Say hello to Djed-Hapi

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scan of an archival negative showing E3413B-C.

Scan of an archival negative showing E3413B-C.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

APPEAR Project – Portable X-Ray Fluorescence on the Fayum Mummy Portraits

Hi! This is Eve Mayberger with another update on the Ancient Panel Painting: Examination, Analysis, and Research (APPEAR) project (see earlier posts here and here). I recently investigated the pigments used on the three Fayum mummy portraits with the portable x-ray fluorescence (pXRF). While the pXRF results for all three portraits are interesting, I am going to briefly discuss the findings for the Portrait of a Woman (E16214).

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Woman (E16214); Annotation of pXRF test locations

One of the major advantages of pXRF is that it is a non-destructive technique that uses x-rays to identify specific elements. The technique can help to characterize pigments and metal alloy components. It is important to remember that pXRF is a surface technique and will only detect elements present on the surface. I decided to analyze the seven different colors used on the mummy portrait to determine if there are any elemental differences.

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Collecting data with the Brucker pXRF

All the test locations recorded prominent peaks for calcium (Ca), iron (Fe), and lead (Pb). Although there is some variation in peak heights across the test spots, it is important to remember that pXRF is a qualitative not a quantitative technique. See below for a representative spectrum for six out of the seven analyzed locations.

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Woman (E16214); Spectrum for sample #2 – forehead; Peaks detected for Ca, Fe, and Pb

The green used to paint the gemstones on the woman’s necklace has an additional peak for copper (Cu). This is not surprising as many greens have a copper component. In ancient Egypt, the greens were generally made with malachite or green earths, or from a mixture of blue and yellow pigments. While malachite is a copper-based compound, more analysis is needed to confidently identify the green pigment used for the gemstones.

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Woman (E16214); Spectrum for sample #5 – gemstone on necklace; Peaks detected for Ca, Fe, Pb, and Cu

It should be noted that not all pigments can be identified with pXRF alone. Some organic pigments, such as madder, cannot be detected with pXRF. In addition to using analytical instrumentation, it is also important to know what colorants are expected on specific artifacts to help limit the number of possible pigments.

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

Eve Mayberger, Curriculum Intern

Initial treatment of the wooden boat model

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

Since my first post, I have been working steadily on stabilizing the painted wooden boat model. For a bit more background, this boat model was excavated from Sedment, a cemetery site about 100km south of Cairo.

sedment - Google Maps

Map of Egypt showing the location of Sedment and other cities. Source: Google Maps

A number of First Intermediate Period (2250 – 2061 BCE) tombs were uncovered, including that of Khentkhety, a middle-aged man who was buried in a shaft tomb with a separate burial chamber that was bricked up after interment. Sir Flinders Petrie, the archaeologist who excavated at Sedment, described Khentkhety’s tomb as “the finest burial that we found,” (Petrie and Brunton 1924, 11) even though it had been robbed in antiquity. His mummy was placed in a rectangular wooden coffin, similar in style to the coffin of Ahanahkt. According to Petrie, the wood of the coffin was so damaged by termites that it could not be moved. A detailed colored drawing was made as a record of the interior decoration, which was elaborate:

Khentkhety-coffinSMALL

Colored drawing of the interior of Khentkhety’s coffin, depicting offerings to the deceased. Source: Petrie and Brunton 1924

Several wooden models were also removed from Khentkhety’s tomb, including two boats, a granary, and several human figures. The boat model I am currently treating, which represents a sailing boat, was found on the ground outside the burial chamber, where it had been either moved or dropped by the tomb robbers.

To return to the present day, the first and most obvious issue which needed to be addressed for this model was the actively lifting and flaking paint. In order to determine the best materials and procedure to follow, I and some of my fellow conservators performed spot tests with water, solvents, and adhesives. This involves applying a very small amount of each material to an inconspicuous area of the object to be treated, and watching for any reaction, like darkening or staining. Luckily, the surface of the boat model did not react negatively to any of the materials tested, and I was able to move on to treatment.

I began by consolidating the paint on the exterior sides of the boat. I wanted to stabilize the sides first because it was very difficult to handle or move the boat at all when so much of the exterior paint was so fragile. For each lifted area, I started by applying a drop of ethanol, which cuts the surface tension and allows the consolidant to flow more easily underneath the lifting paint. Then I used a very small brush to apply 1% Methylcellulose in deionized water. The water in the adhesive helped to relax the lifted paint, and after a few minutes I could gently push the area down until it made contact with the wood underneath. It is a bit difficult to see in photographs, but the consolidation has worked really well so far in relaxing and readhering the paint:

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Before (top) and after (bottom) consolidating the areas of lifting paint.

