Update from Abydos

A few weeks ago I wrote about Penn Museum Curator Joe Wegner and his team who are currently excavating in Abydos at the mortuary complex of Pharaoh Senwosret III. Recently the team has been battling exceedingly high temperatures and consistent loss of power (so no internet and water) but despite all of this, graduate student Kevin Cahail has been kind enough to continue sending me photos and information about their latest discoveries.

Many visitors to the Artifact Lab ask if mummies are still being discovered in Egypt. The answer is yes, and now I can point to the recent discovery of a mummy just outside of one of the tombs that was recently excavated.

View of the burial chamber from tomb CS.5

View of the burial chamber from tomb CS.5

The shot above was taken after excavation of a tomb (named CS.5) – this is actually the same tomb that contained the curious bricks with the dots in them that I included images of in my last post. Excavation of this tomb revealed that the burial had been long-since removed, but soon after excavation, a skull, and then the rest of a body, was found in the sand nearby. It appears that she(?) was at some point thrown out of her tomb by robbers.

Mummy upon discovery, before excavation (left) and after excavation (right)

Exposed skull found in the sand (left). Removal of the skull revealed the rest of the body, shown here after excavation (right)

Removing and transporting unexpected or unwieldy archaeological finds often requires a bit of resourcefulness. In order to move this mummy into a box for transport back to the dig house, Kevin recovered an old laundry detergent sack, which they then slid under the mummy,

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and used as a sling to lift the mummy into a box.

in boxReconstruction of the skull of this mummy is now underway.

In addition to the field work, the team also spends time in the lab, which sometimes includes minor conservation work. This shabti figure was found in two pieces:

shabtiKevin used Acryloid B-72, an acrylic adhesive commonly used in conservation for repairing ceramics (among many other things) to re-adhere the fragments:

Kevin holding the recently repaired shabti figure

Kevin holding the recently repaired shabti figure

As you can see, Joe, Kevin, and the rest of the team have been busy, and they only have about another week left in the field. As I hear more from them during their last days in Abydos, I will follow up with further information.

 

Elephant and giraffe hair? No problem!

There are many reasons why I love working at the Penn Museum, and this is one of them: just the other day, I was casually talking to some colleagues during a break, and mentioned that I’d love to get my hands on some elephant and giraffe hair to use as a reference to compare to some of the material included in our Predynastic mummy Bruce‘s bundle.

“What’s that you say?” quipped Egyptian Section Curator Dr. Jen Wegner. “Why it just so happens that we have a drawer with some elephant and giraffe hair down in storage!”. After working here for 9 months, this should come as no surprise to me. And what a delight – just the next day I ran down to storage and brought this drawer of goodies up to the lab.

Contents of the drawer, containing bits of elephant and giraffe hide, with the hair intact.

Contents of the drawer, containing bits of elephant and giraffe skins, with the hair intact

In addition to the animal skins, this drawer also contains a small woven basket, made of either elephant or giraffe hair and dating to the early 18th Dynasty, according to it’s catalog card.

Overall view of the small basket made of elephant or giraffe hair

Overall view of the small basket made of elephant or giraffe hair

These materials will be useful to compare to the animal skins and the basket that we have documented in Bruce’s bundle. We will provide updates as we learn more about our Predynastic mummy and the materials he was buried with.

 

The New Guy

by Lynn Grant

Molly Gleeson, the Project Conservator for In the Artifact Lab has been very busy over the last nine months, conserving lots of Egyptian artifacts and she’s finished treatments on a human mummy, an animal mummy and has done a lot of work on PUM I. So, as these projects finish up, it’s time to start some new ones – there’s never any shortage of projects for the Museum conservators. Earlier this month, we brought another of our human mummies out of storage and into the Artifact Lab. And what a mummy he is:

E 16229, a Predynastic mummy.

E 16229, a Predynastic mummy.


Not what you were expecting, right? No stiff upright form tightly wrapped in bandages. That’s because this is a very early mummy, probably dating to “4000-3600 BCE (or from the Badarian Period to Naqada IIB to use Egyptological time periods”, to quote Dr. Jane Hill, an Assistant Professor at Rowan University, who’s been studying this mummy. Dr. Hill will be presenting some of her initial findings at a mini seminar hosted by ARCE-PA (American Research Center in Egypt – Pennsylvania Chapter) and held at Penn Museum this Saturday, June 1st, open to the public.

