Featured object series: falcon mummy

What’s to see in the Artifact Lab?

This is the first in a series of posts describing objects undergoing conservation treatment In the Artifact Lab.

This object appears to be a mummified falcon.

Mummified falcon, before treatment.

I say “appears to be” because we cannot be certain that there is a falcon, or any animal remains for that matter, under the wrappings. In Ancient Egypt, it is known that in addition to mummifying animals, “false” animal mummies were made-from the outside they look like they contain an animal but on the inside, there may only be a bundle of mud and straw, or just a bone or two, or some fur or feathers. These false mummies could have been made to deceive the buyer, but they may also have been made when there was a scarcity of that particular animal, and may have still been considered complete offerings.

Animal mummies were created for a variety of reasons-this article by Salima Ikram, the first in a recent issue of AnthroNotes published by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, summarizes the topic well, putting them into 5 categories: pets, food, sacred, votive, and “other.” The article explains that, yes, some animals were mummified because they worshipped, but many were mummified as offerings to specific dieties, and others because they were considered beloved pets.

This falcon mummy may have been created as an offering to the god Horus. It was excavated from Abydos in 1914 through the Egypt Exploration Fund (later Egypt Exploration Society) through financial support of the Penn Museum. Although the museum’s records do not include a specific date, it is likely that it dates to the Late or the Graeco-Roman Period-many animal mummies date to this time and the decorative linen wrappings seen on this object were popular during these periods as well.

This mummy is elaborately wrapped with strips of natural and dyed linen and details on the head and face are outlined in a brown/black paint. While the mummy is generally very well preserved, it is currently unstable because the head/neck area is partially detached and the linen strips at the feet are in poor condition-some are completely detached.

After fully documenting and researching this object, conservation treatment will include light surface cleaning, stabilization of the head/neck, and stabilization of the wrappings as needed. A storage/handling support has also been created to allow the mummy to be studied without needing to directly touch the object. This work will also allow the mummy to be safely x-rayed and/or CT-scanned. We will post updates on this object as we uncover more details and begin the treatment!



In the Artifact Lab-Week 1

And what a week it has been! We are officially moved in to our new conservation lab, up on the 3rd floor of the museum and work is now underway in the Artifact Lab.

A view of the Artifact Lab from the entrance to the gallery

Since we opened on Sunday, we’ve spent the week getting situated in our new lab, preparing our work space, tools, and materials, and starting to examine several of the objects we’ll be working on over the next few months. We have a fascinating variety of objects in the lab-including mummified human remains, mummified animals, and funerary items such as painted and inscribed coffins and coffin boards (parts of coffins). These objects have spent many years in storage, some of them since being acquired by the museum over 100 years ago. One of the huge advantages of working on them in the new Artifact Lab is that we have the space, suitable lighting, and proper equipment to thoroughly examine and research these objects, and in the last few days, it quickly became clear that in several cases, we have our work cut out for us.

This painted wood coffin, for instance, is going to be a major project-

Wood coffin dating to the Late Period (post 558 BCE). Notice the heavy layer of grime and significant cracks in the paint and gesso layers.

It’s surface is heavily obscured by dust and grime, and it also has significant structural issues as well, including severe cracks that extend though the paint, gesso and wood and significant losses to the painted surface. We can already tell that this will be a project that will be ongoing in the lab for awhile.

Oh, and in addition to our regular conservation lab work, did I mention that we’ve spent a lot of time this week speaking with the public? Our work will always be visible to anyone who stops by-our Head Conservator Lynn Grant appropriately refers to the space as a fishbowl-there is literally, nowhere to hide (and if there was I wouldn’t tell you). But twice a day, 11:15am and 2:00pm Tuesday-Friday and 1:00pm and 3:30pm Saturday and Sunday, we open the windows to answer questions and speak about our work. We also have the advantage of using our new Smartboard to show additional images-photos showing the progress of our work and images collected through research. 

We use this Smartboard for presentations and also for communicating to visitors when we are working.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts featuring some of the objects that we’ll be working on in the Artifact Lab, and some of our latest discoveries!