Animal mummies: contents revealed part II

This is a follow-up to my last blogpost, where I posted some side-by-side images of animal mummies and their x-rays. In this post I’m going to explain what we think we’re seeing in the radiographs.

Let’s start with one of the easiest ones:

50-17-1: mummy paired with radiograph

50-17-1: mummy paired with radiograph

This one is really easy. While the mummy is made to look like a cat, we can clearly see that there are no cat remains, or any remains, inside. All we see inside are very small straight pins, which were pushed into the linen wrappings in 1980 to keep them from unraveling. We know this happened in 1980 because it is noted in an old conservation report. A good example of an ancient “fake”!

The next one is also fairly easy to interpret.

ibismummygif

E12438: mummy from the side, paired with radiograph

We thought this was an ibis mummy, and sure enough, we see an entire ibis inside the wrappings. The GIF above highlights the distinctive skull and beak of the ibis in red.

You could say that the next one, which appears to be a crocodile mummy, has a couple extra special surprises inside:

crocgif

E17631: mummy from above, paired with radiograph

There are 3 baby crocodiles under the wrappings! The GIF above highlights the 3 skulls in red.

Next we have what appears to be a falcon mummy, but what we see inside is harder to interpret:

falcongif

E12441: mummy paired with radiograph

Upon close inspection, we can see 2 separate, and very small birds inside. In the GIF above, the red outlines the skulls and beaks and the blue outlines the bodies. We don’t think that these birds are falcons, or even birds of prey at all. They look much more like doves or pigeons (based on examination of comparative specimens with zooarchaeologist Dr. Kate Moore). It’s possible that this mummy was never meant to represent a falcon at all – the jury is still out on this one.

Lastly, we have the tiniest mummy of the bunch:

shrewgif

E12435: mummy from the side, paired with radiograph

There is an animal inside, and it looks like its body is upside-down. It is very difficult to make out, but we can see its front teeth and its long tail. This one definitely called for the expertise of Dr. Moore, who brought up some comparative specimens from her collection. Ultimately, it was the teeth that convinced her that what we see inside this little mummy is a shrew.

Dr. Moore holding a tiny shrew skull

Dr. Moore holding a tiny shrew skull

To the ancient Egyptians, the shrew represented the nocturnal side of Horus. Here is a link to an image of a similar shrew mummy in the collection at the Brooklyn Museum.

Our fun with animal mummies never ends! For more information about where these mummies came from, check our their catalog records in our Collections Database:

50-17-1: Cat mummy

E17631: Crocodile mummy

E12441: Falcon mummy

E12438: Ibis mummy

E12435: Shrew mummy

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.

Penn Museum moves history (carefully) to make way for future

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).

E16214bt1_crop_pXRF_locations_web

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.

20151216_150556_web

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.

E16214_pxrf_sample2_crop

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.

E16214_pxrf_sample5_crop_edit

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

APPEAR Project – Multispectral Imaging on the Fayum Mummy Portraits

Hi! This is Eve Mayberger with an update on the Ancient Panel Painting: Examination, Analysis, and Research (APPEAR) project (see earlier post here). I am happy to report that I have completed multispectral imaging (MSI) for the three Fayum mummy portraits. The In the Artifact Lab blog has talked about MSI in several previous posts here and here. MSI is a helpful technique that uses specific frequencies across the electromagnetic spectrum to differentiate and sometimes identify materials.

E16213_MSI_VIS_web

APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Young Man (E16213)                                                                          Visible (VIS) image. Captured with a Nikon D5200, modified by replacing the hot mirror filter with a glass custom full spectrum filter, B+W UV-IR cut filter (#486 MRC), and incandescent photo light source

Although I took full sets of MSI images for all three mummy portraits, I am only going to share a few images of the Portrait of a Young Man (E16213) which proved particularly interesting. The first step of MSI imaging is to take a normal visible light photo using a modified digital camera and appropriate filters. The object and camera setup must remain unchanged throughout the entire process. Only the light source and camera filters change.

E16213_MSI_UVF_web_edit

APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Young Man (E16213)                                                                   Ultraviolet visible fluorescence (UVF). Captured with a Nikon D5200, modified by replacing the hot mirror filter with a glass custom full spectrum filter, B+W UV-IR cut filter (#486 MRC), and SPEX Mini CrimeScope 300-400 nm light source.

