Conserving Egyptian Collections, day 1

Today was day 1 of the conference Understanding Egyptian Collections: Innovative display and research projects in museums.

Before saying anything about the conference, I have to mention that I am staying in Christ Church, one of Oxford University’s largest and oldest colleges, and this morning, I had breakfast with someone very near and dear to our hearts at Penn.

pennYes, that’s right, it’s a picture of our very own William Penn, which is hung in the Great Hall (or Hogwart’s Hall to all of you Harry Potter fans out there), where breakfast is served each morning. Penn was educated at Christ Church.

Anyway, on to the conference! As promised, it was a full day of talks, many which focused on the new Egyptian galleries at the Ashmolean Museum, and the conservation and architectural projects associated with their renovation. Liam McNamara, Assistant Keeper for Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the Ashmolean, and Stuart Cade of Rick Mather Architects, both spoke about the planning and decision-making involved in renovating the new galleries.

One of the new Egyptian galleries at the Ashmolean, prominently featuring the shrine of King Taharqa

One of the new Egyptian galleries at the Ashmolean, prominently featuring the shrine of King Taharqa

Mark Norman, Head of Conservation at the Ashmolean, spoke about 5 millennia of collections care in their collections, and specifically touched on examples of some fascinating ancient repairs and early treatments, which included the use of lots of wax, shellac, linseed oil, and cellulose nitrate.

Daniel Bone, Deputy Head of Conservation, reviewed the work that was required to display some large, complex objects using specific design concepts, including displaying 3 coffin lids vertically and mounting a set of stacked coffins within a single case.

A detail of the large case showing one of the vertically-displayed coffin lids

A detail of the large case showing one of the vertically-displayed coffin lids

Conference attendees admire the stacked coffins of Djeddjehutyiuefankh (Third Intermediate Period)

Conference attendees admire the stacked coffins of Djeddjehutyiuefankh (Third Intermediate Period)

Conservator Bronwen Roberts gave a presentation on the treatment of one of the coffin lids that is now displayed vertically.

Bronwen Roberts discusses the treatment on the large "green coffin" lid she treated to enable its display (coffin on far right)

Bronwen Roberts discusses the large “green coffin” lid she treated to enable its display (coffin on far right)

Finally, Jevon Thistlewood, Paintings Conservator at the Ashmolean, spoke about the investigations and treatments of their mummy portraits.

Just after lunch, the keynote speaker, Professor of Egyptology and Director of The Griffith Institute at Oxford, gave a dynamic talk entitled “Egyptology Beyond the Institutional Divide,” emphasizing the importance of collaboration between curators, conservators, Egyptians, and the importance of considering materials and landscape when interpreting objects.

The final two talks of the day focused on projects outside of the Ashmolean. Marie Svoboda, Associate Conservator of the Antiquities Department at the J. Paul Getty Museum presented the APPEAR Collaboration, which is a project and database designed to allow for a comparative study of ancient mummy portraits in collections around the world (of which the Ashmolean is an important participant). Finally, Dr. Mohamed Gamal Rashed spoke about the plans for the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) which are impressive, to say the least. The museum, which is slated to open in 2017, will have space for the display of 50,000 objects, and will include a grand staircase with a view to the Giza Pyramids at the top.

The sessions concluded with special tours of the new Egyptian galleries, and of the Discovering Tutankhamun exhibit, which features original records, photographs and drawings from Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter’s excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamun, from the archives of Oxford’s Griffith Institute.

Stay tuned for details on Day 2 of the conference!

Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond…

While my colleagues are undertaking the exciting (and slightly daunting) task of conserving our 6500 year old Ubaid skeleton in the Artifact Lab, I am on my way to the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford to attend the conference “Understanding Egyptian Collections: Innovative display and research projects in museums.”

The conference will focus on innovative ways of conserving, displaying, understanding and interpreting Egyptian collections and will include presentations about the recent redevelopment of the Ashmolean’s Egyptian displays and conservation and research projects on Egyptian materials in museums around the world. I am speaking on the second day, about In the Artifact Lab, and about the experience of carrying out conservation on Egyptian mummies and objects in front of the public.

