Back together again

Okay, I promised to write about the shabti box investigation in my next post, but before I do that, I have to share something exciting with all of you:

PUM I, our Third Intermediate Period mummy who was autopsied back in 1972, is back together again!

PUM I, before treatment in his coffin

PUM I, before treatment in his coffin

When he came into the lab, we didn’t realize how much he had been cut apart, and the extent to which his remains and linen wrappings had deteriorated. We have spent a lot of time examining this mummy, researching his history including his autopsy, cleaning the deteriorated linen and human remains, identifying and inventorying the remains (thanks to Penn undergraduate Christine Lugrine), and conserving the linen wrappings.

The conservation work on his remains is nearly complete, and he will soon leave the Artifact Lab. Come visit the lab for one last glimpse, and check out the before and after photos below.

Overall shot of PUM I before and after conservation

Overall shot of PUM I before and after conservation

View from the top of PUM I (with head removed) before and after conservation

View from the top of PUM I, with head removed, before conservation (with remains in plastic bag inside the chest cavity) and after conservation (with Ethafoam supports filling out chest cavity)

Inside the chest cavity of PUM I before and after conservation

Inside the chest cavity of PUM I before and after conservation (with Ethafoam supports)

Another view looking inside PUM I before and after conservation

Another view looking inside PUM I before and after conservation (with Ethafoam supports)

Remains removed during autopsy before and after conservation/re-housing

Remains removed during autopsy before and after conservation/re-housing



Field trip!

Sometimes getting started on a conservation treatment requires getting out of the lab for a bit, so this week, my colleague Julie Lawson and I took a field trip down to Baltimore to visit the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum and chat mummy treatments with their Curator/Conservator, Sanchita Balachandran. Sanchita and I connected at the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) annual meeting back in June – I had read about a treatment that she carried out on a human mummy at the museum, and when we realized that we both had animal mummies in our labs as well, we decided we’d get together for a brainstorming session to discuss treatment approaches, materials, and storage options for these fragile objects.

Julie Lawson admires artifacts in one of the cases in the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum

Julie Lawson admires artifacts in one of the cases in the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum

The Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum is nestled in the center of the Johns Hopkins Homewood Campus in Baltimore, in a beautifully-renovated building, surrounded by classrooms and light-filled student study spaces. The museum was established in 1882 and since its founding, has been dedicated to inspiring and teaching students at the university.

One of the main features of the museum is the display of archaeological objects from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, the Near East, and the ancient Americas, displayed in glass case walls, allowing students, faculty, and visitors to view these pieces and peer into the museum itself.

museum2_compThe museum also displays pieces on loan, including an ancient Egyptian mummy from Goucher College.

Goucher mummyThis was the mummy that I had read about and was curious to learn more about from Sanchita. The Goucher mummy is an adult female mummy from the Ptolemaic Period (305-30 BCE), and I knew some details of the treatment from Sanchita’s article in the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation (JAIC), but this was a great opportunity for me to see this mummy up-close and to ask Sanchita more about how she approached this treatment and the specific materials and techniques she used. Since we are in the middle of working on the treatment of our mummy PUM I here in the Artifact Lab, this conversation was very timely.

Detail of the Stabiltex encapsulating the feet of the Goucher mummy

Detail of the Stabiltex encapsulating the feet of the Goucher mummy

The Goucher mummy has a fascinating history that I won’t get into here, but you can learn more about her in the “Object Stories” section of the museum’s website by following this link. One of the things I was curious to discuss more with Sanchita was her use of Stabiltex, a sheer polyester fabric, to protect fragile areas of the mummy’s wrappings, and the design and construction of the support the mummy is currently resting on in the exhibit. As I said, we’re working on encapsulating PUM I’s outer linen wrappings in a similar way, but using a different type of sheer netting fabric. After discussing techniques with Sanchita and seeing how successful her treatment of the Goucher mummy was, I returned to the Artifact Lab feeling good about our approach to PUM I’s treatment!

Sanchita also pulled out several animal mummies that she is currently working on, including these cuties:

Cat (above) and dog (below) mummies

Cat (above) and dog (below) mummies

We discussed the challenges of dealing with such fragile linen wrappings and our experiences with and use of different adhesives, as well as techniques for encapsulating fragile areas. Sanchita also showed us their handling and storage mounts, which go a long way in protecting these artifacts.

