Say hello to Djed-Hapi

I apologize in advance for those of you who might be waiting for more updates on the Middle Kingdom boat model I started working on a while ago. That object was put aside temporarily to make room for all the pieces that recently came into the Artifact Lab when we deinstalled our Mummy Room and Secrets and Science galleries. While the cases in those galleries were reinforced to better withstand vibrations from the hospital construction next door, and new mounts designed and made for many of the objects, we were working hard to assess the condition of all the pieces, and treat them as necessary before the galleries reopened. This was a pretty short turn around, and several of us in the Conservation Department here chipped in to help make sure every object was looked at properly before they went back on display.

While most of the objects are in good condition, and only needed a little surface cleaning to remove accumulated dust, some needed much more complicated and detailed treatments. I began by looking at our mummy Djed-Hapi, who is the first mummy you see when you enter the Secrets and Science gallery.

Djed-Hapi, with his coffin lid and base (E3413A-C), in the Egyptian Mummies: Secrets and Science gallery.

Djed-Hapi, with his coffin lid and base (E3413A-C), in The Egyptian Mummy: Secrets and Science gallery.

As you can see, In the original case design Djed-Hapi rests in his coffin base, while the lid is suspended above on a metal shelf. Unfortunately, the coffin lid will not be returning to the case, as the shelf it used to rest on cannot withstand the level of vibrations which may occur. Don’t worry though! It will remain in the Artifact Lab and be conserved as part of a future treatment project.

As for Djed-Hapi himself, we know that he dates to the Ptolemaic period (305-30 CE). We know his name, and in fact the names of several of his family members, because of the hieroglyphs written on his coffin lid. Here is an archival image of Djed-Hapi’s coffin lid and base, and you can see all the text written on the lid:

Scan of an archival negative showing E3413B-C.

Scan of an archival negative showing E3413B-C.

He was x-rayed in 1980, and from these images we can tell that he was a man who lived into his 50s before he died. While these old x-ray images were serviceable, we decided to re-x-ray him in our digital x-ray suite here at the museum, because we felt we could get a better level of detail with the digital system.

Djed-Hapi getting his x-rays taken in 2016 (left) and 1980 (right).

Study of these x-rays revealed some very interesting facts about Djed-Hapi’s mummification. His head is completely detached from his body, cleanly separated between two of the vertebrae in his neck.

Detail of the 1980 x-radiograph of Djed-Hapi's head. The red arrow shows where his spinal column stops.

Detail of the 1980 x-radiograph of Djed-Hapi’s head. The red arrow shows where his spinal column stops.

This was not his cause of death, but happened during mummification, and seems intentional. Starting in the Ptolemaic Period, the mummification process shifted from removing the deceased’s brain through the nose, to removing it through the base of the skull. The x-rays also show that Djed-Hapi’s nasal cavity seems to be intact, so this change in the mummification process may be the reason Djed-Hapi’s head was removed, then replaced and carefully wrapped with the rest of the body. The decapitation is not visible from the exterior, and in fact his head and neck area are quite stable.

The x-rays also reveal a bit about the condition of Djed-Hapi’s body underneath the wrappings. His skeleton is well-articulated (except for his head of course), including all his finger and toe bones, and you can even see the soft tissue preserved, which implies the body is in good condition. However, a closer look at his ankles shows that there is a rather large gap between the distal ends of his tibiae (shin bones) and his tarsals (ankle bones). While there is no evidence of damage to the exterior of the linens, we can tell whenever we have to move the mummy that the ankle area has some movement. This is an issue which could lead to further damage in the future, so careful handling is required.

2016 x-ray of Djed-Hapi, showing well-preserved soft tissue. The red rectangle highlights the gap between the bones in his ankles.

Next up, I’ll discuss the conservation treatment of Djed-Hapi’s mummy, and his coffin base.

Alexis North is the Project Conservator for the Egyptian Storage Move Project, Penn Museum.

References:

Fleming, S. (1980). The Egyptian mummy: Secrets and science. University of Pennsylvania.

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.

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.

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!

 

Conservation treatment of Nespekashuti

Nespekashuti has been in the Artifact Lab for several months now and I’m finally ready to say that I’m (almost) finished with his treatment. I say *almost* because I saved one of the most difficult decisions for last – what to do about the gaping hole in his wrappings over his mouth. While I’m not quite ready to take the official after treatment images yet, I am going to post photos of how he looks in his nearly-complete status, along with explanations of what the treatment entailed. (I’ll also admit that posting these things on the blog helps me process my feelings about certain treatments, so thanks in advance for reading.) This post will focus on what I did with Nespekashuti, since I’ve touched on the treatment of his coffin in earlier posts here and here.