I am also keeping a detailed record of where I am applying the consolidant. Documentation is an important part of conservation treatment, so future examiners know what is original and what has been added to the object over time. These records can also alert a conservator to any additional changes in the object’s condition.

An annotated image showing all the spots I consolidated, what material I used, and where I performed spot tests.

An annotated image showing all the spots I consolidated, what material I used, and where I performed spot tests.

In working closely on the exterior surface, I have seen several areas where it appears a resin or surface coating was applied. I do not know right now whether this is ancient or modern material, but that is something we may be able to find out in the future using different analytical techniques. What I can see now is that these areas show preferential damage, where the applied material has shrunk and become brittle, pulling the paint away from the wood beneath it.

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Image of the bottom of the back of the boat. The green areas indicate where the applied resin has run down the bottom, and there is now preferential loss to the paint in those areas.

If the material is modern, I may decide to try and remove it before it can cause further paint loss. If it is an ancient application, however, we want to preserve it as part of the object’s construction. The areas will be documented carefully, and monitored for future changes.

I have now finished the sides of the boat, and am moving on to the top, where some of the most significant flaking is. I will be back with another post soon to show the progress!

 

Sources:

Horne, Lee. Introduction to the Collections of the University Museum. Philadelphia: University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, 1985.

Petrie, W.M.F. and Brunton, G. Sedment. British School of Archaeology in Egypt Publications, v.34/35, 1924.

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt//sedment/index.html

 

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.

 

Sizing up our child mummy

Everyone loves Tanwa, our child mummy, but a lot of people ask about her size. “Isn’t she kind of small for a 5-year-old?” they’ll ask. Without knowing a whole lot of 5-year-olds myself, I usually say, yes, I guess, but you have to remember that she’s wrapped really tightly and that people were generally smaller in stature 2000 years ago. We also don’t know how she died, so theoretically, her size could have been affected by a disease or something that eventually caused her to die. But the truth is, I don’t know how she compares to the size of kids today.

But today I had the perfect opportunity to size her up, and a willing subject, my niece Luisa. Luisa is “almost 4-years-old” (this is a direct quote). We held Luisa up next to Tanwa for a little height comparison.

luisa and tanwaLuisa is the tallest in her class and she’s “almost four”, and she’s just about the same height as Tanwa. So I would say that Tanwa isn’t so short after all. What do you think?

 

What is under the paraffin ?

Egyptian wooden statue of Ka-Aper, also named  the Sheikh-el-beled, from the Vth Dynasty, decorated with inlaid eyes.

Egyptian wooden statue of Ka-Aper, also named
the Sheikh-el-beled, from the Vth Dynasty,
decorated with inlaid eyes.

Quite a while ago, we dealt with the treatment chosen for the two Egyptian wooden heads and now it’s time to talk about its results. Let’s focus on the cleaning of the surface: the goal was to remove the paraffin that certainly masked other remains of the painted layer.

First of all, we have to talk about the notion of original surface and original level.

> The original surface is composed of the original materials, before they were buried and underwent an alteration process. Concerning the heads, it corresponds to the paint layer they were decorated with.

> The original level is a layer of altered material that took the place of the original material but remained at the same level as the original surface. A good way to understand this is to think about a fossil: it is no longer the original animal, insect or plant made of flesh, bones, shell that it used to be…but you can still identify its shape since it was precisely petrified by another material. That’s what we can call the original level of an object surface.

Nouvelle image (2)It was necessary to define what the original level was on the heads, so as to know how deep the cleaning could go. It had to keep its meaning regarding the object itself. The paint layer was a good clue since these colored patches were all that remained from the original surface. As far as we could see, the rest of the surface was more or less corresponding to the original level. Indeed, there was no important gap between the painted areas and the present surface.

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Original surface and original level near the wig of E17911, x7.5 magnification.

Another issue with paraffin was to think about how much of it we wanted to remove. Indeed, this sticky layer seemed to be what was holding the elements of the current surface together. That was especially true about the painted areas. Concerning the wood, we could only suppose that the paraffin had penetrated inside on a few millimeters only (thanks to a few articles that were published and gave estimations of paraffin migration inside archaeological wood) since we had no way to obtain an accurate estimation of this. Therefore, we didn’t want to remove it completely from the wood because it could threaten its stability and cause the wood to crumble.

That’s why the cleaning began with the known rather than with the unknown: the painted areas were cleaned from the paraffin that covered them. Thus, we could see their real extent. However, the pigments remain stuck in a thin paraffin layer but their legibility was improved, as you can see on these pictures:

Pictures of E17911’s right cheek before and after cleaning, x7.5.

