APPEAR Project – Fayum Mummy Portraits

Hi! This is Eve Mayberger and I am a curriculum intern from New York University. I am currently spending nine months at the Penn Museum as part of my fourth-year internship. I want to introduce one of the projects I am working on in the Artifact Lab. The Ancient Panel Painting: Examination, Analysis, and Research (APPEAR) project is a Getty Institute initiative to create an international database on Fayum mummy portraits. A website was created to allow different types of analysis and imaging to be uploaded and shared with other institutions participating in the APPEAR project.

The Penn Museum has three Fayum mummy portraits in its collection [E16212, E16213, and E16214]. These portraits date from the Roman period in Egypt and were executed in either encaustic (wax) or tempera. The portraits depict a boy, a young man, and a woman. The figures are painted on thin panels of wood that are adhered together. Remember that wood was a rare and expensive material in ancient Egypt and every tiny piece of wood was valuable.

E16212bt1_web

APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Boy (E16212)

All three portraits have been repaired at some point in their history. One of my challenges is going to be to differentiate the original materials from later additions. Fortunately, the Penn Museum has the old treatment records that will hopefully be useful to piece together the treatment history of these objects.

E16213bt1_web

APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Young Man (E16213)

After carefully examining the portraits, I took them down the photography studio in the main conservation lab. These high-resolution photos will be uploaded to the APPEAR website. In the upcoming weeks, I will be using imaging and non-destructive analysis to further investigate these mummy portraits.

E16214bt1_web

APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Woman (E16214)

Be sure to visit the blog in the upcoming weeks to read more about APPEAR project!

Eve Mayberger, Curriculum Intern

Progress update on the stola coffin treatment

For the past few weeks, it has been full steam ahead on the treatment of the stola coffin lid. The lid is made of smaller pieces of wood joined together, then covered generously in areas with a thick layer of coarse mud plaster, followed by a thin layer of a finer mud plaster, followed by paint and a varnish. There are also raised details that were built up with gesso before painting.

This large piece of painted mud plaster (detached from the foot of the coffin, seeing on the left) is 11 cm thick.

This large piece of painted mud plaster (detached from the foot of the coffin, seen on the left) is 11 cm thick.

This area of damage clearly shows the wood substrate (green arrow), coarse mud plaster (blue arrow), and finer mud plaster (red arrow).

This area of damage clearly shows the wood substrate (green arrow), coarse mud plaster (blue arrow), and finer mud plaster (red arrow).

The two major condition problems on the coffin are found in the mud plaster layers: the coarse mud plaster has lost cohesion and in many places has separated from the wood below, and the finer mud plaster has also lost cohesion, so much so that it has deteriorated to a fine powder in places. I have spent over 150 hours so far readhering detached plaster, consolidating the powdery plaster, and realigning and stabilizing loose fragments on the coffin. Today I’m posting a few before and after treatment details to show the progress.

Here are before and after details of the top of the head showing an area where I had to readhere some large fragments of painted plaster:

Top of the head before (left), during (center), and after (right) reattaching painted plaster fragments

Top of the head before (left), during (center), and after (right) reattaching painted plaster fragments

Here are before and after details of the left eye showing the consolidation of exposed powdery mud plaster:

Detail of losses near the left eye before, showing powdery mud plaster (left) and after cleaning and consolidation of the mud plaster in the losses

Detail of losses near the left eye before, showing powdery mud plaster (left) and after cleaning and consolidation of the mud plaster in the losses (right)

And here is an area on the side of the head where I found that some fragments were previously attached in incorrect places. They were repaired long ago (with no documentation) with an adhesive that is soluble in warm water. I reversed the old repairs and found the correct locations for the fragments. I’ve outlined the fragments in their incorrect locations in the before treatment image on the right, below:

Detail of treatment on the side of the head before, with misplaced fragments outlined in pink (left), and after respositioning (right)

Detail of treatment on the side of the head before, with misplaced fragments outlined in pink (left), and after respositioning (right)

I still have lots of work to do before the treatment is complete, but I’m making good progress! I hope to be finished with the treatment early in the new year.

Examination of Wooden Tomb Models

Hi everyone! This is Alexis North, and I’m the project conservator at the Penn Museum working on the Egyptian storage move project, which has been referenced here on the blog a few times. I wanted to give a brief introduction on one of the projects I have been working on most recently in the Artifact Lab.

