Looking inside our falcon mummy

Last Friday, 7 of us from our conservation department took a group of objects from the museum to the GE Inspection Technologies Customer Solutions Center in Lewistown, PA for x-radiography and CT scanning.

Our group gathered around the CT scanner, being operated by Becky Rudolph, GE's North American Radiography Sales Manager for Academia

Our group gathered around the CT scanner, being operated by Becky Rudolph, GE’s North American Radiography Sales Manager for Academia

Now, wait just a second, you might be thinking. Doesn’t Penn have its own x-ray and CT scanning equipment? Why did we have to take these objects all the way to Lewistown for this work? Good questions, and we have a good answer. We just received word that in early 2014, construction will begin on our new conservation labs, which will include a digital x-ray suite. We plan to purchase the x-ray unit from GE, so a visit to their facilities was a chance for us to demo the equipment using some of our own artifacts!

The object I was most eager to image was our falcon mummy. X-ray and CT (computed tomography) scanning technology allow us to “virtually unwrap” this mummy, helping us understand how it was made and what is inside (and as visitors to the lab have heard me say, we can’t assume that there are any falcon remains inside-we can only hope!).

The falcon mummy laying on its storage support on the x-ray plate (within a lead-lined room)

The falcon mummy lying on its storage support on the x-ray plate (within a lead-lined room)

The quickest way to get a peek inside the falcon mummy’s wrappings is by taking an x-ray image. Digital x-ray technology is amazing – with a push of a button, 135 kV (kilovolts, measurement of the voltage), 2.0 mA (millamperes, measurement of the current) and 4 seconds later, we saw this:

falcon xray annotatedHooray! In this first attempt, we could already see that there are bird remains inside. The bright white material concentrated in the center of the mummy wrappings is the skeletal remains. In radiographic images, materials that are denser appear white because they do not allow x-rays to pass through. Materials that are less dense (such as the textile wrappings surrounding the bird bones) appear darker, because the x-rays are penetrating and passing through these materials. We can see in the image above that there are no skeletal remains in the “head” and the “feet” of the falcon mummy – these areas appear to have been sculpted with fabric. The slightly brighter white area near the feet just reflects an overlap of textile in that area.

While we were excited by this image, it immediately prompted more questions. We can see bird bones, but where is the skull? How much of the bird body is present? Are there any clues as to how the body was prepared for mummification? To answer these questions, we turned to the CT scanner.

CT scanning uses x-rays to produce cross-sectional images of an object, which can then be combined to produce three-dimensional views. CT provides a much more detailed look inside objects, and better distinction between different materials.

The CT unit at GE does not look like a medical CT scanner that many people may be familiar with. To scan the falcon, we had to stand the mummy upright in its box, which we then secured to the rotating stage inside the CT chamber with masking tape.

Right: Lynn Grant and I taped the falcon mummy in his box to the stage inside the CT chamber. Left: another view of the falcon mummy's box secured inside the CT chamber.

Left: Lynn Grant and I taped the falcon mummy in its box to the stage inside the CT chamber Right: another view of the falcon mummy’s box secured inside the CT chamber

The CT scanning took a bit longer than 4 seconds, but again, produced much more detailed images. Here is what one of the cross-sections looks like:

falcon cross section annotatedIn this image, the bones are visible as the most radio-opaque materials (so they are bright white). We were also excited to see the feathers, clearly visible as little circles reflecting the cross-section of the feather shafts, which are hollow. The various layers of linen wrapping are also very clear – clear enough to count! But other details are not so immediately clear to us, including the presence of the skull, and exactly how the remains were prepared.

Here is a screen shot from the program we are using to view the CT images, showing 3 different cross-sections, and a basic 3D rendering of a section of the falcon mummy. In this 3D rendering, we can clearly see the falcon’s talons, circled in red!

falcon CT 3 views annotatedWe will need to spend time with the images, and consult other specialists, to better understand what the CT scans have revealed.

image_2

UCLA/Getty graduate intern Alexis North and I puzzle over the CT images of the falcon mummy

We will follow up later with more images and interpretations of the falcon mummy CT scans, plus more about the other objects we were able to examine.

