Friday 23 January 2015

Cairo Museum Statement on Tutankamun mask

photo taken on Jan. 23, 2015 [Xinhua/Pan Chaoyue]
Disturbing tales of five young conservators dismissed for commenting on the conservation of the Tutankhamun mummy mask, and incorrect choice of treatment methods will, no doubt, be being thoroughly looked into by the Ministry of Antiquities and (it is reported) the Public Prosecutor on Monday. Meanwhile, from the Guardian, is the statement of the museum holding the artefact:

Mahmoud el-Halwagy
Both the director of the museum, Mahmoud el-Halwagy, and the head of its conservation department, Elham Abdelrahman, strenuously denied the claims, in a joint interview yesterday. Halwagy says the beard never fell off, and that without doubt nothing has happened to it since he was appointed director in October. The issue, he and Abdelrahman maintain, is that well before he arrived at the museum, conservators were concerned that at some point in the future the beard might become loose. So they applied an adhesive – provided and sanctioned by the antiquities ministry – that turned out to be a little too conspicuous. “This is the problem,” Halwagy said. “It’s too visible.” Fortunately, by Halwagy’s account, the eagle-eyed director noticed the problem himself soon after arriving in his post, and now the issue is in the hands of an expert committee, who will investigate the issue, and release a report detailing their findings at a later date. For her part, Abdelrahman is mystified about the source of the breakage claim, and says the museum hierarchy would never have dreamt of covering up such a thing. “If it was broken, it would have been a big problem, and we would have written a report about it,” she said.
It might be worth recalling the suggestion of Nicholas Reeves of the Met that the mask was not originally made for the burial of the boy pharaoh, but for a woman, possibly Nefertiti, and the beard attachment perhaps therefore a later modification.

Let us see what diligent enquiry reveals about the conservation of the mask. I am sure the Museum professionals will come clean about any eventual shortcomings it reveals. 

Patrick Kingsley, 'Tutankhamun's beard glued back on, say Egyptian museum conservators' The Guardian, Thursday 22 January 2015

UPDATE 24.01.15
Once again ('King Tut's gold mask undamaged', Xinhua, January 24, 2015):
Reports on the damage and bad renovation of the mask have been fully denied by Mahmoud El-Halwagy, Director General of the Egyptian Museum. "I can simply say that all these reports are nothing more than rumors. The king's mask is kept in a glass showcase in the museum which is opened to all visitors," El-Halwagy said as he observed a sanitation worker cleaning showcases. According to El-Halwagy, the beard and the mask were originally made separately and the ministry of antiquities decided to attach them together back in 1941 to give the relic more beauty and glamour. The official noted that restorers conduct regular periodic protective check up to prevent the beard from becoming loose, and that the materials used in restoration work, including epoxy glue, are all up-to-date and approved by UNESCO and other international antiquity agencies. "Such measures are done not only for the King's mask, but also for some 160,000 artifacts that are kept at the museum," El-Halwagy said. "Our job is to keep the antiquities not to damage them." He also said that his teams will not start an investigation since nothing wrong has happened to the mask. "But we are preparing a report that will be raised to the minister of antiquities to confirm that the mask is alright and was not damaged and then fixed," he pointed out.

UPDATE 25.10.15
It is weird to see coin collectors and UK metal detectorists take such an interest in the toolkit used for conservation of 3000-year old artefacts in foreign museums. I suspect the reason for this attempt to use anything they can for point scoring is related to the attempts by "internal or external" entities currently trying to discredit the Cairo Egyptian Museum mentioned in a BBC World Service Radio interview with Professor Salima Ikram. Unlike the UK metal detectorists currently attempting to use the media frenzy about the use of glue in order to attack me personally (sic), she has been along to see the mask since the allegations. Prof. Ikram suggests the false beard fell off on its own and that those accusing the museum do so for political reasons. Meanwhile one wonders just who is the "tourist named Jacqueline Rodriguez who was at the museum on August 12th, 2014", and took a picture of a museum worker holding the mask and examining the beard which is now all over the internet illustrating these stories. Why did her five month old photograph surfaced just now? Reader should be aware that the use of cameras in the museum is strictly prohibited and the prohibition is strictly enforced (or at least was when I was last there).

Meanwhile at the press conference yesterday, Christian Eckmann, Senior Conservator, Römisch-Germanische Zentralmuseum, Mainz, Germany.a German conservator brought in to evaluate the damage, told reporters on Saturday that the seriousness of the damage had been exaggerated.
"The use of epoxy is not the best, but it is a solution," he said at a news conference alongside the minister of antiquities. "However this measure was unfortunately done not really properly, so you can see now some remains of glue at the beard." However, gluing the boy king's beard on is not unprecedented. The beard was not fixed to the mask when it was excavated, Eckmann said, and the artifact was brought to the Egyptian Museum with its beard unattached in 1924. It was not until 1941 that the beard piece was reattached to the mask with glue that has deteriorated over the past 70 years, making the accident in August more likely, Eckmann said.

We should support the Egyptian Museum in its endeavours to recover from the events of 2011.

UPDATE 24th Jan 2016
 Three months later:
The Administrative Prosecution (AP) referred eight employees from the Egyptian Museum to trial over the “shocking” handling of the famous gold mask of King Tutankamun [...]  The suspects include two restorers, four senior restoration experts, former director of restoration, and the former director of the museum. According to AP, the first two suspects were careless with the technical procedures of lifting the mask from the museum’s showroom on 12 August 2014, which resulted in the damage to the beard. [...] Subsequently, the suspects tried to reattach the beard but failed to adhere to the protocols of antiquities’ restoration, which require the mask that the ask be taken to a conservation lab.  Naturally their operation was unsuccessful, the AP said, which pushed them to repeat the attempts. The suspects excessively used epoxy glue, which is not what is professionally used. The suspects struggled to erase the visible glue traces, on 30 October and a second time on 2 November 2014. The museum’s former restoration director neglected her supervisory role and disregarded procedures to document the status of the mask before and after repair work.  The  museum’s former director is being accused of allowing the continuation of the mask’s restoration on 30 October and 2 November 2014, AP said. It was not until January 2015 that the Minister of Antiquities publicly admitted the fiasco.

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