipment. Although Nespekashuti looks pretty well-wrapped (despite his teeth being exposed), this is what we see under the wrappings:

X-ray of Nespekashuti (image created by stitching several x-rays together)

X-ray of Nespekashuti (image created by stitching several radiographs together)

As you can see, there are some big empty spaces (areas that are completely black), especially the neck and upper chest area, and there are areas where bones are completely disarticulated and appear to be piled on top of each other. We’re not really sure why this would be, but we have some ideas. Dr. Janet Monge, our physical anthropologist, is currently taking a closer look at the x-ray images in order to draw some conclusions about the bones and their condition, which may help us better understand why they are a bit of a jumbled mess…not unlike another mummy we recently treated and x-rayed, Pinahsi.

In the meantime, I’ve started the conservation treatment, which I’ll be sure to report on as I make progress.

Goodbye old pal

My family has a tradition that we honor at the beginning of every school year that we call “goodbye old pals.” As kids, it was a way to celebrate the start of the new school year and, maybe for our parents, the fact that we weren’t going to be around the house as much (but don’t worry – they always threw us a “hello old pals” party at the end of the school year). Well, today I’m throwing myself and Pinahsi, our New Kingdom mummy from Abydos, our own little goodbye old pals party here in the Artifact Lab, because he is leaving the lab on Monday to go back on exhibit in our Secrets and Science gallery.

Pinahsi has been in the lab for several months for conservation treatment and documentation. I’ve already written a bit about the treatment here and here, but I’ll provide a summary below using some of the before and after treatment images.

The treatment of Pinahsi’s remains was limited to the external wrappings – nothing, with the exception of a very light surface cleaning, was done to any of the exposed human remains (and only his feet are exposed). The goal of treatment was to stabilize the wrappings that were susceptible to further damage and deterioration. After surface cleaning, tears in the linen were repaired with tiny strips of Japanese tissue paper and methyl cellulose adhesive, all carried out from the underside of the linen.

During Japanese tissue and methyl cellulose repair (left) and after (right).

During Japanese tissue and methyl cellulose repair (left) and after mends were complete (right).

After tear repair, very fragile areas were encapsulated with nylon bobbinett, toned with acrylic paint to blend in with the original linen.

Before encapsulation with nylon bobbinet (left) and after (right).

Before encapsulation with nylon bobbinett (left) and after (right).

Here are some overall before and after treatment images. The difference is pretty subtle, but that was pretty much the goal – to stabilize what’s there using the least invasive methods possible.

Overall view from above of Pinahsi before (left) and after (right) conservation treatment.

Overall view from above of Pinahsi before (left) and after (right) conservation treatment.

View from the right side of Pinahsi before (above) and after (below) conservation treatment.

View from the right side of Pinahsi before (above) and after (below) conservation treatment.

Notice the new support board under Pinahsi in the after treatment image above. This board will eliminate most direct handling of his remains, and will also provide support for his remains while on exhibit. This additional protection will also help to prevent further deterioration of the linen wrappings.

With Pinahsi stabilized and on his new support board, we were able to safely move him down to our new digital x-ray lab, and with the assistance of Dr. Janet Monge and Dr. Morrie Kricun, Conservator Tessa de Alarcon and I captured a complete set of x-ray images. While full interpretation of the images is underway, I will share a few of the initial findings that were impossible not to miss.

First, we can confirm that this is a mummified man, who was around the age of 30 when he died. We can determine sex from looking at the skull and pelvis:

X-ray images of Pinahsi's head (left) and abdomen/pelvis (right).

X-ray images of Pinahsi’s head (left) and abdomen/pelvis (right).

Age is determined by examining the condition of the bones and teeth.

You may notice some things that are out of place, like the teeth that appear to be in the cranial cavity and the ribs and vertebrae where they shouldn’t be, and the pelvis askew.

X-ray images of Pinahsi's skull and abdomen, labeled with elements that are out of place. Note the very tiny pins - these are actually part of the new storage support, being used to secure the fabric to the board - they're not part of Pinahsi at all!