Because Molly is going to be away at a conference this week, I’ve begun familiarizing myself with this ‘new’ mummy so I can talk about him to the seminar attendees and our other visitors. When I say ‘new’, he’s only new to the Artifact Lab. Not only is he at least 5600 years old, he’s been in our collections since 1898. He was donated to the Museum by Ethelbert Watts, a prominent Philadelphian who was serving as an Assistant American Consul in Cairo. His history in our collections is a little unclear: we know he was x-radiographed in 1932 and we have this undated early photograph from the Archives. Since this image comes from a glass plate negative, it could date anytime between 1898 and the early 1930s, when the Museum finally switched to film based photography.

An early photograph of the mummy from a glass plate negative

An early photograph of the mummy from a glass plate negative

We think he may have been on exhibition some time in the past but we haven’t tracked down those records yet. For at least the past few decades, he languished in a box in the Egyptian storerooms until Dr. Hill and Dr. Joe Wegner ‘excavated’ the box in 2011. Since then he’s been the subject of quite a lot of interest – Dr. Hill and her Rowan colleague Dr. Maria Rosado have been examining samples of materials associated with the mummy and sent samples for AMS/C14 dating.

Cool stuff about this mummy: he was buried in the flexed or contracted position, like many Predynastic mummies but he was also buried inside an animal skin bag, which had the animal’s hair left on the inside. He has a small, finely woven basket by his side and an animal skin cap covered by a basketry framework on his head.

Details of some of the items buried with the mummy

Details of some of the items buried with the mummy

Clearly, this guy has a lot to tell us and we’ll keep you posted on what’s up with Bruce (yes, Bruce – it gets hard to refer to the mummies by their accession number and so many get nicknames. This guy has been Bruce to us pretty much since he came out of his box. No disrespect meant; he’s a fascinating individual and I look forward to getting to know him better).

Conserving a child mummy

A couple weeks ago, I introduced you to our child mummy Tanwa, and now I’m happy to report that I’ve completed her conservation treatment.

Tanwa before conservation treatment

Tanwa before conservation treatment

Tanwa has been in our collection since 1898; she was collected through the American Exploration Society, an organization founded by Sarah Yorke Stevenson, the museum’s first curator of the Egyptian section.

Tanwa was exhibited in the museum early on, but she has not been on display for a long time. When she came up to the Artifact Lab, we could see that she was generally in good condition, expect for the fact that some of the narrow bandages wrapped around her body, especially those around her feet, were fragile, torn, and partially detached. Many of the strips on the underside of her body were also damaged – although these aren’t usually visible since Tanwa is always lying on her back, they are at risk of detaching with any movement or handling.

Details of damaged linen around the feet (left) and on Tanwa's back (right)

Details of damaged linen around Tanwa’s feet (left) and on her back (right)

After fully documenting Tanwa’s condition, I first removed excess dust and grime from the surface of her wrappings using a soft-bristled brush and a HEPA-filtered vacuum. Cleaning the exterior surface significantly brightened the linen, and I think at this point Tanwa was already looking much better.

Tanwa had a few straight pins stuck into her wrappings in areas, apparently as a measure to temporarily secure some of the fragile linen. I removed all of these pins and adhered the linen in place as necessary with small amounts of methyl cellulose adhesive.

A pin stuck into the bandages on Tanwa's head (left, indicated by red arrow) was removed and the linen was secured to prevent further loss (right, after treatment)

A pin stuck into the bandages on Tanwa’s head (left, indicated by red arrow) was removed and the linen was secured to prevent further loss (right, after treatment)

I then proceeded to repair the linen around her feet and in all other places where the linen was fragile and at risk of detaching or becoming further damaged. All repairs were carried out using similar materials and methods to those I used to repair our falcon mummy. Distorted linen was relaxed and reshaped by humidification with either a damp blotter and Gore-tex sandwich, or using the Preservation Pencil. Detached linen was tacked down using a 6% solution of methyl cellulose adhesive, and fragile areas of linen were backed/supporting using Japanese tissue paper toned with acrylic paints.