Pictures of E17911’s right cheek before and after cleaning, x7.5 magnification

Nouvelle image (15)

Pictures of E17910’s chin before and after cleaning, x7.5 magnification.

E17910’s right eye, before and after cleaning.

E17910’s right eye, before and after cleaning.

Then began the exploration of the unknown side of the heads, meaning the rest of the surface, where the presence of areas of paint was only a supposition.

This part of the work was really the longest since we couldn’t know what to expect under the paraffin and sediment layer. Some days, only a centimeter square could be cleaned ! Cleaning was carried out using a binocular microscope, in order to see precisely what happened under the scalpel blade and to be able to stop whenever it was necessary.

We found some new paint areas, generally rather small, sometimes buried under a rather important depth of sediment.

Example of two new painted areas on E17911, on the wig (on the left) and next to the right ear (on the right).

Example of two new painted areas on E17911, on the wig (on the left) and next to the right ear (on the right).

The biggest surprise happened with E17910 :

E17910 before and after treatment: a wig is now visible.

E17910 before and after treatment: a wig is now visible.

Close-up on the wig on the right part of E17910.

Close-up on the wig on the right part of E17910.

E17910’s face before and after, with other remains of a wig.

E17910’s face before and after, with other remains of a wig.

The cleaning allowed us to reveal a wig on the right side of E17910 and some other elements belonging to it on the face. We now know more details about the heads and they are almost able to be studied.

See you at our next post to learn more about the remaining steps of this treatment.

The jar is gone !

Example of an Egyptian jar, complete (XVIIIth Dynasty).

Example of an Egyptian jar, complete (XVIIIth Dynasty).

After making some fills on the Egyptian demotic jar, two other steps remained to complete the treatment.

First: painting the fills. The goal is to tone the fills with a color matching the general shade of the ceramic, so as it doesn’t catch your eye when you’re looking at it from a few feet away. It has to be clearly distinguishable if you get a closer look.

Here is the result:

Untitled-2 Let’s have a closer view:

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View of the 4 areas of the jar that were filled and toned.

Second step: making a storage box. The basic rules about storage-making are quite simple. The materials used to make the storage must be chemically neutral towards the object and their ageing must not threaten its condition. For example, some materials can deteriorate in a short-term time period and cause chemical reactions with the artifact they are supposed to protect, causing alterations.  That’s why conservators use materials that were approved by testing them, like submitting them to specific temperature or humidity settings. More details about storage materials can be found following this link.

To prevent this situation from happening, acid-free paper and cardboard, polyethylene foam and fabric, and other well-known conditioning materials are preferred.

Then, each object being different, the storage needs to be adapted to its needs (size, weight, material sensitivity…) but also to the room available in the storeroom itself ! Concerning the jar, it was about allowing its safe and easy handling and preventing it from rolling.  According to its weight, the cardboard used had to be quite strong.

Left: the box has a front side that opens and a small compartment (on the right) to store fragments that couldn't be glued to the jar.   On the right: The box with the front side closed.

Left: the box has a front side that opens and a small compartment (on the right) to store fragments that couldn’t be glued to the jar.
Right: The box with the front side closed.

The mount, so as the jar can safely be pulled out of the box.

The mount, so as the jar can safely be pulled out of the box.

Left: the jar in its new storage box... Right: ...ready to go back to the Egyptian storeroom.

Left: the jar in its new storage box…
Right: …ready to go back to the Egyptian storeroom.

Here ends the conservation treatment of the jar; it was brought back to the storerooms last week. But we still have new projects in the Lab !

The wooden heads, paraffin and a lamp.

Example of the burial environment of two wooden Egyptian  Statues in Saqqara (from HARVEY, Wooden statues of the Old Kingdom, plate I).

Example of the burial environment of two wooden Egyptian
Statues in Saqqara (from HARVEY, Wooden statues of the Old Kingdom, plate I).

The cleaning of the two heads is now in progress, and almost finished on the head with the wig.

But first, let’s talk about the main problem concerning those heads: paraffin. Thanks to W.M. Flinders Petrie’s publication about his preservation practices in the field (PETRIE, Methods and aims in archaeology), we knew in advance what to expect. He wrote that he used paraffin wax, almost at its melting point, to impregnate wooden objects that were very damaged. Using paraffin for that purpose, and on many other materials, was very common from the 19th to the first decades of the 20th century. Thanks to it we have artifacts instead of wood powder, which nevertheless presents some issues !

As far as we know, the heads were found very decayed and couldn’t be lifted from the ground. To facilitate their removal, the paraffin was spread on them while still half buried. That explains the current condition of the surface: here the paraffin takes several shapes.

