Animal mummies: contents revealed part I

We x-rayed several animal mummies last week.

Here we are checking in on our patient. Isn't this little kitty mummy so cute, just lying there on the x-ray plate?

Here we are checking in on our patient. Isn’t this little kitty mummy so cute, just lying there on the x-ray plate?

Most of these mummies were on display in the Secrets and Science gallery until 2 weeks ago and several of them are going back on display soon. So now is our time to learn as much about them as possible!

We teamed up with Dr. Kate Moore, CAAM teaching specialist and zooarchaeologist, to see if we can figure out what is under the wrappings of these little (and a couple really little) mummies.

I’m going to divide the information about this project into 2 different posts. For this first post, I’m going to show side-by-side images of the some of the mummies and their x-rays, and welcome readers to make some guesses as to what is inside. I’ll follow this post by providing some information on what we think we are seeing, and some outstanding questions we still have.

E12438: mummy from the side, paired with radiograph

E12438: mummy from the side, paired with radiograph

E17631: mummy from above, paired with radiograph

E17631: mummy from above, paired with radiograph

E12441: mummy paired with radiograph

E12441: mummy paired with radiograph

E12435: mummy from the side, paired with radiograph

E12435: mummy from the side, paired with radiograph

50-17-1: mummy paired with radiograph

50-17-1: mummy paired with radiograph

You can find out more information about these little mummies by searching our Collections Database online (and also by looking at our Current in the Lab tab on this blog). We’ll blog about our interpretations soon.

Conservator Alexis North viewing a radiograph down in our x-ray room

Conservator Alexis North viewing a radiograph in our x-ray room

New mummies in the lab (teaser!)

We are working on documenting and examining the mummies and artifacts that came into the lab this week. We’ll be updating the blog as we learn more. In the meantime, we have updated our Currently in the lab page so you can get an idea of what there is to see in here at the moment.

Teaser! This crocodile mummy is one of the newest additions to the lab.

This crocodile mummy (E17631) is one of the newest additions to the lab.

Questions? Comments? Please let us know by starting a discussion at the end of this post. Thanks!

 

Out with the old, in with the…old

Since we opened in September 2012, visitors to the Artifact Lab have become accustomed to this view:

View into the Artifact Lab, with boards from Ahanakht's coffin pointed out with red arrows

View into the Artifact Lab, with boards from Ahanakht’s coffin pointed out with red arrows

The shelves lining the back wall of the lab have been mostly occupied with large cedar boards from the Middle Kingdom outer coffin of Ahanakht. We’ve written about this coffin before here, here, and here, and we’ve spent a lot of time in the lab examining, conserving, and studying the boards, alongside the Curator-in-charge of the Egyptian Section Dr. David Silverman and his graduate student Leah Humphrey.

Conservator Alexis North and Dr. Silverman reviewing details captured through reflectance transformation imaging (RTI)

Conservator Alexis North and Dr. Silverman reviewing details of the boards captured through reflectance transformation imaging (RTI)

Last week, the scenery in here changed quite a bit, as the boards were carefully packed:

Kevin Cahail secures one of the coffin boards to its custom-made palette in preparation for moving off-site

Curatorial Assistant Dr. Kevin Cahail secures one of the coffin boards to its custom-made palette in preparation for moving off-site

Large boards from Ahanakht's coffin packed and ready to be moved off-site

Large boards from Ahanakht’s coffin packed and ready to be moved off-site

Since the boards have been documented and conserved, they are moving off-site temporarily to make room for “new” things to come into the lab. These “new” pieces are actually being deinstalled from our Secrets and Science and Mummy Galleries, in order to retrofit those galleries to ensure that they will be secure during the construction project happening next door at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP).

Views into the Secrets and Science gallery, before deinstallation began

Views into the Secrets and Science gallery, before deinstallation began

Views into the Mummy Gallery, before deinstallation

Views into the Mummy Gallery, before deinstallation

Some of these objects and mummies will go back on display shortly, but need to be examined and conserved first, so they will be worked on in the Artifact Lab in the next few weeks to allow for reinstallation.

Details about the construction project at HUP and how it is affecting our museum have been described in some recent news articles, which you can find by following links that I’ve included at the end of this post.

For a couple days, the shelves in the lab were empty:

Conservator Alexis North working in the Artifact Lab with emptied shelves in the background

Conservator Alexis North working in the Artifact Lab with emptied shelves in the background

but we didn’t waste any time filling them back up again:

Shelves in the Artifact Lab filling up with new things

Shelves in the Artifact Lab filling up with new things

Note, this photo above was taken after day 1 of deinstallation; there will be more coming into the lab in the upcoming days.

We’ll post more about some of these “new” artifacts and mummies as we work on them in the next few weeks.

Demolition next door puts Penn Museum on shaky ground

Delicate process of preserving artifacts as things get shaky at UPenn Museum

Moving Marble: Penn Museum prepares for Penn Tower demolition

 

APPEAR Project – Portable X-Ray Fluorescence on the Fayum Mummy Portraits

Hi! This is Eve Mayberger with another update on the Ancient Panel Painting: Examination, Analysis, and Research (APPEAR) project (see earlier posts here and here). I recently investigated the pigments used on the three Fayum mummy portraits with the portable x-ray fluorescence (pXRF). While the pXRF results for all three portraits are interesting, I am going to briefly discuss the findings for the Portrait of a Woman (E16214).

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Woman (E16214); Annotation of pXRF test locations

One of the major advantages of pXRF is that it is a non-destructive technique that uses x-rays to identify specific elements. The technique can help to characterize pigments and metal alloy components. It is important to remember that pXRF is a surface technique and will only detect elements present on the surface. I decided to analyze the seven different colors used on the mummy portrait to determine if there are any elemental differences.

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Collecting data with the Brucker pXRF

All the test locations recorded prominent peaks for calcium (Ca), iron (Fe), and lead (Pb). Although there is some variation in peak heights across the test spots, it is important to remember that pXRF is a qualitative not a quantitative technique. See below for a representative spectrum for six out of the seven analyzed locations.

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Woman (E16214); Spectrum for sample #2 – forehead; Peaks detected for Ca, Fe, and Pb

The green used to paint the gemstones on the woman’s necklace has an additional peak for copper (Cu). This is not surprising as many greens have a copper component. In ancient Egypt, the greens were generally made with malachite or green earths, or from a mixture of blue and yellow pigments. While malachite is a copper-based compound, more analysis is needed to confidently identify the green pigment used for the gemstones.

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APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Woman (E16214); Spectrum for sample #5 – gemstone on necklace; Peaks detected for Ca, Fe, Pb, and Cu

It should be noted that not all pigments can be identified with pXRF alone. Some organic pigments, such as madder, cannot be detected with pXRF. In addition to using analytical instrumentation, it is also important to know what colorants are expected on specific artifacts to help limit the number of possible pigments.

Be sure to visit the blog in the upcoming weeks to read more about the APPEAR project!

Eve Mayberger, Curriculum Intern