Examination and treatment of a cartonnage pectoral

We have had this object in the collection since 1890:

E352, overall before treatment

E352, overall before treatment

This painted cartonnage pectoral (E352) was made as a covering for the chest of a mummy, and dates to the Ptolemaic Period (ca. 200 BCE). We don’t have the mummy or any other items from the person’s burial, so we don’t know anything about who this belongs to other than that they were buried with this beautiful piece (and likely an equally nice mask, and leg and foot coverings).

This artifact was previously on display in our Secrets and Science gallery and is now in the lab for conservation treatment. It was displayed vertically for over three decades, but since it has come into the lab, we have removed it from the old mount to allow for a full examination, documentation, and treatment.

Multispectral imaging allowed us to identify the Egyptian blue paint used for all of the blue decoration:

An overall image of the pectoral in visible light (left) and a visible-induced IR luminescence image, where the Egyptian blue pigment appears white

An overall image of the pectoral in visible light (left) and a visible-induced IR luminescence image, where the Egyptian blue pigment appears white (right), and everything else is black

We have written about the unique luminescence of Egyptian blue before on this blog, and in the image on the right, above, we can clearly see where it was used to decorate this pectoral.

Conservation treatment so far has included consolidation of the flaking paint with methyl cellulose, carried out under the binocular microscope.

A detail of the pectoral, 7.5X magnification

A detail of the pectoral as viewed through the microscope, 7.5X magnification

I have also been filling small losses with a mixture of Klucel G and glass microballoons, and backing weak areas with Japanese tissue paper.

Here is a link to a mini-slideshow that shows a small section of the cartonnage under 7.5X magnification (the same section seen in the image above). The slidehow shows how I filled a tiny hole with the Klucel mixture, which then allowed me to readhere a tiny fragment of red paint. The change is subtle – see if you can spot where I reattached the paint flake!

 

Treating Djed-Hapi’s wrappings

Djed-Hapi’s mummy is in good condition overall. The outer linen wrappings are mostly stable and retain some flexibility, although folding or heavily manipulating them would cause them to tear. Several of the ends of the linen bands are loose, and some are slightly frayed. The linens around his feet, however, are more significantly damaged. You can see in this detail photo the bottom of his big toe is exposed where the linens have been damaged at the bottom of his feet.

View of the bottom of Djed-Hapi's feet. The red arrow points to his exposed toe!

View of the bottom of Djed-Hapi’s feet. The red arrow points to his exposed toe!

There are also lots of metal pins visible, which were used to secure areas of loose or falling linen. These pins belong to at least two campaigns of treatment. One set is of steel pins with flat heads, some of which were painted beige to hide them, but not until after they were already inserted in the linens and are now in some places stuck to the fabric. The other set is of black insect pins with brass heads. There is also evidence of adhesive used in a few places to secure loose linen pieces.

Detail of the linens on the right side of Djed-Hapi's body. The red circle highlights a metal insect pin, and the green oval shows where adhesive was used to reattached broken linen.

Detail of the linens on the right side of Djed-Hapi’s body. The red circle highlights the brass head of an insect pin, and the green oval shows where adhesive was used to reattach broken linen.

Archival photos of an old display case here at the museum reveal that Djed-Hapi was removed from his coffin and displayed separately at least once. Currently, there are areas of hislinen wrappings which are folded back or otherwise misaligned, and it is likely this occurred when he was replaced in his coffin after being removed.  I was concerned about the condition of these areas of Djed-Hapi’s linen wrappings, and I decided that removing him once again from his coffin would give me much better access to assess and treat these areas properly.

It took 5 people – one at the head, two at the shoulders/torso and two at the lower legs/ankles – working together to lift Djed-Hapi out of his coffin and on to a foam-covered board support. We took special care to support his loose ankles, and to keep the head from shifting.

Left and right views of Djed-Hapi, after removing him from his coffin base.

Left and right views of Djed-Hapi, after removing him from his coffin base.

To begin the conservation treatment, the exterior linens and cartonnage pieces were cleaned using a HEPA-filtered vacuum with variable suction and soft brush. Next, the pins in the linen wrappings were removed systematically. In total, 16 steel pins and 42 insect pins were removed!

Folds and creases in the linen wrappings were humidified and flattened using GORE-TEX fabric, which acts as a moisture barrier, allowing water vapor to permeate to the linen wrappings but preventing any liquid water from wetting and staining the linen. The linen was allowed to humidify for ~10-15 minutes. Then the areas were either lightly weighted, or clamped between sheets of Volara to flatten.

During (left) and after (right) humidifying and flattening creases in Djed-Hapi's linen wrappings.

During (left) and after (right) humidifying and flattening creases in Djed-Hapi’s linen wrappings.