X-ray images of Pinahsi’s skull and abdomen, labeled with elements that are out of place. Note the very tiny pins – these are actually part of the new storage support, being used to secure the fabric to the board – they’re not part of Pinahsi at all!

Another observation of note is that Pinahsi’s arms are crossed over his chest.

X-ray image of Pinahsi's chest and arms.

X-ray image of Pinahsi’s chest and arms.

This arm position was generally not seen until the New Kingdom, when it was reserved for royalty. Does that mean that Pinahsi was part of a royal family? Maybe! But maybe not. We’ll need to do some research to answer this, and to try to understand why his remains are so disturbed under the wrappings. I’ll share information as we learn more.

Well, Pinahsi old pal, it’s been an honor to have you in the lab. I’m glad that we were able to spend this time together, and I’m also happy to know that our work is not complete, so we have more fun times to look forward to!

 

Wilfred/a’s many mysteries

Last week, we moved our mummy Wilfred/a from the Artifact Lab down to our new digital x-ray lab to capture some x-ray images and hopefully get to the bottom of the male/female debate.

Wilfreda after treatment

Wilfred/a after treatment

Above is an overall after treatment image of Wilfred/a. The goal of the treatment was to get this mummy out of the original packing materials, to assess and document the remains, and to house them in a way that they can safely be moved to our x-ray room for imaging, and then returned to storage. If plans are made to exhibit Wilfred/a in the future, further treatment can be carried out at that point, but for now, this mummy is stabilized and will be much more accessible for research.

We were excited to x-ray Wilfred/a’s remains, but while we are used to x-raying ceramics, wooden artifacts, metals, and other types of cultural materials, x-raying human remains is not something that any of us in the conservation department specialize in, so we brought in some experts to help us with this task: Dr. Janet Monge, Keeper and Curator-in-Charge of the Museum’s Physical Anthropology Section, and Dr. Morrie Kricun, Emeritus Professor of Radiology, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. In fact, it was Dr. Monge and Dr. Kricun’s initial examination of Wilfred/a’s remains and some old 1932 x-ray radiographs that made us think that this mummy may be female, rather than male.

With the assistance of Dr. Monge and Dr. Kricun, Conservator Tessa de Alarcon and I captured a complete sets of x-ray images of Wilfred/a. And the really cool thing about having a digital system is that we can capture the images in seconds, and see the results immediately. While full interpretation of the images is underway, I will share a couple of the findings that are quite interesting.

First, let’s clear up the debate and start addressing this mummy by the appropriate pronoun. This mummy is female, and therefore we’ll call her Wilfreda from now on (or until someone proposes a new, more appropriate name). Determining that Wilfreda is female was possible by a thorough examination of her pelvis. There are a few other possibly very cool findings related to the fact that she’s female, but I’m going to wait on the full interpretation before sharing any other details about this on the blog.

Secondly, we knew that Wilfreda’s head was missing, but what we didn’t realize was this:

wilfredanofeet

X-ray radiograph of Wilfreda’s lower legs and (missing) feet. Exposure: 65kv 5ma 6 seconds

Her feet are missing! From the outside, it is obvious that the wrappings around the feet were disturbed at some point, but it wasn’t possible to see until these x-rays were taken that the feet are totally gone. In this next image, which we captured to better see the linen wrappings, you can clearly see where the feet would have been:

45kV 5ma 6 seconds

Exposure: 45kv 5ma 6 seconds

The weird thing about this is that her feet were there when the 1932 x-rays were taken:

wilfredaoldxrays

2 different x-ray images captured in 1932, clearly showing the feet of the mummy.

Where have her feet gone? We don’t know. This is now a new mystery.

