Horus gets a facelift

By Anna O’Neill, Alice and Herbert Sachs Egyptian Collections Conservator

When I last wrote about transforming a stela, I wrote about removing an old coating on a small stela fragment. Well, stelae come in all shapes and sizes, and I just finished treating another one!

We just opened Ancient Egypt: From Discovery to Display, which highlights some of the Penn Museum’s Egyptian artifacts while our larger galleries are being renovated. This was the perfect time for some of the pieces that have always been on display to come into the conservation lab for a little bit of TLC (tender loving conservation).

This stela is a black quartzite monument for the pharaoh Qa’a, the last king of the First Dynasty in Egypt, around 2910 BCE. It is about five feet tall and shows a falcon representing the god Horus standing atop a serekh (a boxy decoration representing a palace) containing the hieroglyphs for Qa’a’s name.

The Penn Museum Qa’a stela (E6878) before treatment with old restored areas outlined in red (left) and the Cairo example (right). A letter from Penn Egyptologist Sara Yorke Stevenson to the archaeologist William Flinders Petrie in 1901 declares that the restoration “gives an idea of life”.

As you can see in the image above, the stela was heavily restored with cement in the early 1900s to make it look whole. Unfortunately, the restoration had given Horus a somewhat comical expression. With a big beak and tiny eye, he looked perpetually disappointed and definitely not stylistically appropriate for his time. Fortunately, our statue has a mirror twin in the Cairo Museum, which it would have been paired with on site in Abydos. Because the one in Cairo is mostly intact, we can use it as an example of what ours would have looked like. The head and beak are much smaller and simpler, giving Horus the look of a bird of prey. With the curators, we decided to give Horus a facelift based on the Cairo Museum example.

First, we did some digital mock-ups of how the head would look before I painted the outline directly onto the restored area. Using a Dremel rotary tool with a grinding stone attachment, I shaped Horus’s head and beak to more appropriate proportions, which was a very dusty but very satisfying process. Since we didn’t have any good examples of what the eye might have looked like (the Cairo Museum face is damaged), I filled this area using Paraloid B-72 and glass microballoons. I also sanded down the squared-off edges of the restored border so they sloped down into the background, again like the Cairo Museum stela, and smoothed some of the rougher areas of restoration.

Horus’s reconstructed head before treatment (left), with rough digital sketch (center), and during reshaping with the Dremel (right). Please note that I only reshaped what I knew was the restoration material! Conservators never make changes to original parts of objects.

Once the curators were happy with the shape of Horus’s head, it was time to move on to painting. The previous paint that covered the cement was a color that didn’t quite match any of the tones in the stone – fine for display in a dim gallery, but the stela’s new home would be more brightly lit. Finding the right color was challenging because the top fragment, which was found a few years after the bottom pieces, is a slightly darker color than the rest of the stela. I decided on a mid-tone that worked with the base color of the surrounding original stone, and then used a sponge to layer lots of highlights and darker shades to blend in with the actual artifact. I also used paint to create the optical illusion of “finishing” the bottom left corner of the serekh so that it appears complete from a distance.

The Qa’a stela after reshaping and repainting the old restoration.

You can now see the Qa’a stela and lots of other amazing Egyptian artifacts in Ancient Egypt: From Discovery to Display. The Artifact Lab has also reopened, and we look forward to being able to talk to everyone about the work we’re doing to prepare for all the exciting changes at the Penn Museum.

A Columnar Matter Part III: The Conservation and Installation of a 3rd Millennium BCE Mosaic Column from Al ‘Ubaid

By Marci Jefcoat Burton

As a last installment of the mosaic column from Tell al-Ubaid in Iraq, we are pleased to announce the treatment and remounting of the 4,200(+) year-old shell, pink limestone, and black shale tesserae is complete (Figure 1)! After a number of years in collection storage, the recently conserved column is now in the Middle East Gallery, and ready for visitors when the exhibit opens this Saturday, April 21, 2018. The treatment process was a dynamic collaborative project, involving a team of seven conservators to clean, repair and re-mount hundreds of triangular and diamond shaped tesserae over the span of 18 months.

