A different sort of unwrapping…

by Alexis North, a project conservator spending the summer working with the Buddhist Murals Project, but who also has a strong interest in Egyptian materials. Read more about her work on Egyptian objects at the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, here.

If any of you have visited the Artifact Lab in person, you may have heard us talk about how it was once popular to open or unwrap mummies, to see the body inside. Of course, this is no longer common practice, and we use non-invasive techniques such as x-radiography or CT scanning to see underneath a mummy’s wrapping without causing any damage or disturbance to the mummy’s current condition.

However, sometimes we are able to perform a slightly different kind of unwrapping, when items are found in storage in aging, opaque, or otherwise unsuitable housing conditions. Such was the case with this mystery item:

E12443, before opening and treatment

E12443, before opening and treatment

While it may look like Sunday’s dinner fresh from the butcher shop, it is actually supposed to be an ibis mummy. However, it has been wrapped in layers of tissue paper and plastic and you cannot see what the object actually looks like. While this type of storage is not damaging to the object, the fact that you cannot see the mummy inside makes this type of wrapping unsuitable. We always prefer to create storage supports or housings that allow researchers to easily see the objects without excessive handling. Therefore, this guy came up to the Artifact Lab for a little modern-day unwrapping.

E12443, after removing the plastic and tissue but before treatment

E12443, after removing the plastic and tissue but before treatment

And what a good-looking mummy it is! While we don’t have a lot of information about the age of this mummy, the intricate wrapping, which uses strips of both dyed and undyed linen, is typical of later periods in Egypt. It is also in very good condition, being just slightly dirty on the surface and having a few small areas of damage to the linen.

Detail images showing (1) a separated piece of linen wrapping on the top of the mummy, (2) a section of linen on the back torn and folded over, and (3) areas of loss which expose the ends of the woven linen underneath

Detail images showing (1) a separated piece of linen wrapping on the top of the mummy, (2) a section of linen on the back torn and folded over, and (3) areas of loss which expose the ends of the woven linen underneath

After gently cleaning the surface of the mummy using a vacuum and soft-bristled brush, I stabilized the areas of lifted or broken linen using Japanese tissue mends. Thin strips of tissue were toned brown using acrylic paint, then adhered underneath the lifting or broken areas using 2.5% methylcellulose adhesive in deionized water. I was able to reattach the broken piece of linen at the top of the mummy, and several sections of lifting wrappings which would be in danger of breaking, without stabilization.

I also humidified and reflattened the folded flap of linen on the back of the mummy. The opening caused by the folded flap was allowing fragments of the inner linen layers to break off and fall out. I used another Japanese tissue mend with methylcellulose to hold the reshaped flap in place.

Before (left) and after (right) flattening and readhering the flap of linen on the back of the ibis mummy

Before (left) and after (right) flattening and readhering the flap of linen on the back of the ibis mummy

Here are some images of the ibis mummy after I completed its treatment. I know it doesn’t look very different, and that happens a lot when treating archaeological objects. My goal wasn’t to improve or restore the mummy in any way, just make sure it could be safely handled and stored without any further damage.

    Images of (1) the top of the mummy, (2) the proper right side of the mummy, and (3) a detail of the reattached linen strip, after treatment

Images of (1) the top of the mummy, (2) the proper right side of the mummy, and (3) a detail of the reattached linen strip, after treatment

My last step was to make a new storage tray so the mummy can be easily seen and examined, without any wrappings besides the ones it came with!

The ibis mummy in its new storage mount

The ibis mummy in its new storage mount

 

The “conservation story” of Nefrina’s Funerary Mask, Part 2: Tear Repair and Reshaping

As promised in the previous posting on the condition of Nefrina’s Funerary Mask, here is the next installment on its conservation treatment.  Because this treatment was so involved, in this post I am just going to talk about the temporary stabilization of the exterior and the repairs on the interior of the mask.

1)     Facing: Facings are often used by conservators to temporarily stabilize surfaces so that an object can be handled and other structural problems can be addressed first.  In this case, the flaking and cracked paint on the mask had to be temporarily stabilized before the tears and deformed areas could be repaired.  I used Japanese tissue that I adhered onto the exterior of the surface so that the object could be safely handled and the interior examined.

Left - detail of facing test before the facing was applied overall. Right - image showing     the front of the mask after facing was applied (it may look like clear tape but it’s not).

Left – detail of facing test before the facing was applied overall. Right – image showing
the front of the mask after facing was applied (it may look like clear tape but it’s not).

2)     I made a temporary support to hold the mask safely so I could flip it over, remove the storage mount made in 1993, and examination the interior.

The mask after it was flipped over in the temporary support

The mask after it was flipped over in the temporary support

3)     Removal of the previous treatment: In 1993 patches of spun-bonded polyester had been adhered onto the interior.  I had to remove some of these so that the object could be reshaped and the tears aligned.

Left - detail of a spun bonded patch; Right - detail of the same area after removal of the spun bonded polyester patch

Left – detail of a spun bonded patch. Right – detail of the same area after removal of the spun bonded polyester patch.

4)     Humidification: I humidified and reshaped distorted and crushed areas using localized humidification with our Preservation Pencil.  The preservation pencil allowed me to apply warm moisture to discrete areas of the object (you can see the stream of moisture coming through the orange nozzle in the picture below).  Once an area is humidified, it becomes soft and pliable.  The humidified area is reshaped by supporting it with ethafoam inserts or with rare earth magnets and ethafoam padding.  This support is critical to maintain the correct shape as the humidified area losses moisture and stiffens again.