Sanchita lifts an ibis mummy from its storage box using a handling tray

Sanchita lifts an ibis mummy from its storage box using a handling tray

After discussing mummies at length, Sanchita took us back into their storage area, where we had the opportunity to see additional Egyptian artifacts, including several painted wood artifacts with a variety of condition problems. As readers to this blog may know, we have our own fair share of challenging painted wooden artifacts, including Tawahibre’s coffin, so I was eager to see how Sanchita was approaching the treatment of these pieces as well.

Sanchita and Julie in storage

Sanchita and Julie in storage

All in all, it was a fun and productive day! These types of professional exchanges are incredibly valuable, and I’m not only inspired to tackle some treatments and try new things back in the lab, but to make more time in the future to visit other colleagues and collections. A huge thanks to Sanchita for hosting us and for sharing so much about her work at Johns Hopkins.



For over 10 years, our museum has organized an “Anthropologists in the Making” Summer Camp, and today we hosted 66 of these summer campers in the Artifact Lab for an afternoon of conservation training.

IALSummerCamp1This year the camp is being held over 8 weeks, with different themes each week, including Can you Dig it?, all about archaeology, and Visions and Dreams, which explores the significance of dreams and the roles of shamans and mystics (this one is coming up in August).

The camp theme this week is Mummies Unwrapped so of course we had to give the campers a taste (but not literally) of mummy conservation, in addition to what they are learning about mummies and ancient Egypt.

We organized 3 different activities for the 7-13 year olds (they were split into 2 groups according to age) to test their hand and observation skills. All 3 activities were created to mimic some of the work that we’ve been doing in the Artifact Lab, including:

– an excavation station, which challenged the campers to pick out the remains of a beaded shroud from a bin of mummy debris (similar to recovering PUM I’s beads)


– a cleaning station, where campers tried different cleaning tests to remove dirt from a painted ceramic tile (like the cleaning that we’ve been doing on our painted coffin of Tawahibre)


– a materials ID station, where the campers had the opportunity to examine “mystery” materials under magnification and then had to identify what they were looking at (an example of one of the material ID challenges we’ve encountered in the lab can be found here)

A camper compares reference materials to the magnified image of the "mystery" material on the monitor

A camper compares reference materials to the magnified image of the “mystery” material on the monitor

For each activity, we had the kids fill out worksheets to record their observations, to give them a sense of the documentation involved in our work. Before moving on to the next station, each camper needed to get their supervising conservator to sign off on their worksheet. On their way out the door, all campers received certificates declaring them “Junior Conservators for-the-day”.

certificateWe had lots of fun, not only preparing for the camp

Arts and crafts day in the Artifact Lab (left) and the painted tiles before "dirtying" them for the campers (right)

Arts and crafts day in the Artifact Lab (left) and the painted tiles before “dirtying” them for the campers (right)

but also working with the kids at each of the stations. We were impressed with their observations and how quickly they picked up on each activity (rolling swabs can be hard at first!). Special thanks to our Education Department and to all of the summer campers for increasing our department more than tenfold for the afternoon!



Preparing to “re-wrap” PUM I

It’s been a busy week in the Artifact Lab, and I was fortunate to have lots of help from our University of Delaware pre-program intern Melissa Miller and our summer graduate intern from Cardiff University’s conservation program, Anna O’Neill.

Anna O'Neill repairs the linen on one side of PUM I's body

Anna O’Neill repairs the linen on one side of PUM I’s body

As I’ve written about previously, I have been working on the stabilization of some of PUM I’s linen on his head, chest, and body. You can read a little more about it by following this link.

This week, Melissa, Anna and I continued to relocate and repair detached linen fragments from the outer shroud and the narrow bands wrapped around PUM I (thanks to Tom Stanley in our Public Relations office, there’s a great photo of us doing this work on the museum’s facebook page). Just to give you an idea of what is involved, here are some photos documenting the process:

From top left: detached linen before reattaching with strips of Japanese tissue paper (indicated by red arrows), after reattachment, and after rejoining with the rest of the surrounding linen

From top left: detached linen before reattaching with strips of Japanese tissue paper (indicated by red arrows), after reattachment, and after rejoining with the rest of the surrounding linen

All of this work is in preparation for the encapsulation of PUM I’s outer shroud using nylon bobbinett, or netting. Encapsulating the mummy with a sheer material like the nylon netting will help to hold many of these fragile areas together and will provide support and protection for this very deteriorated fabric, BUT because it is so sheer, it will still allow details of the linen to be seen. I used a similar technique to protect the linen on the “feet” of our falcon mummy (see our post about this here).

The nylon netting is white, so we need to tone it to a color similar to the linen before use. Yesterday, Anna worked diligently to find an appropriate color – here is a shot of her color matching and testing in progress:

PUMI toning nettingRe-creating the color of “mummy cloth” is harder than you’d think – the linen is not all the same color, so we need to find a color that will blend in well with the various shades.