We recently received several new objects in the Artifact Lab. They are a collection of painted wooden models, depicting various aspects of daily life, which date to the First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom (2130-1784 BCE). Many of the models we have were excavated by Sir Flinders Petrie and the British School of Archaeology, through excavations the University of Pennsylvania supported.

Photo of tomb models on display, prior to deinstallation.

Photo of tomb models on display, prior to deinstallation.

These models had been on display in our Egyptian Daily Life gallery for quite a long time. However, due to the vibrations caused by the construction going on right outside the museum, the entire case had to be deinstalled and the objects moved for their protection. The models have very fragile painted surfaces, and are made of multiple pieces which could separate, fall over, and be damaged if exposed to vibrations within the case. They also in most cases have not be examined by a conservator since their acquisition.

Therefore they were all brought into the Artifact Lab for documentation and treatment. We started by photographing all the individual pieces, and assessing the condition of the painted surfaces. Many of the models have actively lifting and flaking paint, and the horizontal surfaces are also quite dirty.

The model most in need of treatment is this boat:

Detail of E14260.1, boat model, before deinstallation.

Detail of E14260.1, boat model, before deinstallation.

Boats have a lot of significance in ancient Egyptian culture and religion. They were the primary means of long-distance travel along the Nile, and the Egyptians believed that the gods traveled across the sky and through the underworld on boats. Boats were also used for fishing. This model depicts a transport boat, with oarsmen, a mast and rudder, and a canopy painted in a cowskin pattern where the tomb owner would have been represented sitting and enjoying his travels.

This model has some of the most serious flaking paint and discoloration, especially on the top and sides of the boat:

Detail of lost and lifting paint on top of boat, and grimy surface.

Detail of lost and lifting paint on top of boat, and grimy surface.

I began treating this model by taking detailed photos of the surface, then using those images to map different condition issues. Then I chose different treatment materials and techniques which work best for those issues.

Come back for the next post to see more about what we learned from examining this model, and how I chose to treat it. See you soon!

 

References:

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

Taylor, John H. (2001). Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt. The University of Chicago Press.

 

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

 

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 return to the Rubinstein cartonnage

A year ago, I wrote about some cartonnage that we received as a donation from Helena Rubinstein back in 1953. I started working on it but after realizing what a complex project it was going to be, decided to save it for one of our graduate interns to work on (I like to think we save the best stuff for them, and sometimes best = complicated). We didn’t have to wait too long, since this fall we were joined by Eve Mayberger, a 4th year NYU intern who is with us for the academic year, and she was happy to take on the cartonnage as one of her many projects.

One of the reasons the cartonnage is in the lab is because it’s attached to a really ugly old mount, which is no longer providing sufficient support. To remind you, here is what it looked like when it entered the lab:

Cartonnage pieces secured to a wooden mount painted blue

5 separate cartonnage pieces secured to a wooden mount painted blue (before treatment)

Not only do we want to get the cartonnage off of this old mount, but the way the pieces are attached to the mount complicates examination and our understanding of their materials and construction. Basically, this old mount isn’t doing the object any favors, and there’s not much we can do with the object while it’s on the mount.

Eve has spent some time documenting and examining the cartonnage pieces in the Artifact Lab and today she decided to bite the bullet and actually start removing them from the mount. She started with the chest piece (the uppermost piece in the image above). It was secured to the mount primarily through 2 large screws and several smaller nails. Just a few minutes ago, Eve calmly removed the last of the hardware and we were finally able to free this piece from the mount – hurrah!

Eve examining the backside of the cartonnage, recently freed from the old mount, seen on the right side of this photo.

Eve examining the backside of the cartonnage, recently freed from the old mount

Here is a detail of what the back looks like:

View of the reverse of the cartonnage chest piece, after removal from the mount.

View of the reverse of the cartonnage chest piece, after removal from the mount.

Of course now that we can see the other side, we have even more questions about what was done to this piece historically versus what is part of its original construction. Eve will continue to examine this piece and do some more research before beginning the treatment. We will provide updates as she proceeds.

Vampire mummy?!?

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

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

CG2015-4-9 in (not original) coffin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cat mummy in a new storage enclosure

Cat mummy in a new storage enclosure

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

What’s inside those animal mummies?

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

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

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

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

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

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

ibismummy4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

kittenmummy

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

snakemummies

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

Animal mummy x-rays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.