Education Update's MUSEUM MILE
Mummies in Brooklyn Museum Collection to Undergo Scientific Study
The Brooklyn Museum Conservation Laboratory is beginning a study of the human and animal mummies in the Museum’s collection, using the tools of modern-day scientific investigation to reveal new information about mummification practices in ancient Egypt thousands of years ago. The project will bring together scientists from the Brooklyn Museum, the Getty Conservation Institute, in Los Angeles and the University of Bristol in England. It will begin with the X-ray fluorescence (XRF) of the first-century C.E. mummy known as Demetrios, which will be a part of the forthcoming exhibition To Live Forever: Egyptian Treasures from the Brooklyn Museum.
X-ray fluorescence will allow analysis of the painted surfaces associated with the wrapping of mummies, including painted linen bandages and shrouds. Preliminary results have shown that the red paint used on the Demetrios mummy may have been made, in part, from components imported from Spain. The lead in the paint is suspected to have come from a Spanish silver mine, but it remains unclear whether the paint itself was manufactured there or, alternatively, whether if the lead ingredient was traded to Egypt with the paint then produced locally.
In addition to X-ray fluorescence, the team will use CT scanning: this will permit a non-invasive examination of the mummy interiors, providing medical information related to, for example, the condition of the bones, as well as examining other burial materials that might have been included within the wrapped linens. Carbon 14 dating will also be used to help provide an accurate date of the mummies’ creation. Finally an analytic method known as GC Mass Spec, will help determine which chemicals were employed in the technical process of mummification and how their composition changed during the three thousand years these techniques were in use.
The Brooklyn Museum’s world-renowned collection of ancient Egyptian material includes five human mummies and nearly fifty animal mummies, among them cats, crocodiles, and birds.#