These areas could then be realigned, and were stabilized using nylon bobbinet fabric. The bobbinet was painted out using acrylic paints to match the color of the linen, and cut into bands which were long enough to reach from one side of the cartonnage pieces, around the back and to the other side. These bands were secured using tabs of Japanese tissue also toned with acrylics. These tissue tabs were adhered to the bobbinet using 3% Klucel  in ethanol, then secured to the mummy using 5% methylcellulose in deionized water. The tabs were tucked under either the cartonnage chest and leg pieces, or the top layer of linen. A few small sections of lifted linen, particularly along the sides of the mummy, were realigned and adhered using Japanese tissue and 5% methylcellulose in deionized water.

On the left, a detail of tissue tabs on bobbinett. On the right, before (top) and after (bottom) humidification and realignment, followed by a bobbinett support.

On the left, a detail of tissue tabs on bobbinet. On the right, before (top) and after (bottom) humidification and realignment, followed by a bobbinet support.

Because of how damaged and distorted the cartonnage foot covering was, it was removed from the mummy and treated separately (I’ll talk about this in the next blog post). This also allowed me to better see the linen wrappings around Djed-Hapi’s feet, and treat them more successfully. The linens around the feet were also encapsulated using toned bobbinet. Separate strips were used to support the linen around the ankles, under the heels, around the tops of the feet and around the toes. These bands were stitched together using hairsilk toned with acrylic paint.

Before (left) and after (right) using toned bobbinet to stabilize and secure the linen wrappings around Djed-Hapi's feet.

Before (left) and after (right) using toned bobbinet to stabilize and secure the linen wrappings around Djed-Hapi’s feet.

Here is an annotated image showing the bobbinet bands, and the locations of all the removed pins:

After treatment annotated image of Djed-Hapi.

After treatment annotated image of Djed-Hapi.

You may notice this image also gives away a big decision I had to make regarding the treatment of Djed-Hapi’s mask….stay tuned for the next post to learn all about it!

 

  • Alexis North, Project Conservator

Treating Nespekashuti’s coffin

Many of you may be wondering about Nespekashuti, our New Kingdom mummy whose remains are quite a jumble under his wrappings. As you can imagine, Nespekashuti is presenting some interesting conservation challenges for us. So far I have focused on surface cleaning and trying to understand the extent to which his linen wrappings are damaged. I decided that before I can deal with stabilizing Nespekashuti any further (and making the decisions necessary to do this), I need to address the damage to his coffin.

Overall view of the proper left side of Nespekashuti's coffin (before treatment)

Overall view of the proper left side of Nespekashuti’s coffin (before treatment)

Nespekashuti’s coffin is quite interesting. I’ve only been able to examine the lower half (which he is contained in) so far. It is made of several pieces of wood doweled together, followed by coating with gesso in areas, then the exterior surface is entirely covered with a single layer of linen, which was coated with gesso and painted, and then finally varnished, likely with pistacia resin. Overall, the painted surface of the coffin is in great condition. But there are some structural concerns, including breaks in the wood, separation and movement between different pieces of wood, and separation of the linen, gesso, and paint from the wood substrate.

Detail of the exterior foot of the coffin, showing separation of the linen, plaster, and paint from the wood.

Detail of the exterior foot of the coffin, showing separation of the linen, plaster, and paint from the wood.

Detail of damage on the proper left side of the coffin.

Detail of damage on the proper left side of the coffin.

I’m starting out my treatment by readhering areas where the linen is lifting away from the wood and plaster below. To repair these areas, I’m using a tried-and-true combination of methyl cellulose, methyl cellulose bulked with glass microballoons, and Japanese tissue paper.

Treatment in progress - I'm using clamps to hold areas in place while the adhesive dries.

Treatment in progress – I’m using clamps to hold areas in place while the adhesive dries.

During treatment - image detail showing the same area at the foot of the coffin (seen before treatment in the second image in this post).

During treatment – image detail showing the same area at the foot of the coffin (seen before treatment in the second image in this post).

This is just the beginning! Once I finish working on the areas I can access, I’ll have to move the coffin to a support that allows me to access the underside/back, so that I can better evaluate and treat those areas as well.

Continuing the treatment of Pinahsi

Just a quick update on the treatment of our mummy Pinahsi. I worked on him all day today and made some good progress. My efforts were focused on encapsulating the detaching, tearing, very fragile linen on the sides and underneath the mummy’s body. Just as I did with the feet, I used nylon bobbinett, toned with acrylic paint where necessary, to protect these damaged areas. In some places, I was able to wrap the bobbinett around the mummy and stitch it to itself, but in other places, I decided to adhere the bobbinett to discrete areas on the mummy, using Japanese tissue paper and methyl cellulose adhesive.

Here is a shot of the treatment in progress, showing the bobbinnet with small pieces of paper attached to one edge, which will be used to attach the bobbinett to the mummy. The edge of the bobbinett that will be visible is painted to match the linen.