Nespekashuti before (left) and after (or nearly complete) (right) conservation treatment

Nespekashuti before (left) and after (or nearly complete, on the right) conservation treatment

Let’s play a little game of spot the difference. I’ll post the image again below, circling areas on the before treatment image that I addressed during the treatment. Some of these things are easy to spot while others are more subtle.

Areas circled in red on the left image show some of the things that I addressed during the conservation treatment.

The red circles on the left highlight areas addressed during the conservation treatment

–  Let’s start from the bottom-up. During my initial examination I noticed that his feet were re-wrapped at some point with what looks like ancient linen. This re-wrapping probably happened before we acquired Nespekashuti in 1893 because in images of him from the Archives, the wrapping around his feet looks the same.

After some poking and prodding of this area, I decided to pull back the newer wrappings around his feet, which revealed this underneath:

Views under the newer linen wrappings from the front (left) and underside (right)

Views under the newer linen wrappings from the front (left) and underside (right)

I can see why someone decided to re-wrap them – the wrappings underneath are significantly deteriorated and darkened, and on the underside, there are some bones exposed. Since we do not know when the newer linen was added (radiocarbon dating might provide more information but it also might not, since it is quite possible that the newer linen is also ancient and could be as old as the original linen) I did not remove it completely. The only change I made in this area was to clean up all of the powdery, deteriorated linen underneath and to encapsulate the damaged wrappings around the feet with nylon bobbinet before putting the newer linen back in place.

– The next three red circles indicate areas where I realigned the linen and removed very deteriorated linen where it was fully detached. I actually did this all over the mummy, but these are areas where it is more obvious. In order to keep the realigned linen in place after making these adjustments, I encapsulated the mummy from his neck to his ankles in nylon bobbinet, toned with acrylic paint to camouflage it.

Preparing to encapsulate Nespekashuti with the nylon bobinnet

Preparing to encapsulate Nespekashuti with the nylon bobbinet

In the image above, you can see the nylon bobbinet draped over Nespekashuti’s body. I secured the bobbinet by tucking it under his body and placing Tyvek-covered Ethafoam blocks in strategic areas between the body and the inside of the coffin (the Tyvek was also toned with acrylic paint to camouflage the blocks).

– The red circle around the amulet on Nespekashuti’s chest is to indicate that I removed it for treatment. The amulet is actually not associated with the mummy at all – it was placed there for exhibition. The amulet is made of faience, dates to the New Kingdom/19th Dynasty, and was excavated from Aniba, Nubia by Charles Leonard Woolley in the early 20th century. It may be replaced for exhibition, but at this point I am not replacing it until our curators have a chance to weigh in.

– Finally, the most obvious part of the treatment is that I made a covering for Nespekashuti’s mouth. I continue to emphasize that the covering is fully removable – it can just be plucked out in pieces with tweezers if necessary. Here is a detail image showing the covering:

Detail of Nespekashuti's head/chest from the left side, after encapsulation and with the mouth covering

Detail of Nespekashuti’s head/chest from the left side, after encapsulation and with the mouth covering

And here is another one from the right side comparing him before and after encapsulation and with the mouth covering:

Nespekashuti before (above) and after (below) treatment

Nespekashuti before (above) and after (below) treatment (click on image to enlarge)

You can see how this all looks from the front in the very first image I posted, but I’m focusing on how he looks from the side since he was previously displayed like this and this is most likely how he will be viewed when on exhibit in the future.

I made the fill by first covering his exposed teeth and surrounding bone with nylon bobbinet, then I layered the exposed area with Japanese tissue paper toned with acrylic paint, and finally I layered some toned bobbinet over the paper. All of the fill materials are tucked into the damaged linen around the loss in this area.

If our curators agree that the treatment is complete and that the fill can be left in place for now, I’ll call the treatment done and finish all of the after treatment documentation. I know that our visitors and readers of this blog were divided on what to do about the mouth, but I think we can all agree that Nespekashuti has received the much-needed care that he deserves. Please write in with any comments or questions you have about any aspect of this treatment! I will be sure to post something on the blog if we make any additional changes, or decide to scrap the mouth covering all together.

