Is that…real??

One of the most common questions we get asked in the Artifact Lab is, “is that … real?”.

A real human head undergoing conservation treatment in the Artifact Lab

And our answer is always, yes. Everything that we’re working on in the Artifact Lab is indeed real, and from Egypt. Objects in the lab right now range from between 4000-2000 years old and many were excavated and came into the Penn Museum collection over 100 years ago.

Collecting Egyptian materials was of great interest to the Penn Museum from the very beginning, when it was founded in 1889. The Egyptian and Mediterranean Section was created a year later, and Sara Yorke Stevenson was named the first curator of this section-she was also the first female curator of an Egyptian collection in the US! Her goal was to build this collection quickly and through excavation as much as possible, and objects came into the collection through expeditions funded by the museum, including projects run by Sir William M. Flinders Petrie. Because so many objects were acquired in this way, we can be sure of their authenticity and provenience.

In a few months, however, we will have to modify our answer to the “is it real?” question slightly. There is one object currently on display that will soon be replaced with a replica.

A painted linen mummy shroud currently on display In the Artifact Lab.

This painted linen mummy shroud is now on display In the Artifact Lab. Due to its sensitivity to light, it can only be safely displayed for 3 months at very low light levels. After this time, a replica of the shroud will take its place.

The control of light exposure is an important part of any preventive conservation program. Preventive conservation refers to actions taken to minimize the rate of deterioration of collections and objects, and this includes managing the museum environment, including temperature, relative humidity, light, and pests. To prevent or reduce light damage, many museums have an exhibition lighting policy, which provides guidelines for the allowable light levels and cumulative light exposure for objects based on their light sensitivity (textiles for instance are more sensitive to light than stone objects).

While we will have many interesting things to see throughout the duration of this exhibit, now is the chance to come and see this incredible funerary shroud-the real thing-before it is returned to storage to prevent light damage.