And…he’s out!

PUM I is out of his coffin, and all in one piece (well, the part that we lifted from the coffin is still in one piece-as you know, parts of his body, including his head, were separated decades ago during his autopsy).

PUM I after removal from his coffin

We were able to remove him successfully thanks to great teamwork by our conservation staff (we had 8 people, including myself, helping with the lift) and the assistance of this nifty vacuum mattress:

Our EMS IMMOBILE-VAC mattress resting on the floor, prior to inflating

The EMS Immobile-Vac is a lightweight mattress that is used in the medical field to immobilize patients. Once a person is lifted onto the mattress, it is shaped into the configuration required and made rigid using vacuum suction. This was our first time using our Immobile-Vac, so before using it to support PUM I, we tested it on a human subject it to see if it would provide gentle yet rigid support for our mummy. Lynn Grant kindly offered to be the guinea pig, and reported that she barely felt anything as we pulled the vacuum and the mattress was shaped around her (I wish I had a photo of this step-I think one can be located, and if so, I will definitely be sharing it).

Happy with the performance of the Immobile-Vac, we moved on to the main task-getting PUM I out of his coffin. PUM I was lifted out by first supporting him within the coffin from below with pieces of coroplast to provide some rigidity, followed by large pieces of soft Tyvek, which acted as a stretcher. Using the Tyvek, he was lifted directly onto the Immobile-Vac mattress, which we had left pre-shaped – turns out, Lynn’s body provided just the right contour for our mummy, and no further re-shaping of the mattress was required at this point.

The Immobile-Vac shaped to provide support for PUM I

Now that he’s out, we are able to examine him much more closely, and we are already making interesting observations and discoveries. More on that soon.


Picking up the pieces of PUM I

I’ve mentioned before that we have several mummies in the Artifact Lab, but only one complete adult mummy, that we call PUM I (read more about him here).

PUM I, our adult male mummy in the Artifact Lab

I’m using the word “complete” here a little loosely, or perhaps very loosely, because while we appear to have most of his remains, and on first glance PUM I appears to be more or less all in one piece, we recently found out that he is pretty fragmentary. Many of his internal remains are currently housed in plastic bags

Bags containing the desiccated remains of PUM I

and we recently realized that his head is completely detached from the rest of his body.

Why is PUM I so fragmentary? Well, his poor condition is due in part to the fact that he was autopsied back in 1971. PUM I’s autopsy was conducted at the university by a group of distinguished researchers who it seems were not yet very experienced in the study of ancient human remains. Unfortunately, one of their first forays into this work (PUM I’s autopsy) was reported as being an “unmitigated disaster”. They noted that the body was poorly preserved, without personal data or provenance, and their findings in the end, were minimal. And we have yet to locate any substantial records produced by the researchers during this study, so we don’t know exactly what they did-we only see the result of their work. Fortunately for other mummies, these researchers learned a lot from this experience and went on to conduct other much more successful autopsies.

But what about PUM I? After the autopsy, PUM I was laid back into his wood coffin, where he has remained ever since; his remains and linen wrappings continuing to deteriorate. In the Artifact Lab, we have made it our goal to remove PUM I from his coffin so that we can fully understand his condition, thoroughly document his remains, and stabilize them as much as possible. Within the next couple days, PUM I will be out of his coffin-we’ll report on our progress later this week!


Mummies, Mannequins and Wanamaker’s

Okay, bear with me here-I’m going to explain the connection between one of the mummies here in the Artifact Lab, Wanamaker’s Department store, and the 1987 movie Mannequin.

PUM (Philadelphia University Museum) I is a mummy lying in a wood coffin, dating to 840-820 BCE. The mummy and coffin were exhibited at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and subsequently purchased by John Wanamaker as a gift for the museum. They were packed and shipped directly to the museum in early 1905. This is what PUM I looked like soon after arriving to the museum (click here) and this is what PUM I looks like now:

PUM I in his coffin

We don’t know who PUM I was-there are no identifying marks that are visible on the wrappings or coffin. We do know, however, that this person was a man-the body was x-rayed in 1932 and also autopsied early on by cutting a section of the wrappings away from the pelvic region, and determined to be an older man. Each end of the coffin does have some painted decoration-one end depicting Isis and the other her sister Nephthys, as protectors of the mummy.

One end of PUM I’s coffin showing the depiction of Isis in the center

One of our goals this year in the Artifact Lab will be to remove the deteriorated remains from the coffin and stabilize them for transport to the hospital for CT-scanning, so that we can learn more about this individual.

What does this have to do with mannequins, you’re wondering? Well, as most people in Philadelphia know, John Wanamaker, the man who purchased and donated PUM I to the Penn Museum, was a businessman from Philadelphia who founded the first department store here, Wanamaker’s. Last week my mom and I wandered into the old Wanamaker’s in Center City, now a Macy’s. It’s a beautiful building with the world’s largest playable organ (also built for the 1904 St. Louis World Fair), which is played every day of the week except for Sunday, as well as more often on special occasions.

My mom reminded me that one of my favorite childhood films, Mannequin, was filmed in the store, and it made me want to watch it again-it’s been a long time since I last saw it. But only today did it dawn on me that there is another reason to watch it, and it’s related (very loosely) to work: the mannequin character, played by Kim Cattrall, is from Ancient Egypt, living in the year 2514 BC, and the film begins in Egypt.

Kim Cattrall bandaged as a mummy at the beginning of the movie

If this doesn’t make you want to watch the movie, I don’t know what will. Alternatively, you could come check out PUM I in the Artifact Lab. We’ll let you know when we make a move to get him out of his coffin.

Posted by Molly