A recap of Death Salon: Mutter Museum

I just returned to work after 2 fascinating days of Death Salon: Mutter Museum, an event filled with presentations, speaker panels, Q&A sessions, murder ballads, a Dark Artisan’s Bazaar, and Death Quizzo.

Ask a Mortician! at Death Salon: Mutter Museum

Ask a Mortician! at Death Salon: Mutter Museum

I have attended many conferences, but none quite like this one. There were a wide variety of speakers presenting on topics related to death, how different cultures deal with death (both past and present), and our relationship to death and mortality. I spoke on the first day about my work on the mummies here at the Penn Museum – mostly about how we treat them today and how this has changed over time, using examples including PUM I, our baby boy mummy, Wilfred/a, and Nespekashuti. But you’ve heard about all of them before. Let me provide a brief outline of all of the other speakers, with links as appropriate.

  • Dr. Marianne Hamel is a medical examiner who spoke about what it’s really like to be a forensic pathologist vs. what you see on TV. She also was a consultant for the wildly popular podcast Serial and co-founder of Death Under Glass, which also had a booth at the Dark Artisan’s Bazaar, selling watches, umbrellas, notepads, etc. featuring beautiful forensic microscopic images.
  • Alexis Jeffcoat (Chemical Heritage Foundation) and Emma Stern (Laurel Hill Cemetery) spoke about the Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery and their efforts to make Laurel Hill a place for the living as well as for the dead, with vibrant community programming.
  • Ryan Matthew Cohn spoke about historical skeletal preparations and models of the human body, along with his own work to make exploded and dissected skulls.
  • A panel discussion about American death spaces with Colin Dickey about the battlefields of the American Civil War and Bess Lovejoy on Hart Island: The World’s Biggest Tax-Funded Cemetery. I had never heard of Hart Island before, where unclaimed bodies and bodies of the poor and stillborn are soon to number one million. There are recent efforts to document the burials and transfer jurisdiction of the island from the Department of Corrections to the Parks Department.
  • Evi Numen, Mutter Museum exhibitions manager, spoke about the Curious Story of One-Eyed Joe and the 1867 Anatomy Act, discussing the struggle to legislate cadaver dissection and ownership.
  • Dr. Paul Koudounaris (a now 5-time Death Salon speaker!), who has extensively researched charnel houses and ossuaries, discussed various cultures’ relationships with the dead. He specifically shared information about Indonesian communities who mummify family members and exhume them each year to care for and celebrate them, and sometimes even keep them in their homes.
  • A panel discussion about anthropodermic bibliopegy (books bound in human skin) with Mutter Museum Curator Anna Dhody, analytical chemist Dr. Daniel Kirby, Juniata College Chemistry Chair Dr. Richard Hark, and Death Salon Director and USC medical librarian Megan Rosenbloom. Their project is aimed at surveying and creating an inventory of books bound in human skin, and they are using peptide mass fingerprinting (PMF) to determine this. So far they have tested 22 books – 12 are actually human, while the others are sheep, cow, and even faux skin. The Mutter has the largest known collection in the world, with 5 authentic human skin books.
  • A presentation by Sarah Troop about the rituals and art of child death in Mexico. She discussed the tradition, which used to be practiced in many Latin American countries, where dead children become a hybrid between saints and angels called angelitos, and the most famous angelito, Miguel Angel Gaitan from Argentina, who died in 1967.
  • Dr. Norma Bowe discussed her death class at Kean University which she has been teaching for 15 years and has a 3-year wait list. She uses experiential learning in the class and they make several field trips, including to a hospice care facility, a Ronald McDonald house, a funeral home, a cemetery, a maximum security prison, a crematory, and a medical examiners office. A book has been written about her called The Death Class and its currently being turned into a TV show.
  • Elizabeth Harper spoke about incorrupt saints, which apparently aren’t very easy to identify just by looking at them. Her presentation included images of saints she’s visited and a little game of “Incorrupt or Nah”.
  • Artist David Orr presented his work photographing human skulls from the Mutter Museum collection and mirroring one side to create perfectly symmetrical results. This project, Perfect Vessels, can be viewed on his website.
  • Penn physician Dr. Erin Lockard spoke about death from the doctor/daughter perspective in a conversation with Death Salon Director Megan Rosenbloom. She shared her experiences both as a physician who specializes in geriatric medicine and how experiencing her mother’s illness and end of life has affected her work.
  • Mutter Museum Director Dr. Robert Hicks gave a presentation entitled Exquisite Corpses: Our Dialog with the Dead in Museums. He spoke about our relationship and discomfort around post-mortem imagery, and how other cultures are ahead of us in terms of articulating an aesthetic of death, decay, and mortality.
  • Christine Colby discussed the issues for transgender people in how to preserve their identity in death and and the work that is being carried out to assist transgender people and their families and friends.
  • The formal presentations of the conference concluded with a session entitled Ask a Mortician LIVE. Two morticians, Sheri Booker and Caitlin Doughty (Death Salon co-founder), fielded audience questions about their work.