A special thank you to Becky Rudolph and Hank Rowe at GE for spending the day with us, and for their expertise!

 

X-ray excursion

If you stopped by the Artifact Lab this week, you might have noticed that our falcon mummy is no longer on display, and this sign in its place:

falcon signAs indicated on the sign, the falcon has been removed for x-radiography. This mummy has never been x-rayed before, and we’re interested in using this imaging technology to learn how it was made and if there are any falcon remains inside!

Along with the falcon, we’re also going to be x-raying/CT-scanning our (possibly headless) cat mummy, the wooden statue heads, and several other pieces.

We do not have the ability to x-ray and CT-scan objects here in the museum, so we will be taking these selected pieces for a little trip tomorrow. In preparation for their travels, they are securely packed, and ready for this exciting excursion!

The falcon mummy is secured inside its storage support and packed into a larger box for travel.

The falcon mummy is secured inside its storage support and packed into a larger box for travel.

We will update the blog with our findings soon after we return.

 

New objects in the Artifact Lab

Starting today, there are three new artifacts on view in the exhibit space here in the Artifact Lab. Those of you who have been keeping up with this blog will recognize these pieces, including:

Our falcon mummy:

falcon in caseTanwa, one of our child mummies:

Tanwa in case

and Nefrina’s cartonnage mummy mask:

nefrina in caseAll of these artifacts are displayed with labels explaining their conservation “story”.

In addition, we have a binder available in the exhibit space that includes the conservation treatment reports and images for each of these artifacts. These reports contain detailed descriptions of the materials and the condition of these artifacts, and of the techniques and materials used to conserve them.

Of course, we also have information about these pieces here on our blog, and later this week we will post more information about the process of conserving Nefrina’s mummy mask.

 

Bobblehead no more: finishing the falcon mummy treatment

As you’ve seen in one of my latest posts, I have been working on the treatment of our falcon mummy, but of course I saved one of the most challenging parts for last. I couldn’t capture a great photo of this, but one of the biggest condition problems with the falcon is that he had a seriously floppy head. This was caused by tears, breaks and losses of the linen fabric in both the front and the back of the body, just below the neck.

Two detail shots of the falcon mummy before treatment, showing breaks and separation of the textile near the neck

Actually, one of the best images showing this is in our online collections database found by following this link. It is evident that there was nothing supporting the falcon’s head in this photo, allowing it to fall backward.

To stabilize this area, I filled the gaps using Japanese tissue paper and methyl cellulose, the same adhesive I used to repair the textile on the feet of this mummy. Japanese paper is commonly used in conservation for the repair of artifacts and paper-based materials. As the name implies, this is paper made in Japan, usually from kozo fibers, which come from the inner bark of the Kozo, or Paper Mulberry tree.

Gap in back of the falcon’s neck during (left) and after (right) filling and mending with Japanese tissue paper.

In areas where the Japanese tissue paper would be visible, I toned the paper beforehand using Golden acrylic paints. I made most of the fills from the back, which allowed the separated area in the front to join together nicely, requiring little additions in this area.

Two views of the falcon mummy after treatment

Many of the dark-brown dyed linen elements were also very fragile and actively detaching, so I consolidated them using a 2.5% solution of Acryloid B-72 in a 50:50 solution of acetone/ethanol. Finally, I created a storage support for the falcon – even though the head is no longer floppy, this will provide important support under the head to reduce stress in this area and to avoid continued damage or failure of the repair.

Falcon mummy after treatment, with new storage tray

The falcon mummy is now ready for transport over to the hospital later this year for CT scanning. CT scanning will be able to tell us if there is a falcon inside the wrappings, and will also provide important information about how these animal mummies were made. Additionally, the CT images will be an important part of my conservation documentation – I will be able to annotate which materials I added as part of the treatment process, to eliminate confusion over what is original and what is not.

Our falcon mummy will also be going on display later this year – and you can visit him anytime by stopping by the Artifact Lab!

