Transformation Tuesday

Inspired by our Building Transformation campaign, we are starting a series on this blog called Transformation Tuesday. At least one Tuesday a month, we will write a post featuring conservation projects underway that are contributing to the Penn Museum’s Building Transformation, along with interesting tidbits that we are learning about the collection and the Museum building as we work.

For instance, we are in the process of fully documenting the architectural elements of the palace of Merenptah currently on display in the Lower Egyptian Gallery, in preparation for the future reinstallation of this material on the 3rd floor of the museum. This includes documentation and research on a variety of levels, and just last week, the palace elements were laser scanned** in order to document them as accurately as possible before they are moved.

Black and white targets placed around the Lower Egyptian Gallery as part of the laser scanning process (left) and the scanning of a column in progress (right)

To supplement the laser scanning, we are creating condition maps of each of the architectural elements. These are big pieces, so it requires us getting up on a lift so that we can examine all surfaces of the columns, gateways, and doorways.

Last week, we began by examining and documenting one of the palace doorways. We always thought that this doorway had been up since 1926 like the rest of the palace, but in the photographs from the opening of the Lower Egyptian Gallery in 1926, this doorway isn’t there!

Lower Egyptian Gallery in 1926 (left) and in 2017 (right). Note that the doorway on the far right in the 2017 image (indicated by the red arrow) is not in the 1926 photo.

We know that the Lower Egyptian Gallery opened on May 19, 1926. So when was that doorway installed? Well, when we got up on the lift to examine it from above, we could see that there were some very minor differences in the way that it was installed, but we also saw a scrap of newspaper stuck between the plaster restoration on one side and the wall.

A piece of newspaper wedged between the wall board and plaster restoration and the wall behind the doorway.

And this piece of newspaper has a date on it! It is a scrap from the Philadelphia Bulletin dated to Thursday July 22, 1926. So it seems that they intended on installing the doorway for the opening, but may have run out of time, and installed it just a couple months later. This isn’t a huge revelation, but it is an example of some of the fun investigating that we do as part of our work to reconstruct the history of our galleries and the objects that are installed in them.

Stay tuned for more Transformation Tuesday blogposts!

**The laser scanning of the palace of Merenptah was funded through a generous grant from the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) Antiquities Endowment Fund (AEF) which was established though a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Unwrapping mummies?

If there is one thing that I try to emphasize to visitors to the Artifact Lab, it is that we are NOT unwrapping or cutting open mummies. While this type of examination may have been appropriate and acceptable in the past (think PUM I) we don’t do this anymore. As you may gather from the title of this blog and our project, we are focusing on the conservation of our mummies, and we do this by aiming to use non-invasive and reversible examination and treatment techniques as much as possible. Our ability to carry out our work with much less interventive procedures than those used in the past is due in part to advances in technology. And when you see what is possible with new technology, you can see why autopsying mummies just doesn’t, errr…cut it.

Take, for example, one of our mummies that was CT-scanned back in 2009.

Hapi-Men on display in the Secrets and Science exhibit

Hapi-Men on display in the Secrets and Science exhibit (Hapi-Puppy is by his feet!)

As part of a larger CT-scanning project funded by the National Science Foundation, Hapi-Men, along with his puppy (Hapi-Puppy) was CT-scanned at the Department of Radiology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) (a special thanks to Felicia Williams and Erica Durham for this work!).

Although Hapi-Men had been x-rayed in the past, this type of examination is limited in that it does not provide much detail of any of the preserved soft tissue and other materials (like amulets) included in the mummy’s wrappings. But CT-scans can help reveal these details, and they also allow for 3D reconstructions, like the one you can see below, created by Penn graduate Samantha Cox under the supervision of Dr. Janet Monge.

CT-scanning, combined with other imaging techniques such as photogrammetry and laser scanning, leads to some pretty amazing virtual representations of mummies. Most recently, such work has been carried out in a collaborative effort between The Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, a group of Swedish visualization researchers, FARO (a 3D technology company) and Autodesk (a software company focusing on 3D design). This collaboration has resulted not only in the capture of new information for researchers, but the creation of an interactive exhibition for museum visitors, scheduled to open in Stockholm in February 2014. The interactive part of the exhibit, created using Inside Explorer will allow both museum staff and visitors to use simple gestures to virtually unwrap the mummies and to explore their multiple burial components.

You can read more about this exciting project, and see several images and videos of the process by following this link.

Our current work to conserve the mummies and funerary items In the Artifact Lab will stabilize some of these fragile objects enough to allow us to CT-scan them, and hopefully so that we can create some of our very own interactive exhibition features in the future.