The talks were incredibly interesting and often quite inspiring (and even tear-provoking), and there was an enthusiastic audience of at least 200 people by my count (probably more). The engaging day-time programming was supplemented by some terrific evening events, including behind-the-scenes tours of the Mutter, a Death Ball with a performance of 15th-century funerary music by The Divine Hand Ensemble, murder ballad performances, and a Death Quizzo. This conference had some of the best opportunities for people-watching too. Unfortunately I didn’t capture many photos but if you’re interested you can see some on the Death Salon Instagram account.

Death Salon: Mutter Museum

I’m excited to be presenting at Death Salon: Mutter Museum on Monday afternoon.

Death Salon is an organization that was founded to “bring together intellectuals and independent thinkers engaged in the exploration of our shared mortality by sharing knowledge and art.” They hold annual events in the spirit of the 18th-century salon to encourage discussions on topics related to death, mortality, mourning, and their effects on culture and history.

The Mutter Museum event will be the fifth Death Salon – previous meetings were held in Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, and most recently at the Getty Villa.

Death Salon: Mutter Museum is kicking off tomorrow afternoon with a walking tour through 3 historic downtown 18th-century cemeteries, organized by the Obscura Society Philly. Tomorrow evening will be a VIP Death Ball (and gotta love this: the dress code is haute macabre). There will be 2 days of talks which begin on Monday morning, covering topics by a wide variety of speakers including osteologists, museum curators, scientists, medical examiners, artists, and musicians, and more (and me). I’ll be speaking about the conservation of Egyptian mummies at the Penn Museum and how this practice has evolved over time.

I’ll follow up sometime next week with a little recap of the talks and any other interesting tidbits, which there certainly will be.

 

Mysterious bits from Nespekashuti

I’ve written before about mysterious things we’ve found during conservation treatment of our mummies (see this blogpost about the stuff we found at the bottom of Wilfreda’s crate). As I’ve been working on Nespekashuti, I’ve found some puzzling little bits at the bottom of his coffin and caught in his linen wrappings.

Here are a couple piles of detached and in most cases completely deteriorated linen, which needed to be removed as I’ve worked on Nespekashuti:

Piles of deteriorated linen wrappings and other materials removed from Nespekashuti during conservation treatment.

Piles of deteriorated linen wrappings and other materials removed from Nespekashuti and his coffin during conservation treatment.

In these piles, I found the mysterious bits. Some of these things I can recognize, but figuring out exactly what they are and how and why they got there is another story.

Here are some photomicrographs:

Feathers found with  Nespekashuti, 7.5X magnification

Feathers found with Nespekashuti, 7.5x magnification

This first one is easy – these are feathers, of course – little grey plumaceous body feathers from who knows what kind of bird. There are some good resources out there for identifying feathers (see more info at the very bottom of our Learn More! page) but for little feathers like this, and non-experts like me, we need to resort to microscopic analysis by an expert from another institution in order to attempt identification. I did take some photomicrographs of the barbules from one of these feathers, which may be their most diagnostic feature, but again, I lack the experience necessary to make sense of what I’m seeing through the microscope. Just for fun, this is what the barbules look like:

Barbules of one feather found with Nespekashuti, 200x magnification.

Barbules of one feather found with Nespekashuti, 200x magnification.