Figure 1: The previous column support (left), with all tesserae deconstructed from each section. Only mounting materials, such as plaster ground and reconstructions, remain on the supports. (Right) The newly mounted tesserae on Ethafoam column supports.

The tesserae were originally mounted at the archaeological site in 1919 – 1924 on four hollow cylindrical sections made of wire mesh and burlap. The tesserae were imbedded in a thick layer of plaster, and the resulting weight on a somewhat flexible base eventually became a structural problem. In addition, each column section had a large area of plaster reconstruction to continue the mosaic design around the column. For a memory refresher of the previous condition and treatment protocol, visit our blog posts, column blog 1 and column blog 2.

After months of cleaning every tessera and adhering many fragments back together, the tesserae were mounted onto a new support made from solid Ethafoam, a chemically stable and dense foam (Figure 2). Each new column section support was reconstructed to the same measurements as the wire mesh and burlap supports. The previous use of plaster proved too rigid and heavy in the original mounting system, causing many cracks to develop in the plaster and tesserae to loosen over time. For these reasons, plaster was not used again, and the tesserae were mounted to the Ethafoam supports with an acrylic paste (Paraloid® B-72 (ethyl methacrylate (70%) and methyl acrylate (30%) copolymer) in acetone bulked with glass microspheres) toned black with dry pigments. This is lighter in weight compared to plaster, and compatible with the shell and stone materials. The black acrylic paste was made to resemble bitumen, a pine resin material used by the Mesopotamians to originally mount the tesserae to the c. 3rd Millennium BCE column.

Figure 2: Mounting process of column section #2. The cleaned and repaired tesserae are mounted to the Ethafoam cylindrical supports with Paraloid® B-72 (ethyl methacrylate (70%) and methyl acrylate (30%) copolymer) in acetone bulked with glass microspheres and toned black with dry pigments to mimic bitumen. Spatulas were used to spread the acrylic resin on the support and tesserae were imbedded into the mixture.

All four column sections stack and connect with an internal wooden dowel system. To accommodate the large areas that were once plaster restorations, our Photo Studio printed high resolution, archival images of the tesserae, which were custom scaled and fit to each column section (Figure 3). The digital photo fills integrate a complete mosaic design to give the appearance of a fully mosaicked column (Figure 4). This is a great example of how recent technological advancements help conservators with approaches to treatment and display options.

Figure 3: (From left), Conservation Interns Tessa Young, Alyssa Rina and Jennifer Mikes installing digital photo fills to the top and bottom mosaic column sections.

Figure 4: (a): Column section #2, after remounting tesserae. The locations with previous plaster reconstructions are padded with Volara (closed-cell polyethylene foam). (b): Column section #2 after pinning archival photo fill into place over the Volara.

The mosaic column, and over 1,500 objects await your visit in the Middle East Galleries (Figure 5)! To our visitors in the Artifact Lab who witnessed our many, many hours of treating these column sections, we thank you for your brilliant questions, comments and curiosity about the tesserae and our conservation process during our Open Window Sessions. You will find the assembled column has transformed into an impressive and complete piece, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Figure 5: Bob Thurlow (Special Projects Manager) and Marci Jefcoat Burton (Conservation Curriculum Intern) installing the four mosaic column sections in the Middle Eastern Gallery.

Ancient faces in the Middle East Galleries

Our new Middle East Galleries open next week and they will feature over 1200 artifacts from our collection, including many iconic objects like the Ram in the Thicket, the Bull-headed lyre, and Queen Puabi’s headdress. Oh, and for those of you who are always asking about our cuneiform tablets, do we have a treat in store for you – there are dozens and dozens in the galleries. The majority of the objects in the exhibition were excavated by Penn archaeologists, many nearly a century ago.

ALL of these objects came through our Conservation Labs to prepare them for the galleries and many needed significant treatment in order to ensure their stability for long-term display. Our Middle East Galleries (MEG) team has worked diligently and tirelessly on this project – you can read more about some aspects of this work on the Penn Museum blog here.

