Microscopy and mummy bits: updates from the Artifact Lab

December 12, 2012

In the Artifact Lab: Conserving Egyptian Mummies opened on September 30 and we have since been very busy-not only working on examining and treating objects from our Egyptian collection, but also speaking with the public on a daily basis. We had a big crowd for the 125th Anniversary open house, and some of our busiest days yet over Thanksgiving weekend.

Chatting with visitors through one of the open windows in the Artifact Lab

We (the museum’s conservators) are not the only ones working up here-Egyptian Section Curator Dr. David Silverman is working in the Artifact Lab, with assistance from Leah Humphrey, a graduate student in the University’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. They are working to translate texts inscribed on the boards from the outer coffin of Ahanakht, which dates to around 2000 BCE. This is a fascinating object, and we have written several blogposts about these boards-see one of them by Lynn Grant here.

Dr. David Silverman and Leah Humphrey examining the texts on one of the coffin boards

And in case you didn’t know, we are regularly blogging about our work on our very own blog: www.penn.museum/artifactlab. Please visit, and subscribe to our blog, for updates on our progress and for interesting tidbits and facts about ancient Egypt and conservation. Our latest post describes our newest piece of equipment, a polarized light microscope, and how we’re putting it to use. You can also see for yourself if you visit the lab, because our microscopes are hooked up to a monitor that allows visitors to see what we’re examining, in real-time (such as the deteriorated animal mummy wrappings in the images below).

Magnified image of the linen wrappings of an animal mummy (7.5X magnification on left, 25X magnification on right).
Note how the dyed linen is much more deteriorated than the undyed fabric.

There is always something new to see in the Artifact Lab, and opportunities to speak with the conservator on duty (usually me) every day. We open the windows in the lab twice a day for 30 minutes each time to answer questions and discuss our work. The current open window times are:

Tuesday-Friday  11:15am and 2:00pm  &

Saturday-Sunday  1:00pm and 3:30pm

We’ll look forward to seeing you!