Update – this post contains outdated language. We no longer use the term “mummy” and instead use “mummified human individuals” to refer to Ancient Egyptian people whose bodies were preserved for the afterlife. To read more about this decision, follow this link.
We’ve been threatening to do it, and this week we followed through on our promise – to flip over the base of Tawahibre’s coffin.
As readers know, we have been working on Tawahibre’s coffin lid, and recently lifted it away from the base. Once we removed the lid, we could see that the interior of the base was undecorated, with plaster smoothed over the wood joins. There was also some textile remaining, presumably from the mummy who once was inside.
While the interior is undecorated, we know the same isn’t true for the exterior, based on a photo recovered awhile back in the Archives. After a bit more digging in Archives recently, we found even more detailed photographs of the coffin lid and base, taken sometime before they were put on exhibit back in the 1930s.
Recovering old images like this is exciting because they potentially have a lot to tell us. In this case, this photograph is a good record of what the condition of the coffin was like soon after it was acquired by the museum. Like in the exhibit photograph I had recovered earlier, I could see that a lot of the damage we’re seeing on the coffin lid today was present then. But there was no way of knowing, until this week, how the current condition of the coffin base compares to the condition seen in this photograph.
And I have to tell you, I was a bit worried – until just a few days ago, all I could see of the coffin base was from these views:
Those large chunks of plaster and paint on the wood support below weren’t very promising. I had a sinking feeling that a lot of the paint and plaster on the back of the coffin base was unstable as well, and going to fall away when we tried to lift and flip it over.
The first step in getting the coffin base flipped over was to stabilize the plaster and paint on the inside and sides of the base, as much as possible. I carried out this work using the same methyl cellulose adhesive solution and fill material mixture as I have been using on the lid.
Then we did a test lift, to see how stable it felt, and to determine if we needed to temporarily stabilize any areas on the back before turning it over.
How many conservators do you need to flip over a coffin base? Eight, it turns out.
Fortunately, the procedure went smoothly, smoothly enough that we even allowed our Public Relations Coordinator Tom Stanley post a video of us turning the base over on the museum’s Instagram account.
Once we turned the base over, we were rewarded by being able to see that the back is still remarkably well-preserved, with very little changes from when that old photograph was taken:
Can you spot the differences in these two photographs? I’ll post another copy of this image soon, circling the changes that have occurred.