Cat Mummy

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Cat mummy. Linen, animal remains. Abydos, Egypt. 381-343 BCE (Thirtieth Dynasty, Late Period). University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Treatment summary

Cleaned and stabilized linen so the mummy could be studied.

Background

This mummy was discovered as part of a large excavation led by the University of Pennsylvania at Abydos, Egypt, which turned up a large number of votive animal mummies.  The purpose of conservation was to stabilize it so that it could be studied; the linen was so deteriorated in its current state that it could not be turned over or moved safely.

Before treatment, it became evident that the mummy was missing its head; a call to the Egyptology department turned up a cat mummy head.  Unfortunately, the head did not belong to the mummy body–while there was definitely a body within the linen, the head was an ancient fake, stuffed with linen and bitumen.  (This is discussed in more detail in a blog post written while at the Penn Museum: http://www.penn.museum/sites/artifactlab/2013/08/14/losing-it-and-faking-it-investigations-into-our-animal-mummies/).

Object description

The mummy is wrapped in at least five layers of linen in varying coarseness of weave. The most finely woven linen is just beneath the outermost layer and is interspersed with layers of coarse textile.  Each layer appears to have been bound with string in no apparent pattern.  The outermost layer is of medium coarseness and is folded at the edge, 9.0cm from the top of the wider end.  Yellowed hair and mummified skin are visible at the wider end of the mummy.  The linen at the narrower end is lost, revealing yellow bone (possibly a vertebra) and hair fragments.

Condition

The linen was badly aged, varying in color from golden to dark brown.  The layers were fragmentary; the outermost layers were loose from the mummy.  The linen at each end was dark brown, brittle and powdery.  At the wider end, the linen was folded and matted and was very fragile.  The textile in the middle of the mummy retained good flexibility and is a golden tan in color.  The surface overall was very dusty, most likely with self-generated powder.  Small white spots (like mold) were visible on the surface of the lighter-colored textile.  The hair was very brittle, with white flecks among the strands.

Treatment process

Because the mummy could not be safely turned over, treatment was carried out on the top side first.  The surface was vacuumed through netting, using a soft brush to sweep up dust and powder.  A small tear in the linen was repaired using toned Japanese tissue and 7.5% methyl cellulose in water.  Nylon netting toned with acrylic paint was positioned over the top of the mummy and pinned in place; the mummy was carefully turned over so the bottom could be treated.

The bottom of the mummy was covered in a thick layer of powder, which was vacuumed away through a screen to reveal fragmented textile and string.  This was photographed, and then the loose fragments removed.  The most fragile pieces of textile were supported from behind using toned Japanese tissue and 7.5% methyl cellulose in water.  The netting was then drawn around the mummy and closed with a flat felled seam using hair silk.

Conclusion

The mummy is now stable enough to be studied further.  During cleaning, it was discovered that an edge of the linen had been hemmed.  It was not uncommon for linen to be repurposed as mummy wrappings.

Additional

Two blog posts on the cat mummy can be found at:

http://www.penn.museum/sites/artifactlab/2013/08/14/losing-it-and-faking-it-investigations-into-our-animal-mummies/

http://www.penn.museum/sites/artifactlab/2013/09/14/wrapping-up-the-cat-mummy/

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