The ultraviolet visible fluorescence (UVF) image confirms that the wooden panel has been previously repaired. The restored area has a different fluorescence than the surrounding wood (see annotation). I had noticed that the paint in this area was handled differently and noted that it could be a later addition. The UVF image supports this idea.

E16213_MSI_VIVL_535nm_red_filter_web

APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Young Man (E16213)                                                                         Visible-induced visible luminescence (VIVL) image. Captured with a Nikon D5200, modified by replacing the hot mirror filter with a glass custom full spectrum filter, B+W UV-IR cut filter (#486 MRC), Tiffen red camera filter (23A), and SPEX Mini CrimeScope 535 nm light source.

The most unexpected observation was seen in the visible-induced visible luminescence (VIVL) image captured with a 535 nm light source. The filter gives the image the overall red coloring. Notice that the outline of the figure has been etched into the paint. This demarcation of space was completely undetected under other light sources. This technique was not observed on the other two mummy portraits (E16212 and E16214) at the Penn Museum. I am curious to see if other institutions participating in the APPEAR project have portraits with hidden outlines around their figures.

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

Eve Mayberger, Curriculum Intern

APPEAR Project – Fayum Mummy Portraits

Hi! This is Eve Mayberger and I am a curriculum intern from New York University. I am currently spending nine months at the Penn Museum as part of my fourth-year internship. I want to introduce one of the projects I am working on in the Artifact Lab. The Ancient Panel Painting: Examination, Analysis, and Research (APPEAR) project is a Getty Institute initiative to create an international database on Fayum mummy portraits. A website was created to allow different types of analysis and imaging to be uploaded and shared with other institutions participating in the APPEAR project.

The Penn Museum has three Fayum mummy portraits in its collection [E16212, E16213, and E16214]. These portraits date from the Roman period in Egypt and were executed in either encaustic (wax) or tempera. The portraits depict a boy, a young man, and a woman. The figures are painted on thin panels of wood that are adhered together. Remember that wood was a rare and expensive material in ancient Egypt and every tiny piece of wood was valuable.

E16212bt1_web

APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Boy (E16212)

All three portraits have been repaired at some point in their history. One of my challenges is going to be to differentiate the original materials from later additions. Fortunately, the Penn Museum has the old treatment records that will hopefully be useful to piece together the treatment history of these objects.

E16213bt1_web

APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Young Man (E16213)

After carefully examining the portraits, I took them down the photography studio in the main conservation lab. These high-resolution photos will be uploaded to the APPEAR website. In the upcoming weeks, I will be using imaging and non-destructive analysis to further investigate these mummy portraits.

E16214bt1_web

APPEAR Project, Portrait of a Woman (E16214)

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

Eve Mayberger, Curriculum Intern

Progress update on the stola coffin treatment

For the past few weeks, it has been full steam ahead on the treatment of the stola coffin lid. The lid is made of smaller pieces of wood joined together, then covered generously in areas with a thick layer of coarse mud plaster, followed by a thin layer of a finer mud plaster, followed by paint and a varnish. There are also raised details that were built up with gesso before painting.

This large piece of painted mud plaster (detached from the foot of the coffin, seeing on the left) is 11 cm thick.

This large piece of painted mud plaster (detached from the foot of the coffin, seen on the left) is 11 cm thick.

This area of damage clearly shows the wood substrate (green arrow), coarse mud plaster (blue arrow), and finer mud plaster (red arrow).

This area of damage clearly shows the wood substrate (green arrow), coarse mud plaster (blue arrow), and finer mud plaster (red arrow).

The two major condition problems on the coffin are found in the mud plaster layers: the coarse mud plaster has lost cohesion and in many places has separated from the wood below, and the finer mud plaster has also lost cohesion, so much so that it has deteriorated to a fine powder in places. I have spent over 150 hours so far readhering detached plaster, consolidating the powdery plaster, and realigning and stabilizing loose fragments on the coffin. Today I’m posting a few before and after treatment details to show the progress.