The triumphant column team poses next to the 4 recently conserved mosaic column drums from Tell al-‘Ubaid, Iraq. This project took months to complete.

In just over a week, visitors to the Museum will have the opportunity to get up close and personal with these newly-conserved objects. Everyone will be drawn to the highlight pieces mentioned above and here, but the other pieces are worth lingering over too. It’s usually impossible to see them as closely as we do during the conservation treatment process, so I thought I’d give you the opportunity to see 2 small but beautiful objects closer than you can in the galleries.

B8997 (left) and B9026 (right)

These 2 female figures, both excavated from Nippur, Iraq, will be on display in the same case in the Middle East Galleries. They’re small, just several inches long. The figure on the left was likely a doll which would have had articulated arms; you can see the holes where they were once attached. Fortunately, both artifacts required very little treatment. B8997, the figure on the left, does have a large, but stable crack that did not require any treatment. Examination under the binocular microscope revealed small amounts of burial dirt on both figures which had escaped previous cleaning campaigns, so both were carefully surface cleaned to remove this soil.

Detail of B9026 before (left) and after (right) cleaning, 7.5X magnification

As I worked on these figures, I captured some images with the camera attachment on our Leica microscope. Both objects are made of bone and are delicately carved. The reverse side of the doll’s head has an unworked area that nicely shows the cancellous (or spongy) bone features.

B8997 detail of front (left) and reverse (right), 7.5X magnification

Their time in the lab was brief – they only stayed for a day or 2. But in the midst of the hustle and bustle of preparing for these galleries, it’s nice to take a moment to appreciate the details.

The Middle East Galleries open to the public on Saturday, April 21. Our department has a few loose ends to wrap up with that project (and a few loose ends on the blog – stay tuned for a last blogpost on the mosaic column treatment) but we’re already turning to our next big tasks – the renovation of our Mexico & Central America Galleries, Africa Galleries, and Egyptian Galleries.

A glimpse of upcoming changes

There are a few new objects on display in the Artifact Lab this week, which give visitors a glimpse of upcoming changes in the museum.

Newly-installed case with objects slated for the renewed Mexico & Central American Gallery

These 4 pieces were recently conserved in the Artifact Lab to prepare them for installation in our forthcoming Mexico & Central America Gallery (from left to right: a stone metate from Costa Rica 11819, two burnished ceramic jars from Mexico 31-41-34 & 87-42-1132, and a ceramic tripod vessel from Costa Rica 2013-11-1) .

You can see many other objects that will be going into that gallery, both on display in our current Mexico and Central America Gallery as well as being worked on in the Artifact Lab.

Artifacts currently being treated in the Artifact lab.

Visit our Building Transformation website to learn more about this gallery, which will look something like this:

Treatment of a Huron cigar case

To prepare this jewel of a cigar case for exhibition, lifting and detaching moose hair and splits in the birch bark had to be stabilized.

Before treatment image showing the cigar case from the side, with arrows indicating lifting and detaching moose hair (red ) and splits in the birch bark (green)

A small piece of twisted Japanese tissue paper used to replace some of the missing threads

 

Some of the lifting moose hair was stabilized with dabs of 5% methyl cellulose. For the lifting moose hair around the edges of the case, much of this damage was exacerbated by the missing brown thread stitches. For these areas, after re-positioning the moose hair, I recreated the missing threads with twisted Japanese tissue paper fibers, toned with acrylic paint.

 

The fibers were adhered in place with Lascaux 498, an acrylic emulsion.

Before (left) and after (right) treatment images, with red arrows indicating the locations of the replacement stitches

Unstable splits in the birch bark were repaired from the interior with Japanese tissue and Lascaux 498. Additional support splints made of twisted Japanese tissue fibers were added to the exterior in one place on the lid.

Before (left) and after (right) treatment images of the lid. The red arrows indicate the location of the split and the repair splints used on the exterior.

