Field trip!

Sometimes getting started on a conservation treatment requires getting out of the lab for a bit, so this week, my colleague Julie Lawson and I took a field trip down to Baltimore to visit the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum and chat mummy treatments with their Curator/Conservator, Sanchita Balachandran. Sanchita and I connected at the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) annual meeting back in June – I had read about a treatment that she carried out on a human mummy at the museum, and when we realized that we both had animal mummies in our labs as well, we decided we’d get together for a brainstorming session to discuss treatment approaches, materials, and storage options for these fragile objects.

Julie Lawson admires artifacts in one of the cases in the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum

Julie Lawson admires artifacts in one of the cases in the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum

The Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum is nestled in the center of the Johns Hopkins Homewood Campus in Baltimore, in a beautifully-renovated building, surrounded by classrooms and light-filled student study spaces. The museum was established in 1882 and since its founding, has been dedicated to inspiring and teaching students at the university.

One of the main features of the museum is the display of archaeological objects from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, the Near East, and the ancient Americas, displayed in glass case walls, allowing students, faculty, and visitors to view these pieces and peer into the museum itself.

museum2_compThe museum also displays pieces on loan, including an ancient Egyptian mummy from Goucher College.

Goucher mummyThis was the mummy that I had read about and was curious to learn more about from Sanchita. The Goucher mummy is an adult female mummy from the Ptolemaic Period (305-30 BCE), and I knew some details of the treatment from Sanchita’s article in the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation (JAIC), but this was a great opportunity for me to see this mummy up-close and to ask Sanchita more about how she approached this treatment and the specific materials and techniques she used. Since we are in the middle of working on the treatment of our mummy PUM I here in the Artifact Lab, this conversation was very timely.

Detail of the Stabiltex encapsulating the feet of the Goucher mummy

Detail of the Stabiltex encapsulating the feet of the Goucher mummy

The Goucher mummy has a fascinating history that I won’t get into here, but you can learn more about her in the “Object Stories” section of the museum’s website by following this link. One of the things I was curious to discuss more with Sanchita was her use of Stabiltex, a sheer polyester fabric, to protect fragile areas of the mummy’s wrappings, and the design and construction of the support the mummy is currently resting on in the exhibit. As I said, we’re working on encapsulating PUM I’s outer linen wrappings in a similar way, but using a different type of sheer netting fabric. After discussing techniques with Sanchita and seeing how successful her treatment of the Goucher mummy was, I returned to the Artifact Lab feeling good about our approach to PUM I’s treatment!

Sanchita also pulled out several animal mummies that she is currently working on, including these cuties:

Cat (above) and dog (below) mummies

Cat (above) and dog (below) mummies

We discussed the challenges of dealing with such fragile linen wrappings and our experiences with and use of different adhesives, as well as techniques for encapsulating fragile areas. Sanchita also showed us their handling and storage mounts, which go a long way in protecting these artifacts.

Sanchita lifts an ibis mummy from its storage box using a handling tray

Sanchita lifts an ibis mummy from its storage box using a handling tray

After discussing mummies at length, Sanchita took us back into their storage area, where we had the opportunity to see additional Egyptian artifacts, including several painted wood artifacts with a variety of condition problems. As readers to this blog may know, we have our own fair share of challenging painted wooden artifacts, including Tawahibre’s coffin, so I was eager to see how Sanchita was approaching the treatment of these pieces as well.

Sanchita and Julie in storage

Sanchita and Julie in storage

All in all, it was a fun and productive day! These types of professional exchanges are incredibly valuable, and I’m not only inspired to tackle some treatments and try new things back in the lab, but to make more time in the future to visit other colleagues and collections. A huge thanks to Sanchita for hosting us and for sharing so much about her work at Johns Hopkins.

 

An introduction to our child mummy Tanwa

In my recent post about the Philadelphia Science Festival, I put in a little teaser photograph of one of our child mummies currently in the lab:

child mummy overallNow, all of our mummies are special, but this child mummy has several qualities that make her particularly endearing. One of the things that we really love is that her name is written on her wrappings, near her feet.

Child mummy detailHer name is actually written in both Greek and Demotic – Demotic is the language/script that developed in later periods in Egypt (and is one of the languages inscribed on the Rosetta Stone, along with Greek and hieroglyphic Egyptian). In Greek, this inscription reads: “Tanous (daughter of) Hermodorus”. In Demotic her name reads as “Tanwa”.

So, based on this inscription, we know that she dates to the Ptolemaic Period, and that she is a girl. According to our Egyptologists, what is interesting about the names is that they give a good indication of the multi-cultural nature of this time period. Not only in the fact that 2 languages are represented, but that the girl’s name incorporates the name of an Egyptian goddess, Iwnyt, while her father’s name includes the name of a Greek god, Hermes.

Tanwa has been CT-scanned, which has confirmed the fact that she is a girl, and was likely right around the age of 5 when she died.

Here is a still from the CT scan showing a detail of Tanus' skull. Based on her teeth it has been estimated that she was right around 5 years old when she died.

Here is a still from the CT scan showing a detail of Tanwa’s skull. Based on her teeth it has been estimated that she was about 5 years old when she died. That pin you can see near the top of her skull is modern and not actually in her skull-it was used to secure the outermost layers of linen in that area.