Getting ready to attach the nylon bobbinett to the underside of the mummy. The edge of the bobbinett that will be visible is painted to match the linen, and there are small pieces of paper adhered to the edge, which will be used to attach the bobbinett to the linen.

Getting ready to attach the nylon bobbinett to the underside of the mummy.

And here are some before and after shots, showing areas that I’ve encapsulated with the netting:

A detail of the right side of the mummy before and after attaching the nylon bobbinett.

Details of the right side of the mummy before and after attaching the nylon bobbinett.

Details of the left side, before and after treatment.

Details of the left side, before and after treatment.

Tomorrow I’ll move on to some more challenging areas that I’ve saved for last! I’m hoping to “wrap up” this treatment sometime next week. Wish me luck!

 

What’s the deal with Pinahsi’s feet?

I think we can all agree that our mummy Pinahsi’s feet need a little TLC.

A detail of Pinahsi's feet

A detail of Pinahsi’s feet before treatment

A long time ago, the wrappings around his feet were damaged, exposing his toes. His toes are very well-preserved, despite the fact that 2 toes on the left foot are missing.

The second toe on each of his feet is lifted away from the others, and we have been debating whether this distortion was caused by the feet being tightly wrapped during mummification (which they were) or whether this distortion was caused by a condition Pinahsi had during his lifetime (I’m leaning toward the second possibility).

A view of the toes from the side

A view of the toes from the side

In any case, I thought it was about time his feet received a little bit of attention.

While I can’t do anything for those crooked toes, I am able to address the damaged linen and resin-coated linen wrappings around his feet. I repaired a few tears in the linen with Japanese tissue paper and 5% methyl cellulose, and then I wrapped the feet in the most damaged area with nylon bobbinett, toned to match the surrounding material with acrylic paint. Visually, the difference is subtle, but I can assure you that the feet are going to be much less prone to continued deterioration now that the damaged linen is stabilized and protected.

Details of the feet before (left) and after (right) treatment.

Details of the feet before (left) and after (right) treatment.

The back of the feet before (left) and after (right) treatment.

The bottom of the feet before (left) and after (right) treatment.

In the images above, you can probably pick out the band of bobbinett – it’s more visible on the bottom than on the top. When you get really close to the feet, the bobbinett is really obvious.

Detail of the top of the feet, showing the bobbinett overlay.

Detail of the top of the feet, showing the bobbinett overlay.

In our efforts to strike this balance between making our work more or less invisible, while also wanting to make sure that the new materials we add are easily distinguished from the original, we often refer to the “six-foot/six-inch” rule – at six feet, our work is not obvious but at six inches you will be able to see it. In this case, it is my hope that when the mummy is on display and viewed through the display case, the bobbinett I add will not be distracting to the viewer, but when you look for it, you’ll be able to pick it out.

Now I’m about to tackle the damaged linen on Pinahsi’s body. Just yesterday, we lifted Pinahsi up onto some Ethafoam support blocks, to allow me to access the damaged areas on the mummy’s sides and back.

Pinahsi raised up on Ethafoam blocks.

Pinahsi raised up on Ethafoam blocks.

I will provide updates as I complete more of the treatment!

 

Consolidating a painted wooden shabti

This one-minute video captures what I did at work today, times about 250.

Shabti paint consolidation (click on the link to view the video)

To put it into context, I was working on this painted wooden shabti, which I’ve mentioned on the blog before.

The area blocked out in yellow is the area I'm working on in the video.

The area blocked out in yellow is the area I’m working on in the video.

Here is a still shot of the area I’m working on in the video, taken at 10x magnification using our binocular microscope:

IC800006The paint is actively flaking in many areas on this object. In the video, you can see me applying a 2% solution of methyl cellulose in water by brush to a loose flake of paint, and then after allowing the flake to relax, tapping it into place using a silicone colour shaper. It’s slow-going, but it’s working!

 

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.

 

Completing the treatment of Tawahibre’s coffin

Things have been pretty busy around here lately, and I almost forgot to post some updates about several projects. One project in particular is the treatment of Tawahibre’s coffin. We have been working on this 2-part painted wooden coffin in the lab for the last year, and we recently completed its treatment.

As you may remember, when the coffin first came up here, it was covered with a thick layer of dust and grime, the paint was badly flaking in areas, several large pieces of painted gesso were pulling away from the wood support, and there were large cracks throughout.