The cigar case is now on exhibit in our Native American Voices gallery. I only learned after it was installed that it dates to 1850 – much older than I realized! Its age makes it an even more remarkable piece.

The cigar case on display in the Native American Voices gallery

Back in business

Saturday April 8th is the official reopening of the Artifact Lab, complete with a modified name and some new objects on exhibit and in the lab.

View of the Artifact Lab, ready for reopening on Saturday April 8th

The Artifact Lab: Conservation in Action looks a lot like it did before we closed in December, but as you can see from the shot above, our focus has shifted from Egyptian mummies and funerary objects to a wider range of artifacts, with a special focus on objects being prepared for installation in our Middle East Galleries next year.

This glazed clay slipper coffin from Nippur, excavated by our museum in the late 19th century, is front and center in the Artifact Lab:

The slipper coffin (B9220) on display in the Artifact Lab

It has a fascinating history, including its restoration here at the museum in the 1890s, which is noted on its catalog card as being carried out by the restorer William H. Witte. The restoration work allowed this coffin and several others to be displayed for the opening of the new museum building in 1899, where they remained on display for 40 years. We are particularly tickled that this coffin was displayed in this very same gallery where the Artifact Lab is now housed, the Baugh Pavilion.

The Baugh Pavilion, one of two galleries devoted to the museum’s Babylonian expeditions, as it appeared in 1899 with four slipper coffins on display. UPM Neg. #22428

118 years later, the slipper coffin has once again been installed in this space. It’s exhibition this time would not be possible without the extensive treatment carried out by conservator Julie Lawson in 2005. You can read more about its history and her work in her article in Expedition Magazine. For those interested in a more in-depth discussion of the conservation treatment, Julie also wrote an article that was published in the American Institute for Conservation’s Object Specialty Group Postprints, Volume 13, 2006.

There are many more stories to share about the objects and work being done and we’ll continue to write about them on our blog. In the meantime, come visit us now that we are open again! Our open window times also have changed slightly – they are now as follows:

Tuesday – Friday 11:00 – 11:30 and 1:30-2:00

Saturday – Sunday 12:00-12:30 and 3:00 – 3:30

Treating Djed-Hapi’s wrappings

Djed-Hapi’s mummy is in good condition overall. The outer linen wrappings are mostly stable and retain some flexibility, although folding or heavily manipulating them would cause them to tear. Several of the ends of the linen bands are loose, and some are slightly frayed. The linens around his feet, however, are more significantly damaged. You can see in this detail photo the bottom of his big toe is exposed where the linens have been damaged at the bottom of his feet.

View of the bottom of Djed-Hapi's feet. The red arrow points to his exposed toe!

View of the bottom of Djed-Hapi’s feet. The red arrow points to his exposed toe!

There are also lots of metal pins visible, which were used to secure areas of loose or falling linen. These pins belong to at least two campaigns of treatment. One set is of steel pins with flat heads, some of which were painted beige to hide them, but not until after they were already inserted in the linens and are now in some places stuck to the fabric. The other set is of black insect pins with brass heads. There is also evidence of adhesive used in a few places to secure loose linen pieces.

Detail of the linens on the right side of Djed-Hapi's body. The red circle highlights a metal insect pin, and the green oval shows where adhesive was used to reattached broken linen.

Detail of the linens on the right side of Djed-Hapi’s body. The red circle highlights the brass head of an insect pin, and the green oval shows where adhesive was used to reattach broken linen.

Archival photos of an old display case here at the museum reveal that Djed-Hapi was removed from his coffin and displayed separately at least once. Currently, there are areas of hislinen wrappings which are folded back or otherwise misaligned, and it is likely this occurred when he was replaced in his coffin after being removed.  I was concerned about the condition of these areas of Djed-Hapi’s linen wrappings, and I decided that removing him once again from his coffin would give me much better access to assess and treat these areas properly.

It took 5 people – one at the head, two at the shoulders/torso and two at the lower legs/ankles – working together to lift Djed-Hapi out of his coffin and on to a foam-covered board support. We took special care to support his loose ankles, and to keep the head from shifting.

