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!

What do the conservators do when they’re *not* in the Artifact Lab?

Molly Gleeson, the primary project conservator for the Artifact Lab is on vacation so, if you come by over the next little while, one of the other staff conservators (Julie Lawson, Nina Owczarek and I – Lynn Grant) will be taking turns being the Conservator on Duty. While there, we work on the same sorts of projects that Molly does but you might wonder what we do when it’s not our turn in the fishbowl. With a collection of over a million artifacts, there’s plenty to keep three (or even 30, if we just had room) busy. Because Penn Museum’s collections are so large, we have to prioritize what we work on. The conservation treatments we’re working on right now are mostly for objects going on exhibition (mainly Native American artifacts for an exhibition opening in a year), or on loan (we loan artifacts to Museums all over the world; this fall we’ve worked on objects going to New York, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Spain, Amsterdam, Switzerland, and Taiwan, to name just a few) or artifacts being photographed for publication.

One of the places conservator Lynn Grant spent time recently: an art storage warehouse in Connecticut where some of our collections were stored (white crates).

In addition, we work very closely with other Museum staff on preventative conservation (see Molly’s earlier blog post, to keep our collections in the best possible condition. This means monitoring storage conditions, artifacts on exhibition, advising on materials used in display, and many other tasks. These don’t always happen in the Museum, either. We conservators often act as couriers, accompanying artifacts as they travel to make sure that they receive the proper care. One recent courier trip I did has a certain amount of overlap with work in the Artifact lab, since it involved an Ancient Egyptian tomb chapel.

One block (the false door) from the offering chapel of Kapure. This single limestone block weighs over 9000 pounds.

The late Old Kingdom offering chapel of Kapure from Saqqara (dating to ca. 2300 B.C.) was once part of this high ranking official’s mudbrick mastaba tomb. The interior of the chapel was lined with limestone blocks beautifully decorated with carved and painted scenes representing the deceased seated at a table of offerings and receiving funerary provisions. Part of the chapel of Kapure is on display in the Museum’s Lower Egyptian Gallery. The rest, which was part of a traveling exhibition in the late 1990s, has been in storage in Connecticut since 2000. This was supposed to be a temporary situation but it’s gone on for longer than we ever expected and now that there is a suitable storage facility here in Philadelphia, we decided to bring the tomb chapel closer to home. Why wouldn’t we just bring it back to the Museum, you ask? Well, it’s kind of big and very unwieldy. There were 8 crates, the heaviest of which weighed over 9000 lbs. We hope to be able to reinstall it in our Egyptian Galleries before too much longer but until then, it will stay in specialized art storage.

My colleagues in adventure, Bob Thurlow (left) and Jen Wegner, get ready to to work on our crated limestone blocks.

Getting it there was a bit of an adventure. Three Museum staff members: Bob Thurlow of the Registrar’s Office, Dr. Jen Wegner of the Egyptian Section, and myself, traveled to the warehouse where it was stored in Connecticut. There we had to open each crate; document the current condition of the blocks inside both with digital photography and written descriptions; check that the crates were still in good enough condition to protect the artifacts during transit; make any necessary improvements to the crates; then oversee the loading of the crates on to a very large truck; follow the truck to the new warehouse; and finally supervise the unloading and placement of the crates there. This all took two-and-a-half days and meant long hours working in an unheated warehouse – in November.

Art handlers and warehouse men load the false door crate on to the truck, using the big forklift (the smaller one couldn’t lift the 9000 lb weight). The crate fit with about 2 inches to spare – a tribute to Bob Thurlow’s excellent planning and preparation.

Jen Wegner explaining the finer points of the false door block to two of the warehouse employees just before we put the lid back on and prepared to take it back to Philadelphia.

This is not the glamorous part of our jobs! Still, it needed to be done and it was a great chance to get up close and personal with some gorgeous Egyptian funerary art. Working with Jen Wegner was a treat as she was able to tell us what we were looking at and read the inscriptions. I’m sure Jen got tired of me asking what various symbols were, especially since most of them seemed to be bread – apparently Egyptian funerals were a carb-fest!

posted by Lynn Grant

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