In the upcoming weeks we hope to start “re-wrapping” PUM I and then begin the process to reassemble all of his various pieces. As usual, there’s always something exciting to see in the Artifact Lab!


Special visitor to the Artifact Lab

Last week, we had a special visitor in the Artifact Lab. We recently managed to track down the person who performed PUM I’s autopsy – Dr. Michael Zimmerman. Back in 1972, Dr. Zimmerman was head of pathology at the University Hospital, and PUM I was the first mummy he helped autopsy at the Penn Museum (and one of the first mummies to be autopsied in this way in the world). Dr. Zimmerman went on to receive a PhD in anthropology and is now well known as a paleopathologist who has studied over 200 mummies from around the world.

Dr. Michael Zimmerman performing the autopsy in 1972 (left image, on left) and just last week, visiting PUM I in the Artifact Lab

Dr. Michael Zimmerman performing the autopsy in 1972 (left image, on left) and just last week, visiting PUM I in the Artifact Lab

We posted more information about this on the Museum blog last week. For those of you who didn’t see this article, please check it out! You can access it by following this link.


Screaming mummies

Melissa Miller, our talented undergraduate intern from the University of Delaware, recently created a series of prints in her Intro to Printmaking class – inspired by…you guessed it…mummies!

For one of her projects, she was instructed to make a zinc plate etching of something emotionally significant to her. We have really made Melissa get down and dirty with our mummy PUM I – one of her projects in the Artifact Lab has been to sort through the bag that was found inside PUM I’s chest, which, as it turns out, was filled with fragments of textile from his wrappings, along with bones, fragments of skin and other soft tissue, and even a few more beads that originally made up his beaded shroud.

Just some of the materials that came out of that bag we found in PUM I’s chest

So it shouldn’t be surprising that Melissa may feel a bit…affected…by this subject. Here is one of her first prints:

Melissa’s first “Screaming Mummy” drypoint etching

Melissa chose to create an image of this particular “screaming mummy”, also known as Unknown Man E, for her project because of his dramatic expression, which inspired her to look into the context in which he was buried. Unknown Man E was discovered in the Valley of the Kings, which implies his high status. He was buried with a sheepskin, which was considered by the ancient Egyptians to be ritually unclean, and his organs were not removed, indicating that his body did not receive the traditional mummification treatment. It has been suggested that this man may have been Prince Pentewere, son of Ramses III. According to historians, Pentewere was involved in an assassination scheme against his father, the pharaoh, which was very recently declared to have been successful. After Pentewere’s trial he was permitted to kill himself. Such circumstances may explain Unknown Man E’s curious burial, and as some would suggest, the expression of horror on his mummified face.

While this seems to be a believable theory, as Mark Rose explains in his article “Screaming Mummies”, this open-mouthed expression is also found on other mummies, and may not be reflective of the circumstances of death or the expression on a person’s face at the time of death. For more on this subject, a link to this article can be found in the Learn More section of this site.

Whatever the truth may be, the image of Unknown Man E drew Melissa’s attention and, as she said, made him the perfect subject for her printmaking project.

After her first etching, she applied an aquatint, which allowed her to achieve a wider variety of grey tones. It also gave the image a grainy texture – which Melissa felt added a desirable ghastly feeling to the image.

Screaming mummy etching with aquatint

Finally, she achieved higher contrast between the darks and lights by re-etching some of the lines and enhancing the aquatint, producing this image:

The final, ghastly, image

All three of these images can be found side-by-side in the Fun Stuff section of our blog. I’d like to extend a special thanks to Melissa for her help with this post, and her creativity!



Mystery solved!

Hello again. Melissa the intern here! One of the things I love about working in the Artifact Lab is that every day is like a new Sherlock Holmes novel! For my latest project I have been investigating and treating a 4 x 4 ½ inch piece of paper associated with PUM I’s remains. This paper was believed to be a train ticket – according to museum documents the research group who autopsied PUM I in 1972 found “a 100 year old railway ticket stuffed into a hole in the chest (someone must have felt that the mummy needed a ticket for its trip to the United States in the 19th century).”

When we brought PUM I and his remains up to the Artifact Lab for conservation treatment, this piece of paper was found in a plastic bag along with some of his ribs.

The “train ticket” in a bag with PUM I’s ribs

By the time I got to examine the paper, it was extremely folded and bent, which made reading the text very difficult.