Left and right views of Djed-Hapi, after removing him from his coffin base.

Left and right views of Djed-Hapi, after removing him from his coffin base.

To begin the conservation treatment, the exterior linens and cartonnage pieces were cleaned using a HEPA-filtered vacuum with variable suction and soft brush. Next, the pins in the linen wrappings were removed systematically. In total, 16 steel pins and 42 insect pins were removed!

Folds and creases in the linen wrappings were humidified and flattened using GORE-TEX fabric, which acts as a moisture barrier, allowing water vapor to permeate to the linen wrappings but preventing any liquid water from wetting and staining the linen. The linen was allowed to humidify for ~10-15 minutes. Then the areas were either lightly weighted, or clamped between sheets of Volara to flatten.

During (left) and after (right) humidifying and flattening creases in Djed-Hapi's linen wrappings.

During (left) and after (right) humidifying and flattening creases in Djed-Hapi’s linen wrappings.

These areas could then be realigned, and were stabilized using nylon bobbinet fabric. The bobbinet was painted out using acrylic paints to match the color of the linen, and cut into bands which were long enough to reach from one side of the cartonnage pieces, around the back and to the other side. These bands were secured using tabs of Japanese tissue also toned with acrylics. These tissue tabs were adhered to the bobbinet using 3% Klucel  in ethanol, then secured to the mummy using 5% methylcellulose in deionized water. The tabs were tucked under either the cartonnage chest and leg pieces, or the top layer of linen. A few small sections of lifted linen, particularly along the sides of the mummy, were realigned and adhered using Japanese tissue and 5% methylcellulose in deionized water.

On the left, a detail of tissue tabs on bobbinett. On the right, before (top) and after (bottom) humidification and realignment, followed by a bobbinett support.

On the left, a detail of tissue tabs on bobbinet. On the right, before (top) and after (bottom) humidification and realignment, followed by a bobbinet support.

Because of how damaged and distorted the cartonnage foot covering was, it was removed from the mummy and treated separately (I’ll talk about this in the next blog post). This also allowed me to better see the linen wrappings around Djed-Hapi’s feet, and treat them more successfully. The linens around the feet were also encapsulated using toned bobbinet. Separate strips were used to support the linen around the ankles, under the heels, around the tops of the feet and around the toes. These bands were stitched together using hairsilk toned with acrylic paint.

Before (left) and after (right) using toned bobbinet to stabilize and secure the linen wrappings around Djed-Hapi's feet.

Before (left) and after (right) using toned bobbinet to stabilize and secure the linen wrappings around Djed-Hapi’s feet.

Here is an annotated image showing the bobbinet bands, and the locations of all the removed pins:

After treatment annotated image of Djed-Hapi.

After treatment annotated image of Djed-Hapi.

You may notice this image also gives away a big decision I had to make regarding the treatment of Djed-Hapi’s mask….stay tuned for the next post to learn all about it!

 

  • Alexis North, Project Conservator

Say hello to Djed-Hapi

I apologize in advance for those of you who might be waiting for more updates on the Middle Kingdom boat model I started working on a while ago. That object was put aside temporarily to make room for all the pieces that recently came into the Artifact Lab when we deinstalled our Mummy Room and Secrets and Science galleries. While the cases in those galleries were reinforced to better withstand vibrations from the hospital construction next door, and new mounts designed and made for many of the objects, we were working hard to assess the condition of all the pieces, and treat them as necessary before the galleries reopened. This was a pretty short turn around, and several of us in the Conservation Department here chipped in to help make sure every object was looked at properly before they went back on display.

While most of the objects are in good condition, and only needed a little surface cleaning to remove accumulated dust, some needed much more complicated and detailed treatments. I began by looking at our mummy Djed-Hapi, who is the first mummy you see when you enter the Secrets and Science gallery.

Djed-Hapi, with his coffin lid and base (E3413A-C), in the Egyptian Mummies: Secrets and Science gallery.

Djed-Hapi, with his coffin lid and base (E3413A-C), in The Egyptian Mummy: Secrets and Science gallery.

