Filed under: Mummy Restoration | Tags: Academy of Natural Sciences, Mimi Leveque, mummy
Our conservator, Mimi Leveque, and I met at the Academy of Natural Sciences on Monday to finish conservation of the mummy for Lost Egypt, nicknamed “Annie.” The Academy staff was very helpful, and set us up behind their traveling exhibit gallery – turn right at the hadrosaur, you can’t miss it.
This was the first time I’ve been face to face with our mummy. I’m struck right away by how tiny she is. I knew she was four feet 11 inches, but that didn’t convey how delicate her bones were. Her shoulders are thin, like a child’s, even though she’s estimated to be 16-18 years old. Her bandages are torn in places – she is, after all, about 2,300 years old. Her mask is off at the moment, so I can see her bandaged face, covered in layers of carefully wound linen wrappings. She is incredible.
It was amazing just to sit near her, aware that this was a person who breathed and walked and laughed and died in ancient Egypt, long before I existed. She smells sweet, either from the embalming oils or perhaps the smell of the linen. It’s a rich sweetness, like something you’d find in your grandmother’s attic that speaks of a different time.
The Academy team got Annie’s coffin and lid from the display case where they have been exhibited, and brought them to us for a final cleaning before we pack them up for the show. Moving objects as large as a coffin is challenging under the best of circumstances, and here you can see the Academy team having to carefully negotiate past another mummy and coffin also in the case. Just after they got it onto the transport (an old hospital gurney), school children started arriving at the museum. They kept peering around the temporary walls, excited to see the coffin out of its case, and perhaps thinking that the mummy had come to life at last.
The Academy is a magical place, very “Night at the Museum.” It’s easy to imagine the animals and dinosaur bones and statues and mummies all coming to life when the last visitor leaves for the evening. Great museum – very cool objects everywhere – even a cannon from a shipwreck. I wish I had more time to explore!
Mimi has the difficult job of conserving the cartonnage “boot” that goes over Annie’s feet. While a large portion of it is still intact, the toes are gone, broken into pieces smaller than a fingernail. Mimi gets to put the puzzle back again, reconstructing the top of the foot from paper, paint, and other materials. It’s very beautiful – with intricate patterns and pictures painted all over it. There is a tiny checkerboard pattern on the bottom of the foot, and a white pattern that represents a sandal strap runs across the top. The colors are extraordinary – deep red-brown, black and white, an intense dark green. I wonder how long it took artists to paint Annie’s mask, chest plate, and boot. They are in traditional patterns, yet they were clearly made specifically for her.
Mimi is able to match the colors and feel of the paint on the cartonnage. It is similar to a gouche paint, although she uses acrylics as the modern equivalent for the conservation work. She is both an artist and a scientist, understanding the techniques and chemistry that went into creating the colors, yet with the sensitive eye of an artist, who gently re-creates what has been lost. Watching her work, I am in awe at her patience. She says conservation is “creating order out of chaos.” It is like watching someone do the world’s most difficult jigsaw puzzle, with no clue where the pieces go.
Mimi, Jonathan and team did an incredible job with the conservation efforts – the coffin, lid and mummy look so beautiful. Cracks have been filled in, coverings readjusted. Mimi put me to work on the binding strips. Annie is wrapped in bandages, then covered with a cartonnage plate that goes from her chest to her ankles. Over both of those are thin strips of linen that wrapped her tight. Those have worn out and gotten torn off over time. It’s my job to take new linen, tear it into strips the same size as those on Annie (about 1 1/4 inches), and carefully sew them in, rebinding her back together. Is the place I am standing now in relation to the mummy the same place a priest stood to tear the bandages for Annie when she was embalmed?
The old linen reminds me of the color of the Egyptian rocks – gold-brown. It’s so beautiful up close – the carefully woven linen is made up of such tiny rows. I doubt we make anything so delicate and fine today. It must have taken so long to create. Mimi showed me how to attach the strips with tiny stitches, overlapping the old and new for reinforcement. My mother taught me to sew when I was a kid, and I practiced on old pieces of linen, my hands making wobbly, inconsistent lines as I tried to master a row of stitches like my mother’s perfectly even ones. What would she have thought, had she known that the skill she so patiently taught me would eventually be used to sew a mummy’s bandages?
I’m happy to be here, grateful to have this experience. It’s good to see Annie being conserved, returning more to the way she was earlier in history. At the end of this first day, we surveyed our progress, and Mimi said “It’s like we’re giving her back her afterlife.”
To see a few more photos from Kate’s visit, check out this set of photos on COSI’s Flickr account.
Filed under: Mummy Restoration | Tags: Academy of Natural Sciences, CAT Scan, Jonathan Elias, Mimi Leveque, mummy, restoration, sarcophagus, University of Pennsylvania
Author: Katie, The Academy of Natural Sciences
The mummy was removed from its case on Friday, October 24, a rare treat for that day’s visitors. Second graders from the Broad Street School in Bridgeton, N.J. were amazed and had so many questions.
All of the Academy’s visitors, now through November 1, can experience this once in a lifetime opportunity and get within feet of one of the Academy’s treasures. The conservators are hard at work but eager to answer questions from visitors who wander over to the work area.
Akhmim mummy expert Jonathan Elias has a slide show running throughout the day featuring photos of a CAT Scan performed on the mummy several years ago at the Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia. The images allow the viewer to see beyond the wrappings and almost into the eyes of the young girl. It’s quite a sight, especially since we are so close to Halloween.
Today, October 27, the group is focusing on the repair and stabilization of the sarcophagus. They are filling in gaps and losses that have occurred over time with various materials including a polyester, open-cell foam, pieces of balsa wood and a pasty, caulk-like material called glass micro balloons, which is a lightweight, inert, cellular filler. All of the materials that are being used for this project are removable, reversible and are causing no damage to the mummy or sarcophagus.
“Because the mummy is going to be on the road for so long, I’m doing more stabilization than I normally would because I want it to come back [to the Academy) completely unharmed,” said the Peabody Essex Museum’s Mimi Leveque, lead conservator on the mummy.