The piece of paper after removing it from the plastic bag

It was clear, however, that half the text was written in French and the other half was written in Arabic. In order to make the smaller print more legible, I relaxed and reduced the creases in the paper by humidifying it, using Mylar polyester film, damp blotter paper, and Gortex, a material made of expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) that allows water to pass through as a vapor. By humidifying the paper, the creases and folds began to relax, and with the help of gravity and some weights I was able to flatten the paper into its original shape.

Paper after humidifying and relaxing

After completing the humidification treatment, it became much easier to read the smaller print. Unfortunately I have very limited experience with reading French and even less with Arabic. But thanks to Google translate I was able to not only translate the text, but determine that both the French and Arabic portions of the paper say the same thing. The text reads something like this:

April 15 Wednesday

Sunrise       in           5 h. 29 m.     Time

Sunset     Cairo       6 h. 21 m.      Average

Add 5 h. 39 m. hours the average time for the Arab hours

17 Moharrem 1321          7 Barmouda 1619

Everything seemed to make sense, but the words Moharrem and Barmouda did not have English translations. Since these proper nouns were associated with numbers, such as 1321 and 1619, I assumed they had something to do with dates. As it turns out Moharrem refers to the first month of the Muslim calendar and Barmouda, otherwise known as Parmouti, refers to the 8th month of the Coptic calendar, which lies between April 9th and May 8th. The first question that popped into my head was “why would both these dates be on the same paper?” Upon converting the Muslim date into a Coptic date, I realized that they were actually the same day! Knowing this, it seemed reasonable to assume that 17 Moharrem and 7 Barmouda is also the same as April 15th in the Gregorian calendar. The question now was what year these dates converted to in the Gregorian calendar, since this isn’t written on the paper. According to, a calendar conversion site, 1321 in the Muslim Calendar and 1619 on the Coptic calendar equals to 1903 on the Gregorian calendar-so the date on this page is April 15, 1903. Fittingly, this is the year before PUM I was displayed at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904!

Ultimately, this translation does not seem like something you would find on a train ticket. In fact, all the evidence seems to imply that this paper was more like a page in a calendar. So either PUM I was shipped from Cairo with both a calendar page and a train ticket, which we have not yet located, or the 1972 autopsy group misidentified the paper. Either way it has been a very exciting project!

More about those beads

Hello fellow readers! My name is Melissa Miller and I am pleased to say I recently began interning in the Artifact Lab here at the Penn Museum. I am currently a junior at the University of Delaware studying art conservation and anthropology. Needless to say when I heard about the In the Artifact Lab project, I jumped at the opportunity to help out in any way I could. Who wouldn’t love the opportunity to work with 4,000 year old human remains and funerary objects?

Melissa working at the binocular microscope, as viewed from outside of the lab

So far I have spent my first two weeks here doing everything from making support cushions for PUM I’s chest wrappings to making impressions of scarab beetle amulets. Currently, I am examining the beads Molly and the other conservators found in PUM I’s coffin and remains. There are two kinds; tubular and circular. Molly also pointed out to me several areas on the leg and face wrappings of PUM I where there are distinctive impressions of beads in a diamond shaped pattern. This has led us to believe that PUM I had a beaded shroud! Beaded shrouds became popular in the 25th dynasty and continued until the Roman period, and both men and women have been found with these decorations.

Being buried with a beaded shroud would have been very expensive due to cost of materials and labor, and imitations were sometimes made by painting the diamond pattern on the mummy or with a net of knotted string. It is evident, however, that PUM I had a real beaded shroud, which indicates that he was probably wealthy in his lifetime. This surprised me because PUM I is in pretty poor condition and his coffin (which admittedly may not be his original burial case) has little to no decoration.

Three tubular beads recovered from the bottom of PUM I’s coffin

The beads themselves, especially the tubular beads, are encrusted with some mysterious substances and soil particulates. On some of the larger tubular beads, there is a white crystalline substance on the exterior – likely salt. Were it not for small sections on the tubular beads without this encrustation it would be difficult to see the material underneath. The material below is glassy and dark blue in color. This leads me to think that they are made of Egyptian faience, which is defined as a glazed, non-clay ceramic. To me that means that faience is a sort of cross between ceramic and glass technology. The smaller beads also appear to be faience, but in different colors, including this red bead:

As seen in the image above, some of the beads also have a granular, slightly waxy, light-dark brown substance on their surfaces-this mysterious substance is also present in some areas on the surface of PUM I’s wrappings. It can be removed rather easily from the beads, especially with the help of some mineral spirits, and as you can see it tends to come off in substantial chunks.

