by Tessa de Alarcon with images by Alexis North, Molly Gleeson, and Christy Ching
We recently de-installed two stone sarcophagi from Egypt from the upper Egypt gallery at the Museum: E15415 and E16133. These pieces are slated for reinstall in the new Egyptian and Nubia Galleries and will likely need extensive treatment before they go back on display. This is why they have come off display, so that we can assess their condition and evaluate what needs to be done for the new gallery. For both pieces, we need to check the stability of the previous treatments. Both have previous joins and fills that were done before the formation of the conservation department. This means that we have no records for when these treatments were done or the materials that were used to reconstruct the stone and fill the losses.
In the case of E15415, this meant we needed to see the underside. We brought in Harry Gordon, a sculptor and professional rigger, to build a wooden cradle or cribbing and then lift the piece and flip it so we could see the joins and fills from the other side.
When we flipped the object over and took the plinth it had been sitting on off, we found an additional puzzle. The piece has had a plexiglass vitrine over it for quite many years to protect it while on display. However, that has not always been the case, it used to be uncovered in the gallery. It seems that prior to the placement of the vitrine some visitors took advantage of the small gap between the stone and the wooden plinth below it to slide things under the object.
In a way, this has made this object a sort of time capsule. We found a number of things that had been hidden under the sarcophagus including a coupon for Secret deodorant (worth 5 cents), a program for the Graduation Exercises for the University of Pennsylvania Oral Hygiene Class of 1967, a museum map from the when the museum was called The University Museum, a votive candle donation envelope for the church of St. John the Evangelist Sacred Heart Shrine, a scrap of paper with dishes on it, and two black and white photographs. While some of these things are easily identifiable, like the program and the coupon others are more of a mystery.
I personally find the photos the most interesting. They look like shots perhaps from a photo booth. This is based on their size and format and that each has a torn edge (one at the top and the other at the bottom) suggesting that they may have been part of a longer whole or strip of images. Who is the subject in each image? Were the photos discarded because the owner or owners didn’t like them? Were they taken at an event or party at the Museum? Were the photos captured at the same event or in the same photo booth (if they are indeed from a photo booth)? They are similar in size and format, but that doesn’t mean they relate to one another. Were they taken somewhere else and discarded during a visit to the Museum? I have only questions and no answers, but my hope is that by sharing these images maybe someone reading this will know or recognize them and be willing to tell us more.