As you can see, In the original case design Djed-Hapi rests in his coffin base, while the lid is suspended above on a metal shelf. Unfortunately, the coffin lid will not be returning to the case, as the shelf it used to rest on cannot withstand the level of vibrations which may occur. Don’t worry though! It will remain in the Artifact Lab and be conserved as part of a future treatment project.

As for Djed-Hapi himself, we know that he dates to the Ptolemaic period (305-30 CE). We know his name, and in fact the names of several of his family members, because of the hieroglyphs written on his coffin lid. Here is an archival image of Djed-Hapi’s coffin lid and base, and you can see all the text written on the lid:

Scan of an archival negative showing E3413B-C.

Scan of an archival negative showing E3413B-C.

He was x-rayed in 1980, and from these images we can tell that he was a man who lived into his 50s before he died. While these old x-ray images were serviceable, we decided to re-x-ray him in our digital x-ray suite here at the museum, because we felt we could get a better level of detail with the digital system.

Djed-Hapi getting his x-rays taken in 2016 (left) and 1980 (right).

Study of these x-rays revealed some very interesting facts about Djed-Hapi’s mummification. His head is completely detached from his body, cleanly separated between two of the vertebrae in his neck.

Detail of the 1980 x-radiograph of Djed-Hapi's head. The red arrow shows where his spinal column stops.

Detail of the 1980 x-radiograph of Djed-Hapi’s head. The red arrow shows where his spinal column stops.

This was not his cause of death, but happened during mummification, and seems intentional. Starting in the Ptolemaic Period, the mummification process shifted from removing the deceased’s brain through the nose, to removing it through the base of the skull. The x-rays also show that Djed-Hapi’s nasal cavity seems to be intact, so this change in the mummification process may be the reason Djed-Hapi’s head was removed, then replaced and carefully wrapped with the rest of the body. The decapitation is not visible from the exterior, and in fact his head and neck area are quite stable.

The x-rays also reveal a bit about the condition of Djed-Hapi’s body underneath the wrappings. His skeleton is well-articulated (except for his head of course), including all his finger and toe bones, and you can even see the soft tissue preserved, which implies the body is in good condition. However, a closer look at his ankles shows that there is a rather large gap between the distal ends of his tibiae (shin bones) and his tarsals (ankle bones). While there is no evidence of damage to the exterior of the linens, we can tell whenever we have to move the mummy that the ankle area has some movement. This is an issue which could lead to further damage in the future, so careful handling is required.

2016 x-ray of Djed-Hapi, showing well-preserved soft tissue. The red rectangle highlights the gap between the bones in his ankles.

Next up, I’ll discuss the conservation treatment of Djed-Hapi’s mummy, and his coffin base.

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

References:

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

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!

 

Meet Nespekashuti

When we returned Pinahsi to exhibit on Monday, we swapped him for another mummy in the same case, a mummified man named Nespekashuti.

Nespekashuti's coffin lid (far left) and Nespekashuti in his coffin box (at foot of lid)

Nespekashuti’s coffin lid (far left) and Nespekashuti in his coffin box (at foot of lid)

Unlike Pinahsi, we actually have Nespekashuti’s coffin (see image above), and we brought him into the lab in the coffin box. The lid will remain on exhibit for the meantime, but it will eventually also come to the Artifact Lab for treatment.

We have had Nespekashuti since 1893 – his remains and coffin were purchased from Emile Brugsch, a German Egyptologist and assistant curator at the time at the Bulaq Museum (now the Egyptian Museum).

Nespekashuti in his coffin in the lab.

Nespekashuti in his coffin in the lab.

We know this mummy’s name because the following is written on his coffin: “of the singing-master of Min, Nespekashuti, son of the singing-master of Min, Nespeneb…”. We can see his name in several places on the box – here is a detail:

Nespekashuti's name is boxed in red

Nespekashuti’s name is boxed in red

We have a lot more to learn about Nespekashuti, and as far as conservation treatment goes, I have my work cut out for me.