Greetings, and welcome to my second post on the conservation of a Third-Intermediate-Period coffin lid at the Michael C. Carlos Museum. If you missed the first installment, you can hop over here to catch up.
Cut-away diagram of restoration over
After the documentation, research and planning stage, the treatment of the Third-Intermediate Period Coffin Lid is well underway. Solvent tests, chemical spot tests, and pre-restoration photographs helped us to design the treatment. The goal is to reverse all but the most necessary, stabilizing additions to the object.
It is clear that this object has, like other fragile polychromed wooden objects from ancient Egypt, suffered from flaking and powdering of its painted decoration. Indeed Egyptian funerary furniture, if not recently excavated, is likely to have been treated for one of these conditions during its lifetime.
Before-treatment photograph of Coffin Lid (left) and condition-map overlay (right).
However, this particular object was restored with an excessively heavy hand, as is visible in the orange-and-blue head piece. Constructed in modern materials around the ancient head, the tripartite-wig form was glued tightly (and messily) to the ancient wood. On top of the wood, a composite material made of saw dust and wood glue was smeared over the top portions of the object. Where it was pealing away, it was taking ancient painted surface with it!
From the reverse the lighter modern wood at the head contrasts with the darker ancient planks.
Detail view of the reverse of the coffin lid, showing the excess of yellow wood glue attaching the modern construction to the ancient wood.
Not only was this “restoration” causing damage, but it also impaired a visual appreciation of the object.The modern paint looked incongruously plastic-like and the combination of orange, pink, and blue colors were unsuited to an Ancient Egyptian object.
It was easy enough to call for the removal of the headpiece, but the actual procedure would be challenging and time-consuming.
First, I undertook a micro-excavation to uncover the joint between the modern and ancient structures.
A view of the modern headpiece after partial clearing of the top layers of paint and saw-dust fill.
A section through the top of the modern headpiece construction, showing acrylic filler (white), wood glue and wood-flour (dark brown), wood glue and saw-dust (pink and light brown), and paint (orange and blue).
After establishing the stratigraphy and working through a few (hard!) layers with a scalpel, I established the boundary between ancient and modern. Many of the joints were still inaccessible, however, and to reverse them we reached for a saw.
Kate using a coping saw to free the ancient from the modern wood.
Detail of proper-left shoulder of coffin. As the modern (lighter) wood is being sliced away, the ancient surface is revealed.
Detail of proper-right shoulder of coffin. By slightly off-setting the kerf (width of saw cut) from the ancient wood, the bulk of the modern (lighter) wood can be removed.
We first tried a coping saw, and then we graduated to a shiny, new Japanese double-blade hand saw. Although versatile enough for most applications, it was difficult to maneuver into tight spaces. Furthermore, using the hand saws was very time consuming.
Renée Stein maneuvering the hand saw
Finally, after carefully excavating all of the tracts to be cut, we unveiled the one tool to rule them all… the Fein Multitasker FMM 250Q, a variable speed tool for sanding, scraping and cutting.
Tracts cut around the ancient material, as viewed from the proper-right side of the coffin lid.
Tune in next time to see our continued progress with the MCCM Coffin Lid!