White deposits (seen in photos below) on the surface are due to an application of paraffin in a non-optimal? environment. Indeed, the paraffin is brought to its boiling point and is supposed to remain warm enough to flow far inside the porous material. If it doesn’t, you might obtain something like this :

White deposits on the surface, due to the precipitation of paraffin applied in the field.

White deposits on the surface, due to the precipitation of paraffin applied in the field (magnification x10 and x25).

 

Those deposits cover the eyelids and the polychromy too (magnification x12,5  and x50).

Those deposits cover the eyelids and the polychromy too (magnification x12,5 and x50).
On the left: Yes, this yellowish tube-shaped material is paraffin !

 

More paraffin, covering the red polychromy on E17910 (magnification x25 and x20).

More paraffin, covering the red polychromy on E17910 (magnification x25 and x20).

And here is what the surface looks like:

Detailed view of the surface, similar on both heads (magnification x12,5 and x50)

Detailed view of the surface, similar on both heads (magnification x12,5 and x50).

Sediment (sand, quartz), and some vegetal particles, were stuck to the surface and it has never been cleaned since the discovery in 1898. The general texture can be described with a single word: waxy ! The paraffin was spread on the entire object, including the surrounding sediment. That’s why we have so much sand, quartz and organic elements included in the paraffin layer. That is particularly a problem for a conservator because the layers on an object generally have different textures that help us understanding the general stratigraphy. It also helps to guide the cleaning.

Several methods of cleaning were possible, all involving mechanical work, with a scalpel and requiring many hours of work ! The subtle aspect of this treatment is that we don’t want to completely remove the paraffin because it seems to hold what remains of the wood together. It’s like a shell of paraffin and inside is the wood, its cells completely disorganized as the CT-scan helps to figure out.

CT-scan picture of E17911, showing the damaged structure of the wood.

CT-scan picture of E17911, showing the damaged structure of the wood.

Here is what wood is supposed to look like when well-preserved:

Example of the CT-scan of a Japanese wooden statue from the 18th century CE, conserved at the Field Museum, Chicago. The wood growth rings are clearly visible and the structure appears to be in very good condition.

Example of the CT-scan of a Japanese wooden statue from the 18th century CE, conserved at the Field Museum, Chicago.
The wood growth rings are clearly visible and the structure appears to be in very good condition.

So, removing the paraffin would be both dangerous for the object and impossible. It was decided to remove, as far as possible, the layer that prevents us from knowing what the real condition of the object is. And it certainly hides more polychromy, especially on the head E17911. Cleaning tests indicated that in addition to mechanical cleaning, other cleaning methods are needed to reduce the paraffin on the surface.

First possibility: solvents. After trying several, it appeared that it wasn’t the best solution because this method was slow, not so efficient and penetration of the solvent into the material can’t be controlled.

Second possibility: heat. This More precisely a lamp with a bulb that provides warmth. Once warm, the paraffin melts and is much easier to remove mechanically. However cleaning the polychromy has to be carried out when the object is “cool” because of its fragility. This is the cleaning method that was ultimately chosen.

General view of the heating process.

General view of the heating process.

And many things were hidden under that waxy layer…

What do the conservators do when they’re *not* in the Artifact Lab?

Molly Gleeson, the primary project conservator for the Artifact Lab is on vacation so, if you come by over the next little while, one of the other staff conservators (Julie Lawson, Nina Owczarek and I – Lynn Grant) will be taking turns being the Conservator on Duty. While there, we work on the same sorts of projects that Molly does but you might wonder what we do when it’s not our turn in the fishbowl. With a collection of over a million artifacts, there’s plenty to keep three (or even 30, if we just had room) busy. Because Penn Museum’s collections are so large, we have to prioritize what we work on. The conservation treatments we’re working on right now are mostly for objects going on exhibition (mainly Native American artifacts for an exhibition opening in a year), or on loan (we loan artifacts to Museums all over the world; this fall we’ve worked on objects going to New York, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Spain, Amsterdam, Switzerland, and Taiwan, to name just a few) or artifacts being photographed for publication.

One of the places conservator Lynn Grant spent time recently: an art storage warehouse in Connecticut where some of our collections were stored (white crates).

In addition, we work very closely with other Museum staff on preventative conservation (see Molly’s earlier blog post, to keep our collections in the best possible condition. This means monitoring storage conditions, artifacts on exhibition, advising on materials used in display, and many other tasks. These don’t always happen in the Museum, either. We conservators often act as couriers, accompanying artifacts as they travel to make sure that they receive the proper care. One recent courier trip I did has a certain amount of overlap with work in the Artifact lab, since it involved an Ancient Egyptian tomb chapel.

