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

 

Treating fragments of a Middle Kingdom painted wooden coffin

If you’ve visited the lab in the last few weeks you may have seen me, head bent at the binocular microscope, working away on fragments of a painted wooden coffin from Abydos. These fragments (7 in total) were excavated in 1901 and have been here at the museum ever since. As I described in a previous post, these boards were severely damaged by termites prior to excavation, and the painted surface, while very well-preserved in some areas, was cracked, flaking, and barely attached in places, not to mention covered with grime.

One of the coffin fragments, which features a portion of a frieze of objects that includes two vessels with spouts and a bolt of clothing.

A before treatment photograph of one of the coffin fragments, which features a portion of a frieze of objects that includes two vessels with spouts and a bolt of clothing.

On the board in the image above, the paint was actually in decent condition. After cleaning the surface with bits of a kneaded rubber eraser, I stabilized the edges around the paint losses with a 2% solution of methyl cellulose in water. With the help of an intern, we sorted through a box of much smaller fragments that presumably had become detached from the 7 larger boards at some point, and we found two small fragments of wood with painted decoration which belonged to this board. These fragments were adhered in place with a 1:1 mixture of 5% methyl cellulose and Jade 403, an ethylene vinyl acetate emulsion.

E12505emends

In this image the red arrows point out the two fragments which were adhered in place after cleaning and consolidation.

Here is a view of that area from the back after mending those fragments:

e12505e_backbeforemendingThe termite damage is evident from the back, and as you can see, the wood is very thin in this area in particular, only about 1mm thick along the join edges between the small fragments and the larger board. The small loss to the right of the upper fragment is an area where the wood and painted surface have been lost completely.

Because the wood is so thin and fragile, I decided to provide some support to this area, by first adhering a piece of Japanese tissue paper over the loss from the back with a 5% solution of methyl cellulose.

e12505e_backmend

A detail of the Japanese tissue paper support adhered over the loss

I then filled the loss and the small gaps along the join edges of that upper fragment from the front, using a fill mixture made from 5% methyl cellulose, glass microballoons, and powdered pigment.

e12505edetail

A detail shot showing the fill from the front

Here is an overall view of the board, after treatment:

E12505Edt02_blogThe fill mixture I used worked nicely, and I’m now using it to stabilize the edges of some of the lifting paint on the other coffin board fragments where the painted surface is in worse condition. I will post photos soon showing what the coffin boards look like before and after treatment.

 

The “conservation story” of Nefrina’s Funerary Mask, Part 3: Stabilization of the Exterior

This is the final installment of the conservation treatment of Nefrina’s Funerary mask.  The condition and stabilization of the interior have been discussed in previous posts.  In this post, I will be talking about building the storage and display mount as well as stabilizing the exterior of the mask.

1.  New mount construction:  Once the interior structural issues were addressed, I made a new mount for the object. I carved Ethafoam, an inert polyethylene foam, to create a support for the top of the head, and used epoxy putty (the black material in the images below) to create a form-fitting rigid support. The clear plastic in the image below is cling film, which I used to keep the epoxy from bonding to the mask while it cured.

The mount is in three separate detachable parts. Part 1 supports the top of the head and the face, part 2 supports the front and back panels of the mask, and part 3 is a stand to hold parts 1 and 2 during travel and storage. Parts 1 and 2 of the mount are supporting the mask at this moment while it is on display (along with a pole mount that has taken the place of part 3).

Left: During treatment photo showing the construction of the top portion of the mount. Right: The completed mount.

Left: During treatment photo showing the construction of the top portion of the mount. Right: The completed mount.

2.  Facing removal: Once I completed the mount and put it in place, I flipped the mask over again and started to remove the temporary facing of Japanese tissue. I removed the facing in sections and stabilized the exposed areas before moving on to a new area. I did this by brushing an area of facing with acetone, which solubilized the adhesive that had been used to place the facing, and then gently pulling the Japanese tissue back.

