Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Story of Tutankhamun mask (10): Experts to gather in Cairo to discuss restoration of damaged mask of Tutankhamun

IT’S been scratched. It’s been chipped. It’s been snapped. Tutankhamun’s death mask is one of the world’s most amazing and precious artefacts. Now it’s getting a $110,000 facelift.

Egyptian news service Ahram Online says the German government had offered to fund the restoration of the gold and lapiz luzuli mask of the fresh-faced young Pharaoh after decades of accidental wear and tear.

The ancient Egyptians had polished its gold surface to a pristine sheen. Attempts at cleaning and polishing the gold at various points after its discovery by Howard Carter in 1922 have only served to introduce fine scratches over much of its surface. Most recently, and notoriously, the beard was broken off.

Masking a mistake
While Egyptian Museum conservators and cleaners give different accounts of how the mask was damaged late last year. The most commonly told tale is that a staff member of the Egyptian Museum accidentlay knocked off the mask’s distinctive blue and gold beard while changing a light bulb in its display. It was hurriedly glued it back on.

“The mask should have been taken to the conservation lab, but they were in a rush to get it displayed quickly again and they used this quick drying, irreversible material,” one conservator told media anonymously after the event. “Epoxy has a very high property for attaching and is normally used on metal or stone, but I don’t think it was suitable for an outstanding object like Tutankhamun’s golden mask.”

The beard was not affixed properly, leaving a visible gap between the face and the beard. “Now you can see a layer of transparent yellow,” he said. The epoxy resin has since been discovered to have damaged the surface of the mask and beard.

Spit and polish
Earlier this year, Egypt’s antiquities minister Mamdouh Edamatya declared the damage to Tutankhamun’s funeral mask was not irreversible. A high-level committee has been meeting since May, tracking the history of conservation efforts applied to the mask since it was removed from Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings..

Tests have been undertaken by a German metals conservator Christian Eckmann to find out the exact composition of the glue in order to determine how to best remove it. As part of the process, the mask underwent a high-resolution CT cross-sectional X-ray scan.

An international conference of archaeologists and conservators will be held in Cairo later this month to outline the work needed to restore the beard.

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