Clockwise from top left - the preservation pencil in use; ethafoam supports used to hold the correct shape; interior view of rare earth magnet used to re-shape the area; exterior view of the same area with the magnet on the exterior

Clockwise from top left – the preservation pencil in use; ethafoam supports used to hold the correct shape; exterior view of rare earth magnet used to re-shape the area; interior view of the same area with the magnet on the interior

5)     The tears were repaired from the inside using Japanese tissue patches toned with acrylic paint and adhered using methyl cellulose.

Interior of the mask after tear repair

Interior of the mask after tear repair

Once the interior problems were addressed, I could return to the instability on the exterior parts of the mask, but you will have to wait for my next post to hear about that!

- posted by Tessa de Alarcon

 

Tawahibre all tied up

When I wrote about the fantastic image we retrieved from our Archives a couple weeks ago showing our Mummy Gallery in 1935, I promised to provide an update on the treatment progress on Tawahibre’s coffin.

Well, why don’t I start with this:

A view of Tawahibre's coffin from above

A view of Tawahibre’s coffin from above

While you may not be sure what you’re looking at here, this looks like progress, doesn’t it? I’ll tell you what you are seeing – the coffin is tied in several places with cotton twill tape, holding small pieces of white Volara foam and blueboard (acid-free, lignin-free corrugated board) in place against the coffin surface.

A detail of the Volara foam and blueboard held in place with cotton twill tape

A detail of the Volara foam and blueboard held in place with cotton twill tape

The purpose of this system, other than looking kind of intriguing, is to place select pressure in areas on the coffin (whenever I say this I always think of the useful book The Gentle Art of Applied Pressure-the title speaks for itself). As I have described previously, the coffin is pretty distorted in areas, due to the fact that many of the individual wood elements have separated and moved apart and that the plaster has separated from the wood substrate. We are trying to realign these pieces as much as possible using humidification with a Preservation Pencil, which allows us to direct a small stream of warm humidified air in select areas, which helps the plaster and wood relax a bit and encourages movement. Once we get an area to move sufficiently, we then apply pressure to the area to hold everything in place.

Here Nina is directing a stream of humidified air with the Preservation Pencil and I am applying pressure with my hands.

Here Nina is directing a stream of humidified air with the Preservation Pencil and I am applying pressure with my hands.

We’re also continuing to consolidate the painted surface and readhere loose pieces of plaster and wood.

We don't usually work in teams, but yesterday we had a little group humidification and consolidation party!

This treatment has been a team effort, and yesterday we had a little group humidification and consolidation party!

While we’re making progress and becoming pretty comfortable with the coffin and the treatment, there are still some scary areas to deal with. This is an area that I’ll be tackling next:

A detail of a badly damaged area on the coffin, showing significant cracking and flaking and detached and displaced fragments

A detail of a badly damaged area on the coffin, showing significant cracking and flaking and detached and displaced fragments

Wish us luck as we continue this work!

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!

 

Mystery solved!

Hello again. Melissa the intern here! One of the things I love about working in the Artifact Lab is that every day is like a new Sherlock Holmes novel! For my latest project I have been investigating and treating a 4 x 4 ½ inch piece of paper associated with PUM I’s remains. This paper was believed to be a train ticket – according to museum documents the research group who autopsied PUM I in 1972 found “a 100 year old railway ticket stuffed into a hole in the chest (someone must have felt that the mummy needed a ticket for its trip to the United States in the 19th century).”

When we brought PUM I and his remains up to the Artifact Lab for conservation treatment, this piece of paper was found in a plastic bag along with some of his ribs.

The “train ticket” in a bag with PUM I’s ribs

By the time I got to examine the paper, it was extremely folded and bent, which made reading the text very difficult.

The piece of paper after removing it from the plastic bag

It was clear, however, that half the text was written in French and the other half was written in Arabic. In order to make the smaller print more legible, I relaxed and reduced the creases in the paper by humidifying it, using Mylar polyester film, damp blotter paper, and Gortex, a material made of expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) that allows water to pass through as a vapor. By humidifying the paper, the creases and folds began to relax, and with the help of gravity and some weights I was able to flatten the paper into its original shape.

Paper after humidifying and relaxing

After completing the humidification treatment, it became much easier to read the smaller print. Unfortunately I have very limited experience with reading French and even less with Arabic. But thanks to Google translate I was able to not only translate the text, but determine that both the French and Arabic portions of the paper say the same thing. The text reads something like this:

April 15 Wednesday

Sunrise       in           5 h. 29 m.     Time

Sunset     Cairo       6 h. 21 m.      Average

Add 5 h. 39 m. hours the average time for the Arab hours

17 Moharrem 1321          7 Barmouda 1619

Everything seemed to make sense, but the words Moharrem and Barmouda did not have English translations. Since these proper nouns were associated with numbers, such as 1321 and 1619, I assumed they had something to do with dates. As it turns out Moharrem refers to the first month of the Muslim calendar and Barmouda, otherwise known as Parmouti, refers to the 8th month of the Coptic calendar, which lies between April 9th and May 8th. The first question that popped into my head was “why would both these dates be on the same paper?” Upon converting the Muslim date into a Coptic date, I realized that they were actually the same day! Knowing this, it seemed reasonable to assume that 17 Moharrem and 7 Barmouda is also the same as April 15th in the Gregorian calendar. The question now was what year these dates converted to in the Gregorian calendar, since this isn’t written on the paper. According to funaba.org, a calendar conversion site, 1321 in the Muslim Calendar and 1619 on the Coptic calendar equals to 1903 on the Gregorian calendar-so the date on this page is April 15, 1903. Fittingly, this is the year before PUM I was displayed at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904!

Ultimately, this translation does not seem like something you would find on a train ticket. In fact, all the evidence seems to imply that this paper was more like a page in a calendar. So either PUM I was shipped from Cairo with both a calendar page and a train ticket, which we have not yet located, or the 1972 autopsy group misidentified the paper. Either way it has been a very exciting project!