One of my favorite things that CT scanning has shown is that she is wearing 2 bracelets on her left wrist. We are guessing that these might be gold.

Two bangle bracelets on the left wrist show up clearly on the CT scan.

Two bangle bracelets on the left wrist show up clearly on the CT scan.

She also has a small metal ball included in her wrappings just over her right tibia. Exactly what this is and why it was placed there is a bit of a mystery.

A detail shot of the metal ball near her right tibia.

A detail shot of the metal ball near her right tibia.

There is a lot more we can learn from these CT scans, which I will describe in a future post.

Fortunately, Tanwa is in fairly good condition; one of the main issues that we need to address here in the conservation lab is that many of the narrow linen bands wrapped around her body are fragile, torn and partially detaching. I am currently more than halfway through the conservation treatment, and I will provide a thorough report on what we are doing to stabilize her wrappings next. Stay tuned!

 

A technical study of a child sarcophagus

Casey analyzing the surface of the child sarcophagus using a portable XRF analyzer

Casey analyzing the surface of the child sarcophagus using a portable XRF analyzer. Photo by Vanessa Muros

 

I have a special treat for our readers today – I recently had an interesting discussion with Casey Mallinckrodt, a current graduate student in the UCLA/Getty Program in the Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographic Materials (which is also my alma mater!).

As part of her graduate studies, Casey has been working on a rare example of an Egyptian child sarcophagus, and instead of recounting the conversation for everyone, I asked her if she’d be willing to answer a few questions for our blog. Read on to hear more about Casey and this fascinating project.

 

 

1. First, tell our readers a little more about yourself.

I am a second year MA student in the UCLA/Getty Program in the Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographic Materials. This is a career shift for me having received an MFA in sculpture in 1988 and having had a career in fine arts and education. I did pre-program internships in conservation at the Museum of Modern Art and the American Museum of Natural History in New York before applying to this program.

I am working on this project with Dr. David A. Scott and Prof. Ellen Pearlstein, both of whom are faculty in our program. Marie Svoboda, a conservator of antiquities at the Getty Villa, and Dr. Kara Cooney, an Egyptologist at UCLA are advisors.

An overall view of the sarcophagus

A view of the upper half of the sarcophagus

2. Tell us more about this child sarcophagus that you’re working on and why it is so unusual (that’s assuming that it is!!) 

The sarcophagus (or coffin) lid is on loan for this project from the San Diego Museum of Man. It was given to the museum in 2001 and it dates to the Ptolemaic period, 305 – 30 BCE although the exact date of this object is not known. It is unusual because sarcophagi were costly and rarely made for children. This is supposed to be one of only seven from this period known to exist. It seems to have been for a girl, and scholars I consulted suggest she may have been a child wife, which would justify the expense. Many people have asked about the mummy and the base of the coffin but these are unknowns.

It is made of a carved out section of a tree trunk with pieces added to create the chest, face and foot. Wood dowels were used to secure the pieces in place.  The exterior is completely covered with a polychrome layer made up of a base of a brown granular paste, then a white “gesso” layer and the paint applied onto that. The interior is unpainted.

A side view of the sarcophagus in the UCLA/Getty labs

A side view of the sarcophagus in the UCLA/Getty labs

3. What is your ultimate goal for this project?

The project is a technical analysis of the structure and materials, and development of a treatment plan. The treatment goal is to stabilize the structure and fragile paint layer, and reduce or removal modern fills that may be damaging the original materials. If the museum approves I will carry out treatment  in selective areas to establish a protocol so the museum can continue the work after the coffin returns to San Diego in June.

4. Since I get asked this question almost every day, I’m going to turn around and ask you – what is the most interesting and/or unexpected thing that you’ve found so far in your work on the sarcophagus?

It is a fascinating project in so many ways, but two things come to mind. One involves the manufacture, and the other a mysterious surface condition.

The ancient Egyptians frequently reused parts of coffins and I have found evidence of reuse here.  X-rays reveal empty dowel holes that indicate changes in the structure, and there are modern metal screws holding the foot block in place.   

X-radiographs of the head (left) and foot (right) of the sarcophagus. Note the modern screws holding the foot together.

X-radiographs of the head (left) and foot (right) of the sarcophagus. Note the modern screws holding the foot together.

Scholars I have consulted find the carving of the face more consistent with earlier periods.  I am examining the types of wood and indications of changes in the construction, and analyzing the pigments, gesso, fill materials, and coatings to identify differences that might point to different sources for the different parts.

The most unexpected development was the emergence of small waxy exudates on the lower front of the “torso”.  I am doing chemical tests on samples, and FTIR (Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy) is being carried out by Getty Conservation Institute Scientist Herant Khanjian to identify the substance and determine whether it poses a threat to the original materials. This is probably the result of a coating or consolidant that was put on the object, but there is no record of its treatment before SDMM acquired it.

 

Thanks Casey! This is a terrific project, and a great example of how conservation is often a very collaborative process, involving conservators, scientists, archaeologists, and other specialists.

I will be keeping up with Casey as her work progresses. For more information on the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program and other student projects, follow the links I’ve included in the text above.