Just in case any of you are following this blog very closely, and are wondering if the feet could have been lost somewhere inside the old crate (pictured below), the answer is no, but some other things of interest did turn up in there.

wilfredascrate

Buried in the old padding of the crate, we found the following:

Wilfredasbox

  • a Keuffel & Esser Co. 1903 Catalog of drawing materials and surveying instruments
  • 4 tickets that say: “Only for School Children – Not Transferable. Barakat’s Lecture, on BIBLE LANDS, illustrated by ancient curiosities used 1800 years ago, and costumes worn 4000 years ago. ADMIT ____ who will Bring this and Five cents.” (I’ve neglected to write about him on the blog but Wilfreda was originally in the possession of Professor Elias Barakat, who, for about a decade, traveled around the US lecturing about the ancient world, with Wilfreda as one of his “curiosities.” His wife donated Wilfreda to the museum in 1911.)
  • Rubber stamps, for printing announcements, etc., one of them with Barakat’s name
  • small wooden dowels
  • a piece of cartonnage
  • fragments of wood, textile, paper, plant materials, seeds.

Leave it to Wilfreda to keep a few surprises from us. We’ll post more about the x-ray interpretations once we know more, and continue to try to put the pieces of these mysteries together.

Spring cleaning?

It may be a little early for spring cleaning, but no matter what time of the year, there is not much that I find more satisfying than a good, deep clean (on a grimy artifact). Last week, Tom Stanley (the museum’s Public Relations/Social Media Coordinator) posted this image on the museum’s Facebook page, which shows some cleaning in progress on an Egyptian painted wooden coffin here in the Artifact Lab:

coffin board cleaningHe also posted this on our Instagram page.

Here is a before treatment image of the coffin board (which is in 3 separate fragments):

E12617A-C, boards from a painted wooden coffin

E12617A-C, boards from a painted wooden coffin

While Tom was in the lab taking photos, I promised him that I’d put some additional information about this project on the blog. I thought this would be a great opportunity to take another video with our binocular microscope, kind of like the video I captured of the paint consolidation on the shabti figures I worked on awhile ago.

To see the process of how we go from

————————–this————————–to————————–this————————-

corner before after

click on the link below.

Cleaning an Egyptian painted wooden coffin from Molly Gleeson on Vimeo.

In the video, you’ll see (at 7.5X magnification) that I first used a soft-bristled brush to remove loose sediment and dust from the surface, by brushing directly into the nozzle of a variable suction HEPA-filtered vacuum. Then I used a cosmetic sponge to further, gently, lift away grime from the surface. Finally, I used a kneaded rubber eraser to remove the grime that is more embedded in the painted surface.

Okay, so I’ll admit that this may not be as cool as the video of Conservator Tessa de Alarcon laser cleaning a stone table from Ur (this one is hard to top), but it’s pretty gratifying nonetheless.

I’m currently trying to learn more about this object too, by checking into our museum records. I’ll keep you posted.

Continuing the treatment of Pinahsi

Just a quick update on the treatment of our mummy Pinahsi. I worked on him all day today and made some good progress. My efforts were focused on encapsulating the detaching, tearing, very fragile linen on the sides and underneath the mummy’s body. Just as I did with the feet, I used nylon bobbinett, toned with acrylic paint where necessary, to protect these damaged areas. In some places, I was able to wrap the bobbinett around the mummy and stitch it to itself, but in other places, I decided to adhere the bobbinett to discrete areas on the mummy, using Japanese tissue paper and methyl cellulose adhesive.

Here is a shot of the treatment in progress, showing the bobbinnet with small pieces of paper attached to one edge, which will be used to attach the bobbinett to the mummy. The edge of the bobbinett that will be visible is painted to match the linen.

Getting ready to attach the nylon bobbinett to the underside of the mummy. The edge of the bobbinett that will be visible is painted to match the linen, and there are small pieces of paper adhered to the edge, which will be used to attach the bobbinett to the linen.

Getting ready to attach the nylon bobbinett to the underside of the mummy.

And here are some before and after shots, showing areas that I’ve encapsulated with the netting:

A detail of the right side of the mummy before and after attaching the nylon bobbinett.

Details of the right side of the mummy before and after attaching the nylon bobbinett.

Details of the left side, before and after treatment.

Details of the left side, before and after treatment.

Tomorrow I’ll move on to some more challenging areas that I’ve saved for last! I’m hoping to “wrap up” this treatment sometime next week. Wish me luck!

 

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.

 

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.

L-55-23A_template2

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:

L-55-23A_dt01_compressed

Front view, during filling

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

Picture1

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.

 

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_at01_compressed

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