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Wednesday, May 31 • 2:05pm - 2:30pm
(Treatment: Don't Go it alone) Unraveling the past to inform the present: conservation of Egyptian Mummies at the Penn Museum

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Central to the collections of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum) is the Egyptian collection, which is one of the largest collections of Egyptian and Nubian material in the United States. Housing approximately 50,000 individual objects, the collection was assembled over nearly a century, beginning with purchases and gifts but mostly through excavations led or sponsored by the Museum. Included in the Egyptian collection are the mummified human remains of multiple individuals, spanning the whole of ancient Egyptian history. These mummies, while representing just a fraction of the Penn Museum's extensive collection, continue to be one of the biggest visitor attractions and many have been on display for decades. Over the last four years, there has been a concerted effort to address conservation needs for the Egyptian mummies in the collection, thanks to the Penn Museum's public conservation lab, "In the Artifact Lab: Conserving Egyptian Mummies.” Opened in 2012, the lab was set up in a gallery, which provided the necessary space to conserve the mummies and was also an exhibition in its own right. This configuration has allowed the mummies to remain on view while undergoing conservation treatment, and the work includes daily public outreach which has heightened awareness of the museum's collection and the field of conservation. Before this project, the most recent conservation and in-depth examination of mummies was carried out in 1980 in preparation for the exhibition: "The Egyptian Mummy: Secrets and Science.” While treatment records and photography exist from this time period for most of the mummies in the gallery, they are brief and often lack details about decision-making processes or materials testing. Prior to this exhibition, it is evident that the mummies were worked on but there are minimal records of these interventions, including the autopsy of four mummies in the early 1970s. In many cases, the same repairs have been observed on multiple mummies and on objects in the Egyptian collection, which may be associated with preparation for their display in the museum in the 1930s. This implies that there was a consistent treatment approach, even though few treatment records exist. In an effort to establish best practices and suitable treatment protocols for the mummies, Penn Museum conservators, along with curators and collections staff, have spent the last several years reconstructing the histories of these mummies through careful examination, scientific analysis, and research into their excavation records, collection circumstances, exhibition, and past treatment. Lacking formal guidelines for the treatment of mummies, the conservators developed a standard approach to treating mummies in the collection, informed by the way these mummies have been displayed and treated in the past, and building on methods developed by colleagues in the field. This, combined with the public outreach efforts, is changing the way both colleagues and the public perceive and interact with the mummies and the larger collection.

avatar for Molly C. Gleeson, [PA]

Molly C. Gleeson, [PA]

Schwartz Project Conservator, Penn Museum
Molly Gleeson is the Schwartz Project Conservator at the Penn Museum. Since 2012 Molly has worked in the museum’s open conservation lab, which was recently renamed “The Artifact Lab: Conservation in Action.” In the Artifact Lab, she treats artifacts in full public view, interacts... Read More →

avatar for Alexis North

Alexis North

Project Conservator, Penn Museum
Alexis North is the Williams Project Conservator at the Penn Museum, currently working on the Museum's renovation of their Mexico and Central America gallery. She is a graduate of the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program, and has worked at the Brooklyn Museum, the Michael C. Carlos Museum... Read More →

Wednesday May 31, 2017 2:05pm - 2:30pm CDT
Regency C-D Ballroom Level, West Tower