Here are before and after details of the top of the head showing an area where I had to readhere some large fragments of painted plaster:

Top of the head before (left), during (center), and after (right) reattaching painted plaster fragments

Top of the head before (left), during (center), and after (right) reattaching painted plaster fragments

Here are before and after details of the left eye showing the consolidation of exposed powdery mud plaster:

Detail of losses near the left eye before, showing powdery mud plaster (left) and after cleaning and consolidation of the mud plaster in the losses

Detail of losses near the left eye before, showing powdery mud plaster (left) and after cleaning and consolidation of the mud plaster in the losses (right)

And here is an area on the side of the head where I found that some fragments were previously attached in incorrect places. They were repaired long ago (with no documentation) with an adhesive that is soluble in warm water. I reversed the old repairs and found the correct locations for the fragments. I’ve outlined the fragments in their incorrect locations in the before treatment image on the right, below:

Detail of treatment on the side of the head before, with misplaced fragments outlined in pink (left), and after respositioning (right)

Detail of treatment on the side of the head before, with misplaced fragments outlined in pink (left), and after respositioning (right)

I still have lots of work to do before the treatment is complete, but I’m making good progress! I hope to be finished with the treatment early in the new year.

Examination of Wooden Tomb Models

Hi everyone! This is Alexis North, and I’m the project conservator at the Penn Museum working on the Egyptian storage move project, which has been referenced here on the blog a few times. I wanted to give a brief introduction on one of the projects I have been working on most recently in the Artifact Lab.

We recently received several new objects in the Artifact Lab. They are a collection of painted wooden models, depicting various aspects of daily life, which date to the First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom (2130-1784 BCE). Many of the models we have were excavated by Sir Flinders Petrie and the British School of Archaeology, through excavations the University of Pennsylvania supported.

Photo of tomb models on display, prior to deinstallation.

Photo of tomb models on display, prior to deinstallation.

These models had been on display in our Egyptian Daily Life gallery for quite a long time. However, due to the vibrations caused by the construction going on right outside the museum, the entire case had to be deinstalled and the objects moved for their protection. The models have very fragile painted surfaces, and are made of multiple pieces which could separate, fall over, and be damaged if exposed to vibrations within the case. They also in most cases have not be examined by a conservator since their acquisition.

Therefore they were all brought into the Artifact Lab for documentation and treatment. We started by photographing all the individual pieces, and assessing the condition of the painted surfaces. Many of the models have actively lifting and flaking paint, and the horizontal surfaces are also quite dirty.

The model most in need of treatment is this boat:

Detail of E14260.1, boat model, before deinstallation.

Detail of E14260.1, boat model, before deinstallation.

Boats have a lot of significance in ancient Egyptian culture and religion. They were the primary means of long-distance travel along the Nile, and the Egyptians believed that the gods traveled across the sky and through the underworld on boats. Boats were also used for fishing. This model depicts a transport boat, with oarsmen, a mast and rudder, and a canopy painted in a cowskin pattern where the tomb owner would have been represented sitting and enjoying his travels.

This model has some of the most serious flaking paint and discoloration, especially on the top and sides of the boat:

Detail of lost and lifting paint on top of boat, and grimy surface.

Detail of lost and lifting paint on top of boat, and grimy surface.

I began treating this model by taking detailed photos of the surface, then using those images to map different condition issues. Then I chose different treatment materials and techniques which work best for those issues.

Come back for the next post to see more about what we learned from examining this model, and how I chose to treat it. See you soon!

 

References:

Fleming, S. (1980). The Egyptian mummy: Secrets and science. University of Pennsylvania.

Taylor, John H. (2001). Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt. The University of Chicago Press.

 

Alexis North is the Project Conservator for the Egyptian Storage Move Project, Penn Museum.

 

Conservation treatment of Nespekashuti

Nespekashuti has been in the Artifact Lab for several months now and I’m finally ready to say that I’m (almost) finished with his treatment. I say *almost* because I saved one of the most difficult decisions for last – what to do about the gaping hole in his wrappings over his mouth. While I’m not quite ready to take the official after treatment images yet, I am going to post photos of how he looks in his nearly-complete status, along with explanations of what the treatment entailed. (I’ll also admit that posting these things on the blog helps me process my feelings about certain treatments, so thanks in advance for reading.) This post will focus on what I did with Nespekashuti, since I’ve touched on the treatment of his coffin in earlier posts here and here.