I’m looking forward to visiting the Ashmolean Museum for the first time, and for this opportunity to meet some of my colleagues and to hear first-hand about their exciting work. I will try to update the blog from the conference, but if you don’t hear from me, you’ll know I’m elbow-deep in conversations about conserving mummies and Egyptian artifacts!

 

The 2013 Mummy Congress in Rio de Janeiro

Today we are featuring another guest-blogger: our pre-program conservation intern Melissa Miller. Melissa just returned from a pretty special mummy-related trip – read on to hear more about it!

From August 6-9th, I had the opportunity to travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and attend the 8th World Congress on Mummy Studies.

IMG_2766This biannual conference brings together experts from all over the world to discuss recent and ongoing mummy research projects.

Mummy studies draw in a surprising variety of disciplines. There were experts in physical and cultural anthropology, conservation, paleopathology, paleoparasitology, dentistry, medicine, radiology and more. I listened to presentations on ancient DNA techniques, publishing e-books, parasites in coprolites, archaeological excavations in the Valley of the Kings, genetic analysis of the Iceman, and the list could go on. For 4 days I received a crash course on numerous mummy research projects from all over the world that have been going on for the last 15 years. Thankfully the Congress was videotaped and I will be able to revisit some talks or view some that I was unable to attend due to conflicts with other presentations.

melissa mummy congressWhile there, I was also able to present a poster on my ongoing research into the history and development of autopsied mummies, and the preservation of generated materials. For me this was perhaps the most valuable part of my experience at the Mummy Congress. Simply meeting all of these incredible and passionate people and listening to their advice, hearing their encouragement and seeing their willingness to help me continue my research was invaluable. Some have also granted me permission to interview them!

Looking towards the future, I plan to continue my research throughout the academic year and develop my senior thesis. Perhaps by the time the 9th World Congress rolls around I will be able to present my finished project!  Lastly, I would like to say that I am very grateful to all those at the University of Delaware and University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology who made it possible for me to attend the Mummy Congress, and to all those at the Mummy Congress who offered their great advice and support.

 

Conservators-in-training

For over 10 years, our museum has organized an “Anthropologists in the Making” Summer Camp, and today we hosted 66 of these summer campers in the Artifact Lab for an afternoon of conservation training.

IALSummerCamp1This year the camp is being held over 8 weeks, with different themes each week, including Can you Dig it?, all about archaeology, and Visions and Dreams, which explores the significance of dreams and the roles of shamans and mystics (this one is coming up in August).

The camp theme this week is Mummies Unwrapped so of course we had to give the campers a taste (but not literally) of mummy conservation, in addition to what they are learning about mummies and ancient Egypt.

We organized 3 different activities for the 7-13 year olds (they were split into 2 groups according to age) to test their hand and observation skills. All 3 activities were created to mimic some of the work that we’ve been doing in the Artifact Lab, including:

- an excavation station, which challenged the campers to pick out the remains of a beaded shroud from a bin of mummy debris (similar to recovering PUM I’s beads)

IALsummercampexcavation2

- a cleaning station, where campers tried different cleaning tests to remove dirt from a painted ceramic tile (like the cleaning that we’ve been doing on our painted coffin of Tawahibre)

IALsummercampcleaning4

- a materials ID station, where the campers had the opportunity to examine “mystery” materials under magnification and then had to identify what they were looking at (an example of one of the material ID challenges we’ve encountered in the lab can be found here)

A camper compares reference materials to the magnified image of the "mystery" material on the monitor

A camper compares reference materials to the magnified image of the “mystery” material on the monitor

For each activity, we had the kids fill out worksheets to record their observations, to give them a sense of the documentation involved in our work. Before moving on to the next station, each camper needed to get their supervising conservator to sign off on their worksheet. On their way out the door, all campers received certificates declaring them “Junior Conservators for-the-day”.

certificateWe had lots of fun, not only preparing for the camp

Arts and crafts day in the Artifact Lab (left) and the painted tiles before "dirtying" them for the campers (right)

Arts and crafts day in the Artifact Lab (left) and the painted tiles before “dirtying” them for the campers (right)

but also working with the kids at each of the stations. We were impressed with their observations and how quickly they picked up on each activity (rolling swabs can be hard at first!). Special thanks to our Education Department and to all of the summer campers for increasing our department more than tenfold for the afternoon!

