Mummy Conservation Project
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The renovated Daily Life in Ancient Egypt exhibition opened in May 1999 on the third floor of Yale Peabody Museum. The cleaning and restoration of the exhibition’s Egyptian mummy and its wooden coffin, or sarcophagus — originally from Thebes and dated to the Ptolemaic Period — and the redesign of the area where it is displayed took three years.

The mummy and its sarcophagus were conserved and prepared for re-exhibition by the Museum’s Conservation Laboratory staff, with the help of Mimi Leveque, an objects conservator in private practice, and her staff.

Dirt, dust and soot obscured the surface details of the wooden sarcophagus, including its paintings and hieroglyphics. Over time, sections of the wood had contracted as the wood dried, creating large gaps all over the coffin that made it weak and structurally unsound.

Many cracks, especially in the coffin lid, were probably caused by inadequate support — the sarcophagus had been on display for many years with the lid raised at an angle and held open only by a small tab.

The coffin was cleaned with a soft brush and a vacuum.

Dirt and soot that had accumulated on the surface of the coffin from years on exhibit were carefully removed with swabs of distilled water.

Small cracks in the wood were stabilized by injecting adhesive into them. Missing areas and wide cracks were filled with a putty made from an adhesive and tiny glass beads. Particularly deep losses were first filled with pieces of inert foam that were then covered with the adhesive putty. Once the structure was stabilized, the flaking paint was also reattached with an adhesive.

The filled in areas of the wooden coffin (top) were then toned with acrylic paint (bottom) to match the surrounding surface.

Before treatment, the sarcophagus was covered with areas of flaking paint and paint loss (above). The restored face can be seen in the bottom photograph.

The painted linen shroud on the mummy was severely deteriorated. Many edge strips had become detached and were lying alongside of the mummy or in the bottom of the coffin. Layers of dirt and dust obscured its painted images. The linen wrappings on the mummy were dirty, and some on the shoulder and the feet had been disturbed.

The outer linen on the mummy was carefully cleaned with soft brushes and a vacuum. Broken and disturbed pieces of wrappings were repositioned and the entire mummy was tightly wrapped with sheer polyester fabric to hold the wrappings in place.

The shroud was carefully taken off the mummy. Loose dust was removed with a soft brush and the surface of the shroud was then carefully cleaned with a rubber substance similar to a pencil eraser (see the partially cleaned area to the left of the goddess Nut, above, and the restored shroud, below).

The shroud was then attached to a large piece of sheer polyester for support. Smaller detached pieces were also backed with smaller pieces of polyester that were then attached to the larger support.

The lid of the coffin had crushed the mask on the mummy, splitting it diagonally across the face. The nose had flattened and the top of the head was compressed. Many pieces were detached.

After cleaning, the mask was humidified so that it could be reshaped. Tears and breaks were realigned and glued, and small fragments were reattached. Large cracks and losses were filled with the same adhesive putty used on the coffin and then toned with acrylic paint.

While conservation treatment proceeded on the mummy, a support for the sarcophagus lid was made and fastened to it before it was installed in the display case in the Daily Life in Ancient Egypt exhibition.

With cleaning and restoration complete, the shroud and mask were returned to their places on the mummy, which was placed back in its sarcophagus and positioned in the display case under the now fully supported lid. Four months of intensive work had restored the mummy and its coffin to some of their former splendor. The coffin was sturdy and all loose pieces of the mummy’s wrappings were stabilized. Devoid of dirt and soot, the paintings and details of the face were again clear