Nespekashuti before (left) and after (or nearly complete) (right) conservation treatment

Nespekashuti before (left) and after (or nearly complete, on the right) conservation treatment

Let’s play a little game of spot the difference. I’ll post the image again below, circling areas on the before treatment image that I addressed during the treatment. Some of these things are easy to spot while others are more subtle.

Areas circled in red on the left image show some of the things that I addressed during the conservation treatment.

The red circles on the left highlight areas addressed during the conservation treatment

–  Let’s start from the bottom-up. During my initial examination I noticed that his feet were re-wrapped at some point with what looks like ancient linen. This re-wrapping probably happened before we acquired Nespekashuti in 1893 because in images of him from the Archives, the wrapping around his feet looks the same.

After some poking and prodding of this area, I decided to pull back the newer wrappings around his feet, which revealed this underneath:

Views under the newer linen wrappings from the front (left) and underside (right)

Views under the newer linen wrappings from the front (left) and underside (right)

I can see why someone decided to re-wrap them – the wrappings underneath are significantly deteriorated and darkened, and on the underside, there are some bones exposed. Since we do not know when the newer linen was added (radiocarbon dating might provide more information but it also might not, since it is quite possible that the newer linen is also ancient and could be as old as the original linen) I did not remove it completely. The only change I made in this area was to clean up all of the powdery, deteriorated linen underneath and to encapsulate the damaged wrappings around the feet with nylon bobbinet before putting the newer linen back in place.

– The next three red circles indicate areas where I realigned the linen and removed very deteriorated linen where it was fully detached. I actually did this all over the mummy, but these are areas where it is more obvious. In order to keep the realigned linen in place after making these adjustments, I encapsulated the mummy from his neck to his ankles in nylon bobbinet, toned with acrylic paint to camouflage it.

Preparing to encapsulate Nespekashuti with the nylon bobinnet

Preparing to encapsulate Nespekashuti with the nylon bobbinet

In the image above, you can see the nylon bobbinet draped over Nespekashuti’s body. I secured the bobbinet by tucking it under his body and placing Tyvek-covered Ethafoam blocks in strategic areas between the body and the inside of the coffin (the Tyvek was also toned with acrylic paint to camouflage the blocks).

– The red circle around the amulet on Nespekashuti’s chest is to indicate that I removed it for treatment. The amulet is actually not associated with the mummy at all – it was placed there for exhibition. The amulet is made of faience, dates to the New Kingdom/19th Dynasty, and was excavated from Aniba, Nubia by Charles Leonard Woolley in the early 20th century. It may be replaced for exhibition, but at this point I am not replacing it until our curators have a chance to weigh in.

– Finally, the most obvious part of the treatment is that I made a covering for Nespekashuti’s mouth. I continue to emphasize that the covering is fully removable – it can just be plucked out in pieces with tweezers if necessary. Here is a detail image showing the covering:

Detail of Nespekashuti's head/chest from the left side, after encapsulation and with the mouth covering

Detail of Nespekashuti’s head/chest from the left side, after encapsulation and with the mouth covering

And here is another one from the right side comparing him before and after encapsulation and with the mouth covering:

Nespekashuti before (above) and after (below) treatment

Nespekashuti before (above) and after (below) treatment (click on image to enlarge)

You can see how this all looks from the front in the very first image I posted, but I’m focusing on how he looks from the side since he was previously displayed like this and this is most likely how he will be viewed when on exhibit in the future.

I made the fill by first covering his exposed teeth and surrounding bone with nylon bobbinet, then I layered the exposed area with Japanese tissue paper toned with acrylic paint, and finally I layered some toned bobbinet over the paper. All of the fill materials are tucked into the damaged linen around the loss in this area.

If our curators agree that the treatment is complete and that the fill can be left in place for now, I’ll call the treatment done and finish all of the after treatment documentation. I know that our visitors and readers of this blog were divided on what to do about the mouth, but I think we can all agree that Nespekashuti has received the much-needed care that he deserves. Please write in with any comments or questions you have about any aspect of this treatment! I will be sure to post something on the blog if we make any additional changes, or decide to scrap the mouth covering all together.