IALsummercampcleaning1

 

Ancient Egypt is all around us

Talk about job perks – earlier this week a group of us from the Egyptian section and the Conservation department took a little field trip to downtown Philadelphia to visit the old Wanamaker building (first department store in Philadelphia, now a Macy’s) and the Masonic Temple. These two buildings may not immediately make you think of Egypt or mummies, however, if you have been keeping up with the blog you’ll know that one of our mummies was donated to us by John Wanamaker, founder of Wanamaker’s Department Store. You can read more about that in a previous post by following this link.

But the Egypt connection we were exploring on this trip is the fact that both the old Wanamaker’s building and the Masonic Temple have Egyptian architectural elements. The Egyptian room at the Masonic Temple is something that more people may be familiar with.

A shot from inside the Egyptian Room at the Masonic Temple.

A shot from inside the Egyptian Room at the Masonic Temple.

The Egyptian Room is an incredible, ornately decorated meeting space in the Temple. It was completed in 1889 (apparently the interiors took over 35 years to finish, and you can really appreciate this when you’re standing inside those rooms-it’s impossible to take everything in during 1 visit). The room is flanked by 12 huge columns and both the columns and the walls are intricately painted and ornamented to depict scenes similar to those found the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs and temples.

A detail of one of the columns depicting the face of Hathor, goddess of love and motherhood.

A detail of one of the columns depicting the face of Hathor, goddess of love and motherhood.

Nothing in that room was left undecorated, including the ceiling, which it is painted blue and has a solar disk placed on the east end, representing Aten, the sun. Emanating from the disk are rays tipped with little hands each holding an ankh (the symbol of life).

A detail of the sun disk on the ceiling

A detail of the sun disk on the ceiling. Note that the intersections of the ceiling crossbeams have ancient mason-marks – these are some of the only non-Egyptian motifs in the room!

Our curator Dr. Jen Wegner has spent some time in this room AND translated all of the hieroglyphs, so she can attest to the fact that it is all very authentic. It is really quite a wonderful space, and the best part is that the Temple offers tours to the public and virtual tours on their website (although as I said, these photos really don’t represent the rich colors and details very well – you should really visit in person if you can).

Much less accessible to the public, and virtually forgotten by many at this point, is the Egyptian Hall in the old Wanamaker’s Building. I learned about the Egyptian Hall from Rick Seifert, who visited the Artifact Lab recently and we immediately made a connection. Rick is the Historian of the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ and when he found out that our mummy PUM I came to us from John Wanamaker, we exchanged information and he extended this special invitation for us to see what’s left of the Egyptian Hall. Built in 1910, unfortunately only remnants of this room remain-much of it has been dismantled and built into/over since the store changed hands in the 1990s.

Before entering the Hall, signs of it are visible – here we see Hathor again, adorning the top of a column just outside:

Hathor wanamakersThen Rick led us into the Hall, essentially at the mezzanine level – the lower level is sealed off with a drop ceiling and any elements that may be remaining below are obscured. But what we could see gave us an idea of what the Hall may have once looked like:

It is possible to see the tops of the columns which surround the room. The details were more recently repainted, but you get a sense of what the colors may have been.

It is possible to see the tops of the columns which surround the room. The columns were recently repainted, but you get a sense of what the colors may have been.

There are also some gorgeous details in the ceilings:

The ceilings are decorated with winged sun disks and empty cartouches. The original glass set into the ceilings is now gone.

The ceilings are decorated with winged sun disks and empty cartouches. The original glass set into the ceilings is now gone.

