‘What’s wood glue doing there?’ Connecting the dots to repair an ancient join

Hello again, and welcome to the third post in my series on the conservation of a Third-Intermediate-Period coffin lid at the Michael C. Carlos Museum.

As our team in the lab has seen, many times repairs of ancient objects are not well-informed or sensitive to delicate surfaces and structures. In the case of this coffin lid, this can not only disrupt our appreciation, but also our interpretation of the material.

Egypt

While examining the back of the object, it was clear to my supervisor, Renée Stein, and myself that the surface had been coated in a thick layer of wood glue (yes, the type of stuff you can buy at the Home Depot).

It wasn’t clear just how extensive this coating was until we interrogated the construction of the object. How were the many wooden boards put together? What does this tell us about the object original appearance? Were the structures stable after 3,000 years?

As we asked ourselves these questions, we also noticed something else that wasn’t quite right: The two scarph joins at either shoulder were not symmetrical, and we were wondering why…

A view of the scarph joins in question, with the correct orientation circled in purple and the troublesome example in green.

A view of the scarph joins in question, with the correct orientation circled in purple and the troublesome example in green.

 

A close up of the join in question.

A close up of the join in question.

It turns a component of one of these joins was very rotten, and after millennia of burial, it was essentially turning into powder! This spongy material had been encased in wood glue and attached back in place in the wrong way. The component was jutting out, held in place by a thin strip of soft wood and very, very vulnerable to breakage.

After the join was poulticed, the messy wood-glue to be removed shows white.

After the join was poulticed, the messy wood-glue to be removed shows white.

 

A close-up of the coating.

A close-up of the coating.

 

A view of the extensive coating on wooden piece.

A view of the extensive coating on wooden piece.

To restore the original appearance of the join and to stabilize the deterioration observed. The glue had to be softened with a poultice of cotton soaked with acetone. I then meticulously cleaned the surfaces of as much coating as possible, stabilizing large flakes and powdered wood as I went.

The wood, partially cleaned, and a fragile sliver waiting to be attached.

The wood, partially cleaned, and a fragile sliver waiting to be attached.

This was then reattached in the correct position, and a soft fill was inserted to support the join. The adhesive was left to dry overnight.

The fill supporting the newly corrected join.

The fill supporting the newly corrected join.

 

Ancient Egypt

The adhesive, bulked with cellulose powder, is applied.

 

Ancient Egypt

A padded clamp is opposed around the repair.

 

The stabilized clamp is left as the adhesive dries.

The stabilized clamp is left as the adhesive dries.

The result was a more accurate representation of the original– and beautiful!–construction scheme.

 

 

100 Years – 100 Objects: Giant Longhorn Beetle

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 - meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Nancy, the museum’s director of the Cockrell Butterfly Center and curator of entomology. She’s chosen a selection of objects that represent the rarest and most interesting insects in the Museum’s collections, that we’ll be sharing here – and on hmns.org – throughout the year.

The name says it all:  the Titans were a race of giants in Greek mythology, while giganteus is Latin for giant.  This monster from the rainforests of the Amazon basin in South America is the largest beetle in the world, at least in terms of overall size (the African Goliath beetle, a scarab, is heavier).  The giant longhorn is a member of the Cerambycidae or long-horned beetle family, which includes over 20,000 species worldwide.  The family’s common name describes the very long antennae characteristic of most cerambycids – in some species over twice as long as the body.  Male cerambycids typically have longer antennae than females of the same species.  Shown here are a male (wings spread, longer antennae relative to body size) and female (larger, with somewhat shorter antennae). 

Learn more about beetles and their relatives in a visit to the Brown Hall of Entomology, a part of the Cockrell Butterfly Center – a living, walk-through rainforest at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

You can see more images of this fascinating artifact – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year - in the photo gallery on hmns.org.

100 Years – 100 Objects: Element III

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 - meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Dirk, the museum’s curator of anthropology. He’s chosen a selection of objects that represent human cultures throughout time and around the world, that we’ll be sharing here – and on hmns.org – throughout the year.

This modern piece of art was made by Tammy Garcia (Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico). It represents a step-fret motif which we can find in Pre-Columbian cultures dating back more than a millennium. It shows up in Pre-Columbian architecture in Mesoamerica as well as pottery and textiles from South America. This Tammy Garcia piece embodies a link between the past and the present, with the former continuing to be an inspiration for today.

Explore thousands of years of Native American history in the John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas, a permanent exhibition at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

You can see more images of this fascinating artifact – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year - in the
photo gallery on hmns.org.

100 Years – 100 Objects: Sailor’s Valentine [Happy Valentine's Day]

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 - meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Lisa Rebori, the museum’s Vice President of Collections. She’s chosen a selection of objects that represent our Museum’s history, and our collections of historical technologies, that we’ll be sharing here – and on hmns.org – throughout the year.

Ca. 1850 – 1900
HMNS 1991.1085.1

This antique shell mosaic was a gift from Mr. and Mrs. J.R. Preston.

During the mid 19th century, sailors to the West Indies often returned from their long voyages with mosaic shell boxes for their loved ones. Messages of affection spelled out in shells were included at the center of the designs, surrounded by additional colorful shells arranged in geometric patterns and compartments.

These shell mosaics were commonly fitted into octagonal hinged boxes with glass covers on each half and were known as ‘Sailor’s Valentines.’

Although the shell mosaic featured here is not specifically a Sailor’s Valentine, it dates to the same era. The photograph at the center is a hand-tinted ambrotype of an unidentified woman. This shell mosaic frame is thought to represent a fraternal order or family crest for the recipient. All the shells in this antique frame are from the West Indies which helps to date the mosaic.


Check back soon for more of the
100 most compelling objects from the museum’s collections – we’ll be posting the series throughout 2009 as we celebrate a centennial of science in Houston.