One block (the false door) from the offering chapel of Kapure. This single limestone block weighs over 9000 pounds.

The late Old Kingdom offering chapel of Kapure from Saqqara (dating to ca. 2300 B.C.) was once part of this high ranking official’s mudbrick mastaba tomb. The interior of the chapel was lined with limestone blocks beautifully decorated with carved and painted scenes representing the deceased seated at a table of offerings and receiving funerary provisions. Part of the chapel of Kapure is on display in the Museum’s Lower Egyptian Gallery. The rest, which was part of a traveling exhibition in the late 1990s, has been in storage in Connecticut since 2000. This was supposed to be a temporary situation but it’s gone on for longer than we ever expected and now that there is a suitable storage facility here in Philadelphia, we decided to bring the tomb chapel closer to home. Why wouldn’t we just bring it back to the Museum, you ask? Well, it’s kind of big and very unwieldy. There were 8 crates, the heaviest of which weighed over 9000 lbs. We hope to be able to reinstall it in our Egyptian Galleries before too much longer but until then, it will stay in specialized art storage.

My colleagues in adventure, Bob Thurlow (left) and Jen Wegner, get ready to to work on our crated limestone blocks.

Getting it there was a bit of an adventure. Three Museum staff members: Bob Thurlow of the Registrar’s Office, Dr. Jen Wegner of the Egyptian Section, and myself, traveled to the warehouse where it was stored in Connecticut. There we had to open each crate; document the current condition of the blocks inside both with digital photography and written descriptions; check that the crates were still in good enough condition to protect the artifacts during transit; make any necessary improvements to the crates; then oversee the loading of the crates on to a very large truck; follow the truck to the new warehouse; and finally supervise the unloading and placement of the crates there. This all took two-and-a-half days and meant long hours working in an unheated warehouse – in November.

Art handlers and warehouse men load the false door crate on to the truck, using the big forklift (the smaller one couldn’t lift the 9000 lb weight). The crate fit with about 2 inches to spare – a tribute to Bob Thurlow’s excellent planning and preparation.

Jen Wegner explaining the finer points of the false door block to two of the warehouse employees just before we put the lid back on and prepared to take it back to Philadelphia.

This is not the glamorous part of our jobs! Still, it needed to be done and it was a great chance to get up close and personal with some gorgeous Egyptian funerary art. Working with Jen Wegner was a treat as she was able to tell us what we were looking at and read the inscriptions. I’m sure Jen got tired of me asking what various symbols were, especially since most of them seemed to be bread – apparently Egyptian funerals were a carb-fest!

posted by Lynn Grant

In the Artifact Lab-Week 1

And what a week it has been! We are officially moved in to our new conservation lab, up on the 3rd floor of the museum and work is now underway in the Artifact Lab.

A view of the Artifact Lab from the entrance to the gallery

Since we opened on Sunday, we’ve spent the week getting situated in our new lab, preparing our work space, tools, and materials, and starting to examine several of the objects we’ll be working on over the next few months. We have a fascinating variety of objects in the lab-including mummified human remains, mummified animals, and funerary items such as painted and inscribed coffins and coffin boards (parts of coffins). These objects have spent many years in storage, some of them since being acquired by the museum over 100 years ago. One of the huge advantages of working on them in the new Artifact Lab is that we have the space, suitable lighting, and proper equipment to thoroughly examine and research these objects, and in the last few days, it quickly became clear that in several cases, we have our work cut out for us.

This painted wood coffin, for instance, is going to be a major project-

Wood coffin dating to the Late Period (post 558 BCE). Notice the heavy layer of grime and significant cracks in the paint and gesso layers.

It’s surface is heavily obscured by dust and grime, and it also has significant structural issues as well, including severe cracks that extend though the paint, gesso and wood and significant losses to the painted surface. We can already tell that this will be a project that will be ongoing in the lab for awhile.

Oh, and in addition to our regular conservation lab work, did I mention that we’ve spent a lot of time this week speaking with the public? Our work will always be visible to anyone who stops by-our Head Conservator Lynn Grant appropriately refers to the space as a fishbowl-there is literally, nowhere to hide (and if there was I wouldn’t tell you). But twice a day, 11:15am and 2:00pm Tuesday-Friday and 1:00pm and 3:30pm Saturday and Sunday, we open the windows to answer questions and speak about our work. We also have the advantage of using our new Smartboard to show additional images-photos showing the progress of our work and images collected through research. 

We use this Smartboard for presentations and also for communicating to visitors when we are working.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts featuring some of the objects that we’ll be working on in the Artifact Lab, and some of our latest discoveries!