We also found these:

Bird bones found with Nespekashuti, 7.5x magnification

Bird bones found with Nespekashuti, 7.5x magnification

and this:

Two fused bird vertebrae found with Nespekashuti, 7.5x magnification

Two fused bird vertebrae found with Nespekashuti, 7.5x magnification

These two images above show some tiny bones that were found in Nespekashuti’s coffin. I consulted Dr. Kate Moore, zooarchaeologist and Teaching Specialist in the Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials (CAAM). She confirmed that these are bird bones, and the second image shows two articulated bird vertebrae. Dr. Moore told me that upon her initial inspection, she thinks that they may have gone through a digestive tract (think:owl pellets, and that dissection you may have done in grade school!).

And then I found a bunch of this stuff:

Found with Nespekashuti - these look like mouse or rat droppings, 7.5X magnification

Found with Nespekashuti – these look like mouse or rat droppings, 7.5X magnification

These things look a lot like mouse or rat droppings, and there’s little bits of hair caught in some of them. No one said that working on mummies is for the faint of heart!

I also found some bits of cotton, tiny pieces of wood and plant materials, and even some broken glass. We can think of lots of good stories to explain why this stuff would be found with Nespekashuti, but in the end we’re not really sure. Like I said, we are reaching out to some experts about the feathers, so I’ll keep you posted if we learn more – identifying the feathers would be exciting, and could help explain how they got there!

Nespekashuti: aesthetic, ethical, and practical considerations

A shot of me working under the coffin.

The last time I wrote about Nespekashuti, I reported that I was working on stabilizing the painted decoration on the underside of his coffin. I did this with Nespekashuti in his coffin up on sawhorses, and by sitting on the floor to do the work. It wasn’t terribly uncomfortable, but it took a bit longer than I expected, and I’m pleased to say that I’m now finished with this part.

So now I have to turn to the step that I’ve really been putting off – the conservation of Nespekashuti himself. In conservation, we are faced with lots of decisions about the treatment of an artifact. Some of these decisions – whether or not to consolidate flaking or powdery paint, or whether or not to join pieces of a broken ceramic – are (usually) kind of no-brainers. The material choices are often not as simple – we regularly consider and test a wide variety of materials when making treatment decisions – but sometimes even choosing the materials to use is pretty straightforward. For instance, we almost exclusively use the same adhesive (Paraloid B-72) to mend ceramics, no matter where in the world they’re from or how old they are.

But sometimes the trickiest decisions are those that are the most subjective – whether or not to fill a loss for aesthetic reasons, how far to go when treating an object, etc. Fortunately, we rarely make these decisions on our own – we engage our curators, exhibitions team, and other specialists in order to determine a reasonable approach that meets the needs of the desired outcome as best as possible. There are a couple decisions I’ve had or have to make in the treatment of Nespekashuti and his coffin that fall into this category, and I thought I’d lay them out here for consideration (even if I’ve already made my decisions, more or less).

  1. Do I remove Nespekashuti from his coffin for treatment? This was a question I had to ask myself from the beginning. When we removed him from exhibit, I immediately knew that there were some major structural issues with both the mummy and his coffin that needed to be addressed as part of the treatment.
    Overall view of Nespekashuti before treatment, showing torn and deteriorated linen wrappings.

    Overall view of Nespekashuti before treatment, showing torn and deteriorated linen wrappings.

    Normally, when working on a mummy in a coffin, we take the mummy out, and work on both pieces separately. But if I have learned nothing else in my last 3 years in the Artifact Lab, I have learned that there is no such thing as “normal” when working on ancient Egyptian mummies. In Nespekashuti’s case, his remains and wrappings are so deteriorated that we can’t simply lift him out of his coffin without causing significant damage. Another option would be to encapsulate everything and flip the whole package over, and then lift the coffin away from the mummy. This is not out of the question, but I got to thinking, is this really necessary? What do we stand to gain by doing this? We can do all of the imaging we want to do (x-radiography, CT-scanning) with him in his coffin, and the coffin is helping to hold him together at the moment. If we did decide to remove him, how much loss is acceptable?  If we took him out, how easy will it be to get him back inside?  It would be way less than ideal if we couldn’t get him back inside the coffin post-treatment, or if doing so caused more damage. So I have made the decision not to remove him for treatment, and to see if it is possible to work on both Nespekashuti and his coffin as they are. But this is not necessarily a final decision – this is a decision that I’m constantly reevaluating as I carry out the treatment.

  2. And then there is the issue of his teeth.
    A detail of Nespekashuti, showing the damage to the wrappings over his mouth, exposing his teeth.

    A detail of Nespekashuti, showing the damage to the wrappings over his mouth, exposing his teeth.