Backing a fragile area of linen with toned Japanese tissue paper - the blue clamp is holding everything in place while the adhesive dries

Backing a fragile area of linen with toned Japanese tissue paper – the blue clamp is holding everything in place while the adhesive dries

Here are some after treatment details to compare to the before treatment shots seen in the second image on this post:

After treatment details of the linen around Tanwa's feet (left) and on her back (right)

After treatment details of the linen around Tanwa’s feet (left) and on her back (right)

All of Tanwa’s linen wrappings are now fully stabilized and she is ready to be exhibited for the first time in decades!

An overall view of Tanwa, after treatment

An overall view of Tanwa, after treatment

 

An introduction to our child mummy Tanwa

In my recent post about the Philadelphia Science Festival, I put in a little teaser photograph of one of our child mummies currently in the lab:

child mummy overallNow, all of our mummies are special, but this child mummy has several qualities that make her particularly endearing. One of the things that we really love is that her name is written on her wrappings, near her feet.

Child mummy detailHer name is actually written in both Greek and Demotic – Demotic is the language/script that developed in later periods in Egypt (and is one of the languages inscribed on the Rosetta Stone, along with Greek and hieroglyphic Egyptian). In Greek, this inscription reads: “Tanous (daughter of) Hermodorus”. In Demotic her name reads as “Tanwa”.

So, based on this inscription, we know that she dates to the Ptolemaic Period, and that she is a girl. According to our Egyptologists, what is interesting about the names is that they give a good indication of the multi-cultural nature of this time period. Not only in the fact that 2 languages are represented, but that the girl’s name incorporates the name of an Egyptian goddess, Iwnyt, while her father’s name includes the name of a Greek god, Hermes.

Tanwa has been CT-scanned, which has confirmed the fact that she is a girl, and was likely right around the age of 5 when she died.

Here is a still from the CT scan showing a detail of Tanus' skull. Based on her teeth it has been estimated that she was right around 5 years old when she died.

Here is a still from the CT scan showing a detail of Tanwa’s skull. Based on her teeth it has been estimated that she was about 5 years old when she died. That pin you can see near the top of her skull is modern and not actually in her skull-it was used to secure the outermost layers of linen in that area.

One of my favorite things that CT scanning has shown is that she is wearing 2 bracelets on her left wrist. We are guessing that these might be gold.

Two bangle bracelets on the left wrist show up clearly on the CT scan.

Two bangle bracelets on the left wrist show up clearly on the CT scan.

She also has a small metal ball included in her wrappings just over her right tibia. Exactly what this is and why it was placed there is a bit of a mystery.

A detail shot of the metal ball near her right tibia.

A detail shot of the metal ball near her right tibia.

There is a lot more we can learn from these CT scans, which I will describe in a future post.

Fortunately, Tanwa is in fairly good condition; one of the main issues that we need to address here in the conservation lab is that many of the narrow linen bands wrapped around her body are fragile, torn and partially detaching. I am currently more than halfway through the conservation treatment, and I will provide a thorough report on what we are doing to stabilize her wrappings next. Stay tuned!

 

The Philadelphia Science Festival & National Preservation Week

Why do we use microscopes to examine artifacts? What is that funny thing that Lynn Grant is wearing on her head? Find out tonight at the Philadelphia Science Festival event, Long Live Our Treasures: The Science of Conservation and Preservation

You may look at the photos above and wonder, what are these women doing, and what are they wearing? We answer these sorts of questions every day in the Artifact Lab, but tonight, we won’t be the only ones talking about conservation here in the museum. The Philadelphia Science Festival is currently underway, and this evening, from 5:00- 8:00pm, we are hosting one of the festival’s Signature Events: Long Live Our Treasures: The Science of Conservation and Preservation. Not only will all of our museum’s conservators be available in the Artifact Lab, but we’ll be joined by conservation and preservation professionals from 17 different organizations, including The Barnes Foundation, the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts, the Franklin Institute, the University of Delaware, and the Free Library of Philadelphia, just to name a few.

What can you expect to see at this event? Essentially, the third floor of the museum will be taken over by booths from each of our partnering organizations. At each station, conservators and researchers will be demonstrating and discussing the preservation of cultural heritage, including photographs, films and home movies, books, paintings, herbarium sheets…oh, and mummies of course!

Curious about this mummy? Visit the Artifact Lab to find out more!!

Curious about this mummy and what we’re doing to preserve it? Visit the Artifact Lab to find out more!!

There will also be many hands-on activities, which everyone has been working hard to prepare.

Artifact Lab intern Melissa Miller prepping demo artifacts for the Science Festival. She is making them "dirty" so Science Festival attendees can try their hand at cleaning them.