Facing removal

Carefully removing the Japanese tissue facing

3.  Re-shaping before tear repair: Some of the tears did not go through all of the linen layers, and so could not be treated from the interior. These tears had to be realigned and repaired from the front. As with the inside, I often had to humidify and re-shape an area before carrying out the repair. The images below show the tear in the forehead of the mask during reshaping. I used Teflon tape to bring the edges of the tear together.

During reshaping of the tear in the forehead

During reshaping of the tear in the forehead

4.  Tear repair: I repaired the tears using paper pulp combined with methyl cellulose and powdered pigments. Before applying the wet pulp, I lined part of the areas with a thin sheet of dried paper pulp mixture to achieve an even fill.

Left: lining the area with dried paper pulp and methyl cellulose. Right: After filling tear repair with additional paper pulp mixed with methyl cellulose.

Left: Lining the area with dried paper pulp and methyl cellulose. Right: After filling with additional paper pulp/methyl cellulose mixture.

5.  Edging: Many areas of the paint were adjacent to areas of loss and were cracked and cupped. I stabilized these areas by edging the paint with paper pulp combined with methyl cellulose and powdered pigments.

Side of the mask after edging the areas of unstable paint

Details of the side of the mask after edging the areas of unstable paint

6.  Loss Compensation: Large areas of loss on the edges of the mask also had to be filled for the mask to be structurally stable. I filled the areas of loss by applying pigmented paper pulp mixed with methyl cellulose across the areas of loss using a backing support of silicone-coated Mylar. The coating on the Mylar allows it to be removed once the paper pulp mixture had dried.

Left: During loss compensation.  The square rare earth magnet at the bottom of the image was being used to keep the Mylar in tight with the shape of the mask. Right: After the fill was done and had dried.

Left: Detail during loss compensation. The square rare earth magnet at the bottom of the image was used to align the Mylar along the contours of the mask. Right: After the fill was complete and had dried.

7.  In-painting: Although I had pre-toned the fill material, the fills still needed just a bit of in-painting to adjust the color so that it would blend in better with the mask.

Left: Tear on the head after treatment. Right: Area of loss on the side of the mask after treatment.

Left: Tear on the head after treatment. Right: Area of loss on the side of the mask after treatment.

All of this work allowed Nefrina’s Funerary mask to travel for exhibition in the Reading Public Museum, and to be exhibited here at the museum, In the Artifact Lab – visit us to take a closer look at the mask for yourself, and to see several other objects that have recently been conserved.

- posted by Tessa de Alarcon

 

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

 

Slowly, but surely

Sometimes when working on a large, complex project, it can be hard to see progress – once certain areas are addressed/stabilized I just start focusing on all of the other problems. In these cases, I find it really helpful to write about the work, to go through the photos I’ve taken so far, and to reflect on how far we’ve come. One of the more complex treatments we’re working on in the Artifact Lab is Tawahibre’s coffin.

The last time you saw Tawahibre on the blog, she was all tied up, Lilliputian-style.

Tawahibre capturedSince that last post, we actually have made quite a bit of progress, and have started realigning and filling areas where the gesso and smaller wood components have cracked and separated from the wood ground below.

One very precarious area has been a large section on the lower proper left side of the coffin – when the coffin came into the lab for treatment, this section was only just barely attached along the top, with the help of two wooden dowels as well. In addition to being just about ready to detach, this section was also very distorted and misaligned, with areas of the painted surface overlapping and abrading each other.

tawahibre PL detail BT with arrows

Before treatment detail of this large partially detached section. It was just barely attached along the top (indicated by red arrows) and by 2 wooden dowels (circled in green).

Here is a view of this section, before treatment, from above (the red arrows are just pointing out the area that I’m talking about, for clarity).

tawahibre PL detail overhead BT with arrowsAfter working to humidify and realign this area as much as possible, I prepared it for filling and stabilizing by lining the wood support below and the inside surface of the detached section as possible with Japanese tissue paper, adhered with methyl cellulose adhesive. The Japanese tissue paper will serve to make these fills more easily reversible in the future.

Tawahibre PL detail DT with arrows

Preparing this section for stabilization and filling. The red arrows are indicating the Japanese tissue paper used to line the inner surfaces of the coffin before filling.