    Do I cover his teeth or not? I consider this not just an aesthetic issue, but also an ethical one. The damage to the wrappings around his mouth is strange. It is not classic “tomb robbery” damage, which is typically seen on wrappings near the neck or chest, but it does appear to be intentional, at least in part. And certainly, his mouth/teeth were never meant to be exposed like this as part of his burial. Many people who visit the Artifact Lab are fascinated by seeing his teeth – I know there was a dentist in here the other day who was excited to see them. But it also seems to me that many people are somewhat distracted by the teeth – it’s hard to appreciate anything else when those teeth are just staring you in the face. I initially wasn’t thinking too much about this damage – it is quite stable, whereas there are many other areas of the wrappings that are terribly fragile and actively falling apart. And I’ve worked on other mummies with exposed body parts and I have not covered them up as part of the treatment. But I’ve spent quite a bit of time with Nespekashuti and it’s got me thinking – what responsibility to we have to him, and to the preservation of his remains, wrappings, and his burial? How do we want him to look when he goes back on display? This is not just my decision to make, but I have decided that it is my responsibility to provide an option – so I am planning to create a removable covering for the mouth, which I will present to our curators post-treatment. I like the idea of covering his mouth, but I will emphasize the fact that this covering will be removable, therefore, reversible. I haven’t made the covering yet, but I will certainly post some images once I do.

I’m curious to hear the opinions of others, so if you have thoughts about these questions and decisions, and any other considerations, please post them in the comment section below.

High tech/low tech

We often talk about how we try to take advantage of new technologies whenever possible as part of the conservation examination and treatment of objects. It’s those new technologies that help us continue to learn and do more with objects that we have had for 100+ years. For example, even though x-ray radiography has been around since the late 19th century (see this image of the first radiograph ever captured in 1895) there have been major advances since then, including the development of computed tomography (CT-scanning) and digital radiography, so we frequently re-image objects that were x-rayed in the past to capture even more details (see this blogpost to see the recent radiographs we captured of our mummy Nespekashuti).

There are also many other new technologies that we use on a regular basis (at least in some instances), including our portable x-ray fluorescence analyzer (pXRF), our Mini-Crimescope, our Lynton laser cleaner, just to name a few.

Ron Almagno, a Forensic Instruments Specialist, shows our department some of the features of our Mini-Crimescope.

Ron Almagno, a Forensic Instruments Specialist, shows our department some of the features of our Mini-Crimescope.

But there are just as many, if not more, instances when the low-tech method or solution makes the most sense and gives the best, or just as satisfactory, results. I can provide many examples of this, but the latest low-tech approach that I’m taking in the Artifact Lab is figuring out how to examine and work on Nespekashuti and his coffin base.

I decided to tackle the treatment of Nespekashuti’s coffin before dealing with his remains. After working on all of the areas I could reach while it was sitting on a table, I realized that I needed access to the underside of the coffin. When I’ve worked on the back of other coffins, I first work on the exposed side and then flip the coffin over and work on the back (see a previous blogpost (including video footage!) Flippin’ coffins). The only problem with Nespekashuti and his coffin is that he is still inside, and I’m not ready to take him out yet (or ever…more on what I’m thinking about how to best preserve his remains in a future post). So, the best way to get at the underside was to put the coffin up on sawhorses, padded with Volara polyethylene foam.

Nespekashuti in his coffin up on sawhorses in the Artifact Lab.

Nespekashuti in his coffin up on sawhorses in the Artifact Lab.

This immediately allowed me to see some of the painted decoration on the underside, which I had never seen before:

Detail of the back of Nespekashuti's coffin

Detail of the back of Nespekashuti’s coffin

I’ll work on the areas that are exposed and then I can move the sawhorses around to document and work on the areas that are obscured at the moment.

I’ve started to stabilize the flaking gesso, lifting linen, and paint in the areas I can access, and I’m securing these areas while they dry with plastic wrap, silicone-release Mylar, pieces of Volara foam, archival board, and weights.

Detail of an area being secured with plastic wrap, foam, archival board, and weights.

Detail of an area being secured with plastic wrap, foam, archival board, and weights.

So there is nothing high-tech about what I’m doing with Nespekashuti in the lab at the moment, BUT the treatment will eventually allow us to do more high-tech things with him, like CT-scanning, multispectral imaging…and anything else that we can gain access to that may help us learn more about him.