Wax on, wax off

In my last post, I briefly described the Egyptian storage move project currently underway. And I also promised to feature some of the objects that are in the lab as a part of this project. As conservators, we get excited by lots of things, so I really can’t post images of every single object that comes into the lab, but we will try to post as much as we can here, on Twitter, and on the museum’s Facebook page.

Earlier this week, Alexis brought a drawer of beadwork up to the lab, and this is one of the pieces she found in that drawer:

A piece of beaded fringe that recently came to the Artifact Lab for conservation/re-housing.

A piece of beaded fringe that recently came to the Artifact Lab for conservation/re-housing.

Huh. Not the prettiest object I’ve ever seen. But just wait…

Partially cleaned beadwork

Partially cleaned beadwork

Under that dark material (which is wax) the beadwork is beautiful! We actually see a lot of beadwork in our collection that has been coated with wax, which has now discolored to a dark brown, completely obscuring the colors of the beads. Coating beads with wax was a method used by archaeologists to remove beadwork from mummies during excavation, in order to maintain the correct arrangement of the beads, since the original linen threads were usually mostly deteriorated. In the case of this beadwork, shown above, it was not only waxed, but affixed to a piece of cardboard. Alexis is currently cleaning the wax off the beads and she will eventually re-house this piece for safe transport to the off-site storage location.

Another cool detail – she found this, written on the back of the cardboard:

HapimenbeadsIt says: “E16220B. Bead fringe of Hapi-men, Pl. LXXIX Abydos. From mummy buried with his dog.” This small piece of beadwork belongs to our mummy Hapi-Men, who is currently on exhibit with his dog! Hapi-Men and Hapi-puppy were excavated by Sir Flinders Petrie from Abydos in 1902. You can read more about Hapi-Men and some of our research about him here and here.

 

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.

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.

 

Meet Nespekashuti

When we returned Pinahsi to exhibit on Monday, we swapped him for another mummy in the same case, a mummified man named Nespekashuti.

Nespekashuti's coffin lid (far left) and Nespekashuti in his coffin box (at foot of lid)

Nespekashuti’s coffin lid (far left) and Nespekashuti in his coffin box (at foot of lid)

Unlike Pinahsi, we actually have Nespekashuti’s coffin (see image above), and we brought him into the lab in the coffin box. The lid will remain on exhibit for the meantime, but it will eventually also come to the Artifact Lab for treatment.

We have had Nespekashuti since 1893 – his remains and coffin were purchased from Emile Brugsch, a German Egyptologist and assistant curator at the time at the Bulaq Museum (now the Egyptian Museum).

Nespekashuti in his coffin in the lab.

Nespekashuti in his coffin in the lab.

We know this mummy’s name because the following is written on his coffin: “of the singing-master of Min, Nespekashuti, son of the singing-master of Min, Nespeneb…”. We can see his name in several places on the box – here is a detail:

Nespekashuti's name is boxed in red

Nespekashuti’s name is boxed in red

We have a lot more to learn about Nespekashuti, and as far as conservation treatment goes, I have my work cut out for me.

 

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.

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.

 

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.