There are at least a few possible scenarios that would explain its presence.

1) It could have been a part of the technology of the time to adhere the beads to the mummy. In fact, there is 1 circular bead adhered/stuck to the surface of PUM I’s wrappings, which we found after some initial cleaning! However, it seems to be stuck on in kind of a strange location, and we are finding that it was more common to sew or tie these beaded shrouds in place.

A red circular bead stuck to the linen on the side of PUM I’s chest

2)  It could be the remains of a wax or other adhesive method that was known to be used by Petrie, and likely other archaeologists, to fix the beads in place during excavation and recovery. As was usually the case, their original thread had long since disintegrated, so this method would allow the beads to be removed from the mummy in one piece, without losing their organization. To compare, we examined some beads in storage that are stuck together with wax-they were most likely acquired this way.

Beads stuck together with wax – note the dark, shiny appearance of the wax, quite different from what we’re seeing on PUM I’s beads.

3) The substance may be related to a material intentionally applied to the mummy at the time of mummification.

4) The substance accumulated sometime after burial.

As of right now I am not sure what this substance is and what purpose it may have served, but Molly and I will be investigating the beads and this mystery further. I will keep you updated as we learn more!


More pieces of PUM I

We are continuing to work on our mummy PUM I (more interesting details on him here) and last week, our new intern, Melissa Miller, and I removed a plastic bag that had been placed in his chest cavity, presumably after his autopsy in 1972.

The plastic bag inside PUM I’s chest, before removal

In this plastic bag, we are finding large pieces of linen from his inner and outer wrappings-some of these pieces also bear impressions of the beaded shroud that once lay over his body.

The plastic bag after removal, filled with textile fragments

It is evident that these pieces of fabric were cut away (and some probably fell off) and removed during the autopsy, and they were placed in this bag and then inside the chest to fill this area out a bit after the procedure.

In this process, we also decided to remove the upper portion of the wrappings over PUM I’s chest – they were completely cut off during the autopsy and then replaced, to make him look whole again. Once we determined we could safely lift them away from the rest of the body, we decided to go for it!

The detached wrappings from PUM I’s chest area, after removal

Removing this large segment of wrappings will allow us to better examine their condition, and also to examine the condition of the textile wrappings on the other side of the body, which are now partially visible. There are lots of other interesting, and unexpected things that we’re finding, and other great shots to share – we will continue to provide updates!


Traces of a beaded shroud

Holiday lethargy? Blustery, wintery weather? No matter-it’s business as usual this week in the Artifact Lab. I really enjoy my job, so I don’t feel like I need any extra motivation to come to work, but it helps that this week I’m working on a pretty interesting recent discovery-something that we found following the removal of PUM I from his coffin last week (see our earlier blogposts on this).

Action shot of our conservation team lifting PUM I from his coffin

PUM I is an unidentified individual, who, until last week, was lying in his rectangular wooden coffin. He had been removed before, for autopsy in 1971/72 (the details are a bit sparse), and his body has been significantly disturbed, cut into, and many of his internal remains are now removed from his body. Needless to say, he doesn’t look his best, and I assumed that any associated burial items were long gone by now. Our hope is that CT-scanning will reveal anything that may have been included or left behind in his wrappings that wasn’t disturbed through this previous work.

So we were pretty surprised when, after lifting his body from the coffin, we found a small bead on the bottom of the coffin, and then another, and now we have recovered 21 small beads. Some of these beads are tubular and others are circular, all with a hole through the center.

20 of the beads found in PUM I’s coffin (shot taken before the 21st bead was found)

Having the mummy out of the coffin also allowed us to examine the wrappings much more closely-it is now evident that there stains and impressions on the wrappings that show a diamond-shaped pattern:

The diamond-shaped pattern visible on the surface of the linen wrappings

This diamond-shaped pattern is a typical design for many beaded shrouds-we have a portion of a beaded shroud here on exhibit in the museum which has this pattern. You can see a photo of this object, along with more information, on our online collections database.

Finally, we returned to look at some old x-rays (from 1932) that we recently had scanned from the museum archives, which showed that the beads were indeed once lying on the wrappings.

1932 X-ray of PUM I. The beads appear on the film, indicated here with red circles.

Looks like the beads that we just found were part of a beaded shroud that once covered PUM I’s wrappings. THIS IS VERY EXCITING!

We will continue to examine these beads to determine what they are made of-they are definitely made of a glassy substance-probably faience. We are also carefully documenting the impressions on the linen wrappings so that we can try to reconstruct what the beaded shroud may have looked like. We will provide updates as we learn more.