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.

 

Salvaging PUM I’s chest wrappings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Special visitor to the Artifact Lab

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

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

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

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

 

Picking up the pieces of PUM I

I’ve mentioned before that we have several mummies in the Artifact Lab, but only one complete adult mummy, that we call PUM I (read more about him here).

PUM I, our adult male mummy in the Artifact Lab

I’m using the word “complete” here a little loosely, or perhaps very loosely, because while we appear to have most of his remains, and on first glance PUM I appears to be more or less all in one piece, we recently found out that he is pretty fragmentary. Many of his internal remains are currently housed in plastic bags

Bags containing the desiccated remains of PUM I

and we recently realized that his head is completely detached from the rest of his body.

Why is PUM I so fragmentary? Well, his poor condition is due in part to the fact that he was autopsied back in 1971.┬áPUM I’s autopsy was conducted at the university by a group of distinguished researchers who it seems were not yet very experienced in the study of ancient human remains. Unfortunately, one of their first forays into this work (PUM I’s autopsy) was reported as being an “unmitigated disaster”. They noted that the body was poorly preserved, without personal data or provenance, and their findings in the end, were minimal. And we have yet to locate any substantial records produced by the researchers during this study, so we don’t know exactly what they did-we only see the result of their work. Fortunately for other mummies, these researchers learned a lot from this experience and went on to conduct other much more successful autopsies.

But what about PUM I? After the autopsy, PUM I was laid back into his wood coffin, where he has remained ever since; his remains and linen wrappings continuing to deteriorate. In the Artifact Lab, we have made it our goal to remove PUM I from his coffin so that we can fully understand his condition, thoroughly document his remains, and stabilize them as much as possible. Within the next couple days, PUM I will be out of his coffin-we’ll report on our progress later this week!