And in the railings:

railingsIt is unfortunate that so much of the Hall has been dismantled – and so recently! To get a sense of it’s former glory, there are some nice images in this old postcard and this photograph from the 1920s.

So just in case you think that we might get enough of this stuff at the Penn Museum – it’s impossible. We were eating this up! Special thanks to Rick Seifert and to John at the Masonic Temple for these opportunities to explore ancient Egypt right here in Philadelphia.

 

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!

 

2013 Philadelphia Science Festival Preview

Our table at the Science Festival Press Preview night, featuring our portable XRF analyzer and a Proscope. At right, Lynn demos the Proscope, magnifying a piece of linen at 50X.

Our table at the Science Festival Press Preview night, featuring our portable XRF analyzer and a Proscope. At right, Lynn demos the Proscope, magnifying a piece of linen at 50X.

Last night, Lynn Grant, Penn Museum Public Relations Director Pam Kosty, and I went to the Franklin Institute for a Press Preview for the 2013 Philadelphia Science Festival. Our museum is hosting a signature event for the Science Festival this year, entitled: “Long Live Our Treasures: The Science of Conservation and Preservation.” We have partnered with 17 other organizations for this program, which will spotlight the typically “behind the scenes” work of conservation professionals through demonstrations, exhibits and short talks. All of this will be taking place on Wednesday April 24 from 5-8pm at the museum.

At the preview last night, we got a taste (literally) of some of the other programming that will be taking place at the Science Festival, including a chance to try fruit from a cacao pod, thanks to Mars Chocolate Research Fellow Ed Seguine (who tastes chocolate for a living – how envious am I?) and a sample of chocolate bourbon habanero ice cream made with liquid nitrogen (so delicious and creamy!) made by the evening’s host, the Franklin Institute.

A partially opened cacao pod (left) and the liquid nitrogen-prepared ice cream being served (right)

A partially opened cacao pod (left) and the liquid nitrogen-prepared ice cream being served (right)

At our event for the Science Festival on April 24, we are looking forward to sharing our work in the Artifact Lab – we will be open till 8pm that evening and visitors will have a chance to use our Proscopes (like the one in the image above) and learn about how we are conserving mummies and other Egyptian materials. This event also, appropriately, coincides with National Preservation Week. We’re excited to be hosting this program and highlighting the field of conservation, and we hope that those of you in the Philly area can join us for this!

 

Art conservation students visit the Artifact Lab

Last Saturday, I was pleased to give a special tour of the Artifact Lab to a group of students from the University of Delaware.

Group photo in the Artifact Lab

This group was made up of graduate students in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Graduate Program in Conservation (WUDPAC), a pre-program intern currently working in at Winterthur, and undergraduates majoring in art conservation at the University of Delaware.

Several students gathered for our open window session

They arrived during our open window session, and then we continued the tour afterward, which gave me the opportunity to present some of my ongoing work and experiences working in an open lab. While I speak about my work every day, discussing my work with students who are learning some of the latest treatment techniques and analytical methods, and who have this information fresh in their minds, was incredibly useful for me. Since their visit, I have received some generous offers of sharing material samples and articles. I know that visiting the Artifact Lab must have been a treat for them, but I think it was equally rewarding for me!

 

Happy Anniversary, Penn Museum!

Conservator Julia Lawson speaks to visitors through one of the Artifact Lab’s open windows

Yesterday was the Penn Museum’s 125th Anniversary! To celebrate the event, the museum held a free Open House, and the galleries were open from 10am to 10pm. In the Artifact Lab, we kept our 2 windows open all day, and conservators Julia Lawson and Nina Owczarek were busy all day speaking with visitors and answering questions. If you made it in yesterday, thanks for coming out to support the museum! If you didn’t, remember that we have open window periods every day that the museum is open, which are:

Tuesday-Friday 11:15am and 2:00pm and Saturday-Sunday 1:00pm and 3:30pm

Looking forward to seeing you in the Artifact Lab!