Progress of the work: March 2005

 

Image["Setting up cartonnage case for x-raying"]

   

As part of the Galleries Project, we are examining the way that the Egyptian coffins were constructed by x-raying them.

The Hamilton Kerr Institute (part of the Museum, which specialises in conserving paintings) has kindly lent us their portable x-ray equipment which has been set up in our basement.

Here you can see the cartonnage case of Nakhtefmut being set up for an x-ray of the head section.

 

From the back you can see more how this works.

Behind Nakhtefmut's head is a vacuum device, developed specially for this purpose at the Hamilton Kerr Institute, which holds the container for the photographic film. The actual head of the x-ray machine is in front of the face of the cartonnage case.

The x-raying control panel has been placed in another part of the basement.

    X-ray of the head of cartonnage case

Image["X-ray equipment"]

    Image["Using the x-ray equipment"]

 

X-ray of the head of cartonnage case

   

The process of x-radiography exposes the object to x-rays which are high-energy electromagnetic waves. The object will absorb some of the rays, but others will pass through the object and be recorded on the photographic film on the other side. The amount of radiation that passes through the object is affected by the different materials from which it is made; for example, some materials block the x-rays from passing through (these are said to be dense materials) and these show up as whiter parts of the final image.

The picture at the left shows an x-ray image of the head of Nakhtefmut's cartonnage case.

As we progress further with this work, we should be able to tell much more than we knew before about how the coffins in the museum were made. We are already able to see some of the old repairs that have been made to strengthen them in the past. This will be extremely useful information when we are conserving the objects before they go out on display in the new cases.

 

The back of Nakhtefmut's cartonnage case was opened up by the excavator, J.E. Quibell, perhaps by sawing it open, so that the mummy could be removed. Quibell describes the mummy as being 'soaked in bitumen, which had become much harder than the bones.' Unfortunately, there is no record of what happened to it.

The opening in the cartonnage has been closed up again at some time and filled with the very white plaster which is different to the white background of the decoration. This may acount for the white area in the centre of the x-ray above.

   

Image["The back of Nakhtefmut's cartonnage case"]

 

Image["The prototype case with different coloured fabrics inside"]

   

Back at the prototype case, various options for different fabric colours are being tried for the interior of the cases. It is difficult to find a colour which will enhance the display of the very varied materials and colours of objects from ancient Egypt.

We are also experimenting with the lighting in the case to make sure that we can enable the objects in its centre to be lit properly whilst still having sufficient lighting at the sides of the case.

Meanwhile, some of the freestanding statues are being prepared so that they can stand on new plinths. This means that a specially made base is required for each one which will exactly fit the bottom of the statue. Our technicians, Bob Bourne and Louise Jenkins, who are experts at this, are taking care of this part of the project.

The picture shows a packing chest in which one of the statues is resting upside down, so that the bottom of the statue is upmost to allow its special base to be prepared. The statue cannot be seen and Louise has covered the protruding stone with a layer of foil and tape to protect it. Click here to read more about how the bases are being made.


The Fitzwilliam Museum : . March 2005