Wax on, wax off

In my last post, I briefly described the Egyptian storage move project currently underway. And I also promised to feature some of the objects that are in the lab as a part of this project. As conservators, we get excited by lots of things, so I really can’t post images of every single object that comes into the lab, but we will try to post as much as we can here, on Twitter, and on the museum’s Facebook page.

Earlier this week, Alexis brought a drawer of beadwork up to the lab, and this is one of the pieces she found in that drawer:

A piece of beaded fringe that recently came to the Artifact Lab for conservation/re-housing.

A piece of beaded fringe that recently came to the Artifact Lab for conservation/re-housing.

Huh. Not the prettiest object I’ve ever seen. But just wait…

Partially cleaned beadwork

Partially cleaned beadwork

Under that dark material (which is wax) the beadwork is beautiful! We actually see a lot of beadwork in our collection that has been coated with wax, which has now discolored to a dark brown, completely obscuring the colors of the beads. Coating beads with wax was a method used by archaeologists to remove beadwork from mummies during excavation, in order to maintain the correct arrangement of the beads, since the original linen threads were usually mostly deteriorated. In the case of this beadwork, shown above, it was not only waxed, but affixed to a piece of cardboard. Alexis is currently cleaning the wax off the beads and she will eventually re-house this piece for safe transport to the off-site storage location.

Another cool detail – she found this, written on the back of the cardboard:

HapimenbeadsIt says: “E16220B. Bead fringe of Hapi-men, Pl. LXXIX Abydos. From mummy buried with his dog.” This small piece of beadwork belongs to our mummy Hapi-Men, who is currently on exhibit with his dog! Hapi-Men and Hapi-puppy were excavated by Sir Flinders Petrie from Abydos in 1902. You can read more about Hapi-Men and some of our research about him here and here.


A tiny mystery mummy

Yesterday we x-rayed mummies of 2 extremes: a full-sized human mummy (Nespekashuti), and a tiny mystery mummy:

mystery mummy

This tiny mummy is about 2″ wide and 5″ long, and easily fits into one of my hands.

We already had the x-ray tube warmed up for capturing images of Nespekashuti, so we figured we’d zap this little mummy while we were at it, to find out what is underneath those wrappings. We had lots of guesses, but ultimately, none of us guessed correctly.

Here is one of the x-ray images:

An x-ray image of our tiny mystery mummy

An x-ray image of our tiny mystery mummy

We had 3 conservators in the room when this image popped up on the computer screen, and we were immediately puzzled. Bird? Definitely not. Crocodile? No. Mouse? Nope. Cat? Again, a no. Could it be a…dog? We knew that the 3 of us non-experts couldn’t say anything with any certainly, so we called in the big guns…in the form of zooarchaeologist Dr. Kate Moore, who has helped us with some of our other animal mummies in the past.

Dr. Moore spent some time looking at the images, and then looking at some x-ray images of immature dogs (puppies!). She was troubled by a few things, including the fact that we can’t see any teeth and that the animal appears to have only 1 leg, also the length of the spine and front paws/feet, but ultimately concluded, based on the x-ray images that we captured, that this is indeed a puppy, who died right around the time it was born.

Based on its size, I don’t think any of us expected this tiny mummy to contain a dog, but it’s not surprising that we would have a dog mummy in our collection, since millions have been found in Egypt, notably in the Dog Catacombs of Saqqara. And this isn’t the only puppy mummy in our collection – if you visit the museum, you can see Hapi-puppy on exhibit, displayed at the feet of his owner, Hapi-men, both of which have been CT-scanned. A CT-scan of our newly-discovered puppy mummy would provide greater detail and a better understanding of this tiny animal, and would help make a more certain identification. We’ll be sure to update the blog with any new findings if we are able to do some more imaging.


Unwrapping mummies?

If there is one thing that I try to emphasize to visitors to the Artifact Lab, it is that we are NOT unwrapping or cutting open mummies. While this type of examination may have been appropriate and acceptable in the past (think PUM I) we don’t do this anymore. As you may gather from the title of this blog and our project, we are focusing on the conservation of our mummies, and we do this by aiming to use non-invasive and reversible examination and treatment techniques as much as possible. Our ability to carry out our work with much less interventive procedures than those used in the past is due in part to advances in technology. And when you see what is possible with new technology, you can see why autopsying mummies just doesn’t, errr…cut it.

Take, for example, one of our mummies that was CT-scanned back in 2009.

Hapi-Men on display in the Secrets and Science exhibit

Hapi-Men on display in the Secrets and Science exhibit (Hapi-Puppy is by his feet!)

As part of a larger CT-scanning project funded by the National Science Foundation, Hapi-Men, along with his puppy (Hapi-Puppy) was CT-scanned at the Department of Radiology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) (a special thanks to Felicia Williams and Erica Durham for this work!).

Although Hapi-Men had been x-rayed in the past, this type of examination is limited in that it does not provide much detail of any of the preserved soft tissue and other materials (like amulets) included in the mummy’s wrappings. But CT-scans can help reveal these details, and they also allow for 3D reconstructions, like the one you can see below, created by Penn graduate Samantha Cox under the supervision of Dr. Janet Monge.

CT-scanning, combined with other imaging techniques such as photogrammetry and laser scanning, leads to some pretty amazing virtual representations of mummies. Most recently, such work has been carried out in a collaborative effort between The Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, a group of Swedish visualization researchers, FARO (a 3D technology company) and Autodesk (a software company focusing on 3D design). This collaboration has resulted not only in the capture of new information for researchers, but the creation of an interactive exhibition for museum visitors, scheduled to open in Stockholm in February 2014. The interactive part of the exhibit, created using Inside Explorer will allow both museum staff and visitors to use simple gestures to virtually unwrap the mummies and to explore their multiple burial components.

You can read more about this exciting project, and see several images and videos of the process by following this link.

Our current work to conserve the mummies and funerary items In the Artifact Lab will stabilize some of these fragile objects enough to allow us to CT-scan them, and hopefully so that we can create some of our very own interactive exhibition features in the future.