Posts Tagged With: ABC News

The Infamous Shave: The True Story of King Tut’s Beard

In recent news, the burial mask of Tutankhamun once again made headlines across the world when the beard was somehow “broken off” during an incident at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and hastily, incorrectly, repaired by museum staff. The plethora of news articles, interviews, and press conferences regarding the incident makes it extremely difficult to uncover what really happened; so here, for your reading pleasure, is the play by-play account of one of the most disputed works of conservation in recent history.

courtesy of AFP

Before we get in to the story, it is VITAL that all understand that the mask entered the museum with the beard SEPARATED from the body of the mask. Prior to the incident in question, the two pieces of the mask were being held together by a properly applied adhesive as the mask sat on display. (Before that time, in fact, the beard had been displayed separated from the mask for many years.)

Now, to the incident—after reading the veritable glut of related news coverage and following the trail of live updates via Facebook and twitter, I have constructed the following sequence of events:

For an unconfirmed reason (some stating that the lights of the case needed repair) it was necessary that the mask be removed from the case. While removing the mask, the museum staff member handled the mask inappropriately and the beard was once again separated from the main body of the mask. Although the mask should have been taken to a secure conservation location so that repairs could be performed, museum staff were concerned that the mask would not be ready for immediate display if they followed this protocol. In a hasty attempt to address this concern, the museum staff used epoxy glue to re-adhere the beard to the rest of the mask. Due to its chemical properties (which I will not even attempt to explain because I am NOT a conservator) the epoxy was clearly, tragically, visible after the repair.

after the epoxy was adhered, courtesy of the Huffington Post

after the epoxy was adhered, courtesy of the Huffington Post

There were further rumors that epoxy had dripped on to the face of the mask itself, and in their attempt to clean the drips off the mask, the museum staff had scratched the mask irreversibly.

When the news broke that the mask had been damaged, the press and museum world flew into a frenzy. There were conflicting reports coming out simultaneously, museum officials were denying the breakage had even occurred, and the state of the mask was still unknown.

The Egyptian Museum requested the assistance of Christian Eckmann, a conservator specializing in archaeological glass and metal objects, and after careful examination of the mask, Eckmann held a press conference to share his findings:

“the mask was touched and the beard fell… due to the glue which was used during the first restoration of the mask in 1941”. He said he was unaware what kind of epoxy was used in the repair, but epoxy “is not the best solution” to fix artifacts even if it is often used. However, the glue was applied improperly and its remains were visible on the braided beard piece, he said. “It can be reversed. It has to be done very carefully, but it is reversible,” said Eckmann, who has now been appointed by the antiquities ministry to oversee the mask’s repair. (courtesy of france24.com)

*Eckmann did acknowledge the scratch on the face of the mask, but he determined it is impossible to identify if the scratch is ancient, recent, or modern, at the present moment.

Moving forward, a committee of experts comprised of conservators, archaeologists, and natural scientists will be formed in order to develop a plan for proper conservation of the mask.  If nothing else, this incident has brought to light the importance of proper conservation. Although the most popular objects of every museum, like the mask of King Tut, inspire tourists and bring a significant number of visitors to the museum’s city, the mission of a museum is to showcase the objects AND care for them; in order to care for them properly, we must take the time to conserve them appropriately out of the public eye.

Tut, tut, we say to you, Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Tut, tut.

Cited Sources:

http://www.france24.com/en/20150124-botched-repair-tut-mask-reversible-german-conservator/

http://time.com/3678111/egypts-king-tutankhamuns-beard/

http://www.news.com.au/technology/science/museum-that-destroyed-tutankhamuns-burial-mask-and-fixed-it-with-super-glue-says-it-can-be-repaired/story-fnjwl1aw-1227196810292

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-30944815

http://blogs.eui.eu/maxweberprogramme/2015/01/29/what-we-are-talking-about-when-we-talk-about-tutankhamuns-beard/

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Neb-Senu does the hokey pokey and he turns himself around…

In June, the social media world began buzzing when a time-lapse video from the Manchester Museum in Manchester England was released, depicting an Ancient Egyptian statue physically rotating on its own.

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(courtesy of  Cavendish Press)

Although much research has subsequently been done looking into reasons why the statue might be spinning, scientific or magical, let’s start from the very beginning (I hear it’s a very good place to start.)

The statuette was donated to the museum in 1933 by Annie Barlow, a mill owner from Bolton who sponsored archaeological digs in the great era of discovery—King Tut’s tomb being discovered only a decade earlier by Howard Carter. Nothing is known about the specific tomb that the statuette came from, but by examining the figurine’s hieroglyphic inscriptions, it is possible to decipher a few bits of information about the tomb’s owner.  From the statue’s shoulder-length wig and knee-length civil-service kilt, it is gauged that the tomb owner, named Neb-Senu, was a senior civil servant.  Little is known about Neb-Senu other than that he was a man of means, given the quality of the 10 inch tall serpentine statuette created as a place for his ka, or spirit, to live when his body had passed into the afterlife. Neb-Senu is thought to have died around 1800 BC, and the inscription requests offerings of beer, beef, and a fowl—a standard prayer in Ancient Egyptian funerary texts.

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(courtesy of Campbell Price)

The statue has been housed at the Manchester Museum for 80 years, and was brought to the global stage after Campbell Price, the curator of the Egyptian Artifacts at the institution, noticed that the statue had been moved from its original position.  This continued for multiple days, sparking the interest of Price. In order to formally investigate, he returned the statuette to its original position in a locked glass case and set up a camera to film the time-lapse video that has since become an internet sensation.

Scientists have taken many different approaches to explaining the self-spinning statue. Some attribute the movement to the vibrations in the room caused by foot traffic, due the revelation that the statuette only moved during the day, when visitors were present. Other experts claim that “differential friction” is the culprit, but even then, some kind of force must be exerted on the statue for it to move. In fact, all of the scientific explanations have major flaws. For example, on one occasion, the statue moved 45 degrees in 90 minutes when there were no visitors or staff members in the chamber. And, even more oddly, the statue has rotated in a perfect circle without “wobbling off” in any other direction while none of the other statues in the case, most notably on the same shelf, have shifted at all.

Other possible explanations state that it is simply the individual placement and character of the statue itself, that a magnetic force is working on the figure, or that the spirit of Neb-Senu himself has returned to his ka statue and waiting for offerings to be brought.

Unfortunately, the spinning of the Neb-Senu statue may remain a mystery for all eternity due to museum renovators being forced to move the case from its current location. But before they do, perhaps someone should give Neb-Senu the beer he’s been requesting for over 2000 years?

 

 

Works Cited:

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/lifestyle/2013/06/ancient-egyptian-statue-mysteriously-rotates-at-museum/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/museums/10141238/On-the-trail-of-Manchester-Museums-moving-Egyptian-mummy.html

http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/25/world/europe/uk-spinning-statue-mystery/index.html

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