Artifact Lab intern Melissa Miller prepping demo artifacts for the Science Festival. She is making them “dirty” so Science Festival attendees can try their hand at cleaning them.

Long Live Our Treasures is essentially an opportunity to learn from the experts about how science and art are combined in the unique field of conservation, and to find out what you can do to care for some of your most treasured possessions. In addition, there will be several presentations throughout the evening – for a full schedule follow this link.

This week is also National Preservation Week. If you’re in the Philly area, and you’re at all interested in museum conservation, our event this evening is the perfect way to celebrate, to connect with conservation experts and enthusiasts in our community, and to learn more about the important collections in the Philadelphia area and what is being done to preserve them. We’ll look forward to seeing you!

 

Salvaging PUM I’s chest wrappings

This week, I started to work on the treatment of our mummy PUM I‘s linen wrappings. Poor PUM I – not only is his body quite deteriorated and in multiple pieces, but his linen wrappings are also fragmentary and very fragile. Some of linen in the worst condition are the pieces that once covered his chest, which were cut off during the 1972 autopsy.

This rectangular section of textiles was cut away as a single unit during the 1972 autopsy.

This rectangular section of textiles was cut away as a single unit during the 1972 autopsy.

In addition to the mechanical damage caused by the autopsy, the linen has suffered from insect damage and it is significantly stained and embrittled in areas, likely due in part to deterioration of the human remains they were once in contact with.

Removing the wrappings (left) and the chest wrappings after removal (right)

Removing the wrappings (left) and the chest wrappings after removal (right)

While this linen is in poor condition, it can be moved as a single unit, so we removed it for treatment. The goal of the current treatment is to keep the linen layers in this section together; to prevent them from slipping out of alignment and to prevent the linen from continuing to tear and deteriorate even more.

After vacuuming the linen thoroughly, I got to work relaxing distorted areas and realigning tears.

Local humidification of the linen in progress, using damp blotter and Gore-Tex

Local humidification of the linen in progress, using damp blotter and Gore-Tex

To realign tears, I bridged these areas from behind with small pieces of Japanese tissue paper, adhered in place with methylcellulose adhesive. The methylcellulose works well because it sets very quickly with only a small amount of pressure from my finger or a spatula.

One side of the wrappings before (left) and after (right) humidification and tear repair

One side of the wrappings before (left) and after (right) humidification and tear repair

The other side of the chest wrappings before (left) and after (right) tear repair

The other side of the chest wrappings before (left) and after (right) tear repair

This is only the beginning of the treatment on PUM I’s wrappings, but I think they are already looking better!

 

We aren’t making mummies…or are we?

One question I hear occasionally from visitors in the Artifact Lab is “are you making mummies?”. I always think that this is a funny question – there is one thing that we have plenty of at the museum, and that is objects in our collection. There is no need for us to make our own…or is there?

What's going on here? What could these possibly be for?

What’s going on here? What could these possibly be for?

We do sometimes make mock-ups of artifacts, for testing purposes or for exhibit or educational use, and I wrote a bit about this in my very first blog post on the Penn Museum blog, way back in September.

And now I can no longer say that the museum is not making mummies. While we may not be making mummies in the Artifact Lab, we do have someone on staff who has been known to make a mummy, or two, in his career. This someone is Ben Neiditz. And rather than saying much more about this, I thought I’d ask him a few questions, and post our Q&A on the blog. So read on to learn more about Ben’s fascinating, and super creative, work.

Real mummy or fake? You decide!

Real mummy or fake? You decide!

Hi Ben. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and what do you do at the museum?

I am a sculptor, designer, and builder and I work in the Exhibits department designing and building a range of different exhibit elements including casework, interactives, furniture, and artifact replicas.

How did you get into making artifact replicas?

Well, I studied sculpture and I am still making artwork outside of the museum, but my first replica for the museum was for the Secrets of the Silk Road exhibit. We were prevented at the last minute from displaying the two mummies that were the centerpiece of the show and so I created two replicas. As luck would have it, I had been making desiccated corpses as part of my own sculptural practice and so I was well prepared to make replica mummies in the required time frame (very fast!). Most recently I made a set of replica codices for the exhibit Maya 2012: Lords of Time and I have just finished making another replica mummy – including a set of desiccated organs – that will be used in educational workshops about Egyptian mummification. 