 

Giving our falcon a little love

One of my favorite artifacts in the lab is a falcon mummy, which I described in an earlier post. While he is a fascinating object, this poor little guy hasn’t been able to be exhibited, or even handled very much, because some of his linen wrappings are quite deteriorated, brittle, and breaking apart, causing serious structural issues.

Overall shot of our falcon mummy

Recently, I worked to stabilize the linen wrappings on his feet, which were partially detached, and in some areas, barely hanging on by a few threads.

Side view of the falcon’s “feet” showing the fragile, partially detached linen wrappings

Before carrying out any treatment, I did a little bit of research and carried out some testing to determine what materials I might want to use to repair the textile. I knew that a stitched repair would not be possible, as the linen fibers are far too weak and this would likely cause further damage, so I started investigating different adhesives and support materials to use instead. As part of this process, I consulted with Nancy Love, a local conservator in private practice who specializes in textiles. Nancy recently visited me in the Artifact Lab, and among the other materials I was trying, she suggested that I experiment with nylon bobbinett, a heatset nylon net.

I did some experimentation with it, and I really liked how it behaves, both as a support fabric and as an overlay to protect fragile areas-it drapes well and can be toned easily with dyes or paint. After feeling satisfied with the results of some of my tests, I set out to repair the damaged linen over the falcon’s feet.

I started by toning the bobbinett with Golden acrylic paint. Then I backed the fabric that was dangling off the back of the foot with the toned bobbinett lightly coated with 10% methylcellulose in water. I then used the bobbinett support fabric to raise the partially detached fabric up into place, secured temporarily with pins.

After positioning the linen, I covered the entire back of the foot area with another piece of toned nylon bobbinett.

The back of the foot area with an overlay of the toned nylon bobbinett, after treatment

Finally, I tacked down the strip of linen over the top of the feet, which was also partially detached but otherwise fairly stable, using small beads of methylcellulose. Reattaching the linen over this area also hid the edge of the nylon bobbinett overlay.

View of the front of the foot wrappings, after treatment

I’m pleased with the results, and I can now breathe a sigh of relief that we’re not going to lose any more of the linen from this area. My next task will be to address the falcon’s partially detached head/neck area. Hang in there, little guy!

 

Featured object series: falcon mummy

What’s to see in the Artifact Lab?

This is the first in a series of posts describing objects undergoing conservation treatment In the Artifact Lab.

This object appears to be a mummified falcon.

Mummified falcon, before treatment.

I say “appears to be” because we cannot be certain that there is a falcon, or any animal remains for that matter, under the wrappings. In Ancient Egypt, it is known that in addition to mummifying animals, “false” animal mummies were made-from the outside they look like they contain an animal but on the inside, there may only be a bundle of mud and straw, or just a bone or two, or some fur or feathers. These false mummies could have been made to deceive the buyer, but they may also have been made when there was a scarcity of that particular animal, and may have still been considered complete offerings.

Animal mummies were created for a variety of reasons-this article by Salima Ikram, the first in a recent issue of AnthroNotes published by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, summarizes the topic well, putting them into 5 categories: pets, food, sacred, votive, and “other.” The article explains that, yes, some animals were mummified because they worshipped, but many were mummified as offerings to specific dieties, and others because they were considered beloved pets.

This falcon mummy may have been created as an offering to the god Horus. It was excavated from Abydos in 1914 through the Egypt Exploration Fund (later Egypt Exploration Society) through financial support of the Penn Museum. Although the museum’s records do not include a specific date, it is likely that it dates to the Late or the Graeco-Roman Period-many animal mummies date to this time and the decorative linen wrappings seen on this object were popular during these periods as well.

This mummy is elaborately wrapped with strips of natural and dyed linen and details on the head and face are outlined in a brown/black paint. While the mummy is generally very well preserved, it is currently unstable because the head/neck area is partially detached and the linen strips at the feet are in poor condition-some are completely detached.

After fully documenting and researching this object, conservation treatment will include light surface cleaning, stabilization of the head/neck, and stabilization of the wrappings as needed. A storage/handling support has also been created to allow the mummy to be studied without needing to directly touch the object. This work will also allow the mummy to be safely x-rayed and/or CT-scanned. We will post updates on this object as we uncover more details and begin the treatment!