To secure this section to the rest of the coffin, I applied a fill mixture between the large partially detached section and the wood support below. The fill mixture was made using 5% methyl cellulose adhesive in 1:1 water/ethanol bulked with a 1:1 ratio of alpha cellulose and 3M glass microballoons. The alpha cellulose and microballoons were chosen to create a lightweight, relatively dry, and easily moldable fill – they also make this mixture a bright white color. After applying the fill material, this section was again bound with the twill tape and ethafoam blocks to hold everything together while the fill dried.

Detail of this section after filling. Note-no straps are needed to hold it in place!!!

Detail of this section after filling.

And here is a detail showing this section from above – I think it makes a nice comparison with the before treatment shot from a similar angle, above.

Tawahibre PL detail above DT2So far this has been a successful course of treatment and we have filled several areas on the coffin. Our current goal is to get the lid stabilized enough so that we can separate it from the base, so that we can continue to work on both sections with better access to some of the very unstable, fragile areas.

Special thanks to my conservation colleagues for their help with brainstorming, problem-solving, and carrying out this treatment!

 

Conserving a child mummy

A couple weeks ago, I introduced you to our child mummy Tanwa, and now I’m happy to report that I’ve completed her conservation treatment.

Tanwa before conservation treatment

Tanwa before conservation treatment

Tanwa has been in our collection since 1898; she was collected through the American Exploration Society, an organization founded by Sarah Yorke Stevenson, the museum’s first curator of the Egyptian section.

Tanwa was exhibited in the museum early on, but she has not been on display for a long time. When she came up to the Artifact Lab, we could see that she was generally in good condition, expect for the fact that some of the narrow bandages wrapped around her body, especially those around her feet, were fragile, torn, and partially detached. Many of the strips on the underside of her body were also damaged – although these aren’t usually visible since Tanwa is always lying on her back, they are at risk of detaching with any movement or handling.

Details of damaged linen around the feet (left) and on Tanwa's back (right)

Details of damaged linen around Tanwa’s feet (left) and on her back (right)

After fully documenting Tanwa’s condition, I first removed excess dust and grime from the surface of her wrappings using a soft-bristled brush and a HEPA-filtered vacuum. Cleaning the exterior surface significantly brightened the linen, and I think at this point Tanwa was already looking much better.

Tanwa had a few straight pins stuck into her wrappings in areas, apparently as a measure to temporarily secure some of the fragile linen. I removed all of these pins and adhered the linen in place as necessary with small amounts of methyl cellulose adhesive.

A pin stuck into the bandages on Tanwa's head (left, indicated by red arrow) was removed and the linen was secured to prevent further loss (right, after treatment)

A pin stuck into the bandages on Tanwa’s head (left, indicated by red arrow) was removed and the linen was secured to prevent further loss (right, after treatment)

I then proceeded to repair the linen around her feet and in all other places where the linen was fragile and at risk of detaching or becoming further damaged. All repairs were carried out using similar materials and methods to those I used to repair our falcon mummy. Distorted linen was relaxed and reshaped by humidification with either a damp blotter and Gore-tex sandwich, or using the Preservation Pencil. Detached linen was tacked down using a 6% solution of methyl cellulose adhesive, and fragile areas of linen were backed/supporting using Japanese tissue paper toned with acrylic paints.

Backing a fragile area of linen with toned Japanese tissue paper - the blue clamp is holding everything in place while the adhesive dries

Backing a fragile area of linen with toned Japanese tissue paper – the blue clamp is holding everything in place while the adhesive dries

Here are some after treatment details to compare to the before treatment shots seen in the second image on this post:

After treatment details of the linen around Tanwa's feet (left) and on her back (right)

After treatment details of the linen around Tanwa’s feet (left) and on her back (right)

All of Tanwa’s linen wrappings are now fully stabilized and she is ready to be exhibited for the first time in decades!

An overall view of Tanwa, after treatment

An overall view of Tanwa, after treatment

 

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!

 

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!