Tell us more about this recent mummy project! How did you make the mummy and what materials did you use?

I started by casting a skull: I covered it in paper mache, let it dry and then cut off the paper shell and reattached the parts.

The "skeleton" of Ben's mummy

The “skeleton” of Ben’s mummy

I used skeletal and anatomical diagrams, photos of real mummies and my own body as reference for scale, proportion and texture. For the body, I started with a wood armature that I then “fleshed out” with paper and cardboard.

The body of the mummy taking shape

The body of the mummy taking shape

I coated the whole thing in paper mache and then I painted and textured the exterior with celluclay, dirt and wood glue to get the desired skin texture.

The "skin" in process of being applied (left) and a detail of the evisceration on the mummy's left side (right)

The “skin” in process of being applied (left) and a detail of the evisceration (right)

Do you have anything else interesting to share? What was the most interesting thing you learned from this?

I went to check out the mummification workshop in which the aforementioned mummy is used. This particular iteration of the workshop was being presented to a group of 6th graders and it was great! The kids get to poke brains made from jello and learn all about the system of religious beliefs that surrounds Egyptian mummification. I learned that in order to be admitted to the afterlife, your heart is put on a scale balanced against a feather. If your heart is too heavy, indicating a life lived wrongly, it is devoured by a crocodile-lion-hippopotamus and you are denied entry into the underworld.

Real mummy or fake? You decide!

The final product-the complete mummy with all of his organs and a scarab amulet placed on his chest.

Thanks Ben! What a cool project. The mummy looks great, and as Ben mentioned, is already being put to use for workshops here at the museum. The mummy has been dubbed “Mr. Ulysses Penn” (or Mr. U Penn). He will be featured in the next “Mummy Makers” workshop, which will take place on June 5th.

 

Special visitor to the Artifact Lab

Last week, we had a special visitor in the Artifact Lab. We recently managed to track down the person who performed PUM I’s autopsy – Dr. Michael Zimmerman. Back in 1972, Dr. Zimmerman was head of pathology at the University Hospital, and PUM I was the first mummy he helped autopsy at the Penn Museum (and one of the first mummies to be autopsied in this way in the world). Dr. Zimmerman went on to receive a PhD in anthropology and is now well known as a paleopathologist who has studied over 200 mummies from around the world.

Dr. Michael Zimmerman performing the autopsy in 1972 (left image, on left) and just last week, visiting PUM I in the Artifact Lab

Dr. Michael Zimmerman performing the autopsy in 1972 (left image, on left) and just last week, visiting PUM I in the Artifact Lab

We posted more information about this on the Museum blog last week. For those of you who didn’t see this article, please check it out! You can access it by following this link.

 

A step a- “head”: improving storage for our mummified heads

As I mentioned previously, we have several mummified heads in the Artifact Lab. Luckily, all of them are stable and do not require much in the way of conservation treatment – instead we have focused on examination, documentation, and some light surface cleaning, and in one case, the removal of an old exhibit armature.

We have a lot of things going on at the moment, so thankfully, I’ve gotten some help with this work. A couple weeks ago we had a group of 5 undergraduate art conservation students from the University of Delaware in the lab – they spent the month of January interning in our department on a project focused on documenting and cleaning a group of Arctic boats in storage.

Ellen Nigro and Rebecca Selig condition reporting a kayak

They wrapped up that project a day early, and so on the last day of their internship, they got to work on something totally different – and several of them elected to help condition report one of the heads.

Rebecca Cruz, Emily Cummins, and David Brickhouse examining a mummified head

After fully documenting the heads and carrying out any necessary treatment, our main goal is to construct new storage mounts for these remains. Our Egyptian storage areas are fairly packed with artifacts, and because of this, many things are stored in a way that makes them hard to access or see without a lot of handling.

An example of artifacts wrapped nicely in acid-free tissue in a drawer – unfortunately, there is a lot of handling required to see these objects

New storage supports will improve access and provide better protection for these remains. Our plan is to make handling trays for the heads, which can then be housed within custom-made boxes.

An example of a handling tray, made using acid-free corrugated board and Volara polyethylene foam

I’m getting some help with this as well – Artifact Lab intern Melissa Miller has been working on the first tray and box.

Melissa working on creating a custom-made box for one of the heads

We will be sure to post photos once we’ve completed them!