Before treatment photos (clockwise from left): upper half of coffin showing layer of dust and large cracks and losses; large piece of painted gesso partially detached from top of head; large loss on wig, showing old animal glue adhesive from a previous restoration

Before treatment photos (clockwise from left): upper half of coffin showing layer of dust and large cracks and losses; large piece of painted gesso partially detached from top of head; large loss on wig, showing old, shiny animal glue adhesive from a previous restoration

After cleaning the surface with a brush and vacuum, followed by cosmetic sponges, I consolidated the paint with a methyl cellulose solution, filled in cracks and gaps using Japanese tissue paper and a mixture of methyl cellulose bulked with cellulose powder and glass microballoons, and then toned the fills with acrylic paint. This work is explained in further detail in previous posts, which you can find by clicking on the links included in blue above.

fillingcracks

A detail shot of the wig showing an area with several large open cracks before and after filling with Japanese tissue paper and methyl cellulose/cellulose powder/glass microballoons mixture

Based on a discussion with our Egyptian section curators, I also made some aesthetic fills to mask some large losses, including 2 losses on the wig. We chose not to fill the losses on the nose and chin because filling these losses would require too much guess-work as to the original contours of these features.

Large loss on wig before (left), after application of Japanese tissue paper layer (middle), and after application of fill mixture (right)

Large loss on wig before (left), after application of Japanese tissue paper layer (middle), and during application of fill mixture (right)

Detail of the head and wig before (left) and after (right) conservation treatment, with losses in before treatment photo outlined in red

Detail of the head and wig before (left) and after (right) conservation treatment, with losses on the wig outlined in red. The larger loss on the right is the featured in the previous series of images.

I carried out similar work on the base of the coffin, and now both are complete:

Tawahibre's coffin lid before (left) and after (right) conservation treatment

Tawahibre’s coffin lid before (left) and after (right) conservation treatment

The coffin base before (left) and after (right) conservation treatment.

The coffin base before (left) and after (right) conservation treatment

As you can see, we chose not to fill many of the losses, focusing instead on stabilization.

This work will enable future exhibition of the coffin, and just as importantly, it will make further study of the coffin possible. All along there have been some discrepancies between the name that has always been associated with the coffin (Tawahibre, a woman’s name) and a previous translation in 1946 of the hieroglyphic text on the coffin (which identified the name of a male court official, the son of J-se(t)-N-Ese). There has also been some confusion about the remains once housed in the coffin, which were previously identified as male, but in a 1975 autopsy the remains were confirmed as belonging to a female in her mid-30s. A bit confusing, but hopefully we’re now one step closer to getting this all straightened out!

 

Fragmentary painted coffin from Abydos

If you are a member of the museum, you may have already seen some information about these painted coffin board fragments in the most recent issue of Expedition magazine:

E12505_2These fragments, which date to the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2000-1700 BCE), were excavated from the North Cemetery of Abydos in 1901 by John Garstang. The museum supported Garstang’s work through the Egypt Exploration Fund.

Despite the severe insect damage, the preservation of the painted details on these fragments is remarkable.

This fragment features 3 usekh collars, which were often reserved for nobility. Beside each collar is a mankhet, or counterpoise. The hieroglyphs above are the names of each of the collars, which are slightly different.

This fragment features 3 usekh collars, which were often reserved for nobility. Beside each collar is a mankhet, or counterpoise. The hieroglyphs above are the names of each of the collars, which are slightly different.

A detail of the usekh en nebti, the collar of the two mistresses that incorporates the uraeus and the vulture

A detail of the usekh en nebti, the collar of the two mistresses that incorporates the uraeus
and the vulture (7.5x magnification)

These coffin board fragments have never been exhibited, and our renewed interest in them is due to the fact that we are currently excavating tombs from the same time period in South Abydos, including the funerary complex of Senwosret III. You can read a lot more about this project in the recent Expedition issue and on the museum blog by following this link.

In order to exhibit the coffin fragments, they need some extensive conservation treatment. Their surfaces are dirty, the paint is cracked, cupped and lifting from the wood support, and is very fragile, and some of the boards are structurally unstable due to the extensive insect damage.

We are currently working on these boards in the lab, and we have made some good progress. We are cleaning the painted surfaces with a kneaded rubber eraser. The eraser can be shaped to a fine point, and working under the binocular microscope, it is possible to remove the dirt from most of the painted surface without disturbing the fragile paint.

We are using kneaded erasers (left) to clean the delicate painted surface of these coffin boards (right)

We are using kneaded erasers (left) to clean the delicate painted surface of these coffin boards (right)

Some areas of paint need to be stabilized before they can be cleaned. After testing a variety of adhesive solutions, I settled on my old friend methyl cellulose, a 2% solution of methyl cellulose in water to be exact, to consolidate fragile areas.

Paint consolidation is being carried out under the microscope with a fine brush

Paint consolidation is being carried out under the microscope with a fine brush

I am now working on testing some fill materials, both to stabilize the edges of lifting paint and also to stabilize the fragile wood. I will post an update as soon as I make some decisions and proceed with this part of the treatment!