Meet the Egyptians: Horwennefer’s coffin

27 October 2016 by Lisa


Horwennefer’s coffin lid before treatment.

Building works have now begun on an exciting new project to develop our ancient Egypt gallery, enabling us to tell the fascinating story of how Liverpool acquired its world-renowned ancient Egyptian collection.  The re-development will allow us to increase the number of the objects on display and tell more stories, while also creating better conditions for the collections.

While the gallery is closed, conservators are working hard to get our Egyptian objects ready to go back on display. Here, conservator Tania Desloge tells us how they are getting on: 

“The organics conservation studio has recently had an influx of mummies and coffins, so we have been very busy treating these objects to ensure they can safely go back out on display once the new ancient Egypt gallery opens. I’d like to introduce you to the coffin of Horwennefer, a royal relative during the Ptolemaic Period (approximately 2300 years ago), and is part of the Joseph Mayer collection.

As you can see from the picture above, Horwennefer’s coffin is in need of some TLC before going out on display. The lid in particular has some conservation problems that need to be addressed.

Close-up shot of the hieroglyphs: notice the flaking paint and areas of loss.

Close-up shot of the hieroglyphs: notice the flaking paint and areas of loss.

The black resin that covers the majority of the lid as well as some painted surfaces are flaking and crumbly. There is also dirt and soot over the surface that needs to be removed. On top of all that, the beard is detached (and had been lost from the rest of the object until the Senior Curator of Antiquities found it in storage and realised it must belong to the coffin!). There are also large cracks on the sides.

As you can see, there is quite a bit to be done! We are taking a minimal approach on the objects to make sure that all treatments can be reversed for future conservators and people studying the objects.
The first task is to remove as much dirt as possible by using just a soft brush and a museum vacuum, which has a lower suction power than normal vacuums. I will also use a smoke sponge, which collects ingrained dirt.

The blue pigment has started to really come through and the hieroglyphs are much brighter than before.

The coffin after removing the majority of dirt and soot with a brush, museum vacuum and smoke sponge.

The coffin after removing the majority of dirt and soot with a brush, museum vacuum and smoke sponge.

The next course of action is to consolidate the surface; this means using a solution to reattach loose paint flakes and any powdery or flaking surfaces. It will not only help the object for the future, but make sure that when the coffin is moved no new pieces of the resin or paint will fall off. There is still quite a bit to do, such as stabilise the large cracks and double check that all areas with loose flakes are treated.

I will be blogging again soon to show the finished object!”

The Ancient World gallery, which displays highlights from our ancient Egyptian, ancient Greek, Anglo-Saxon and Roman collections, is now closed until early 2017.

There are still some ancient Egyptian, Greek and Anglo-Saxon objects on display in the Weston Discovery Centre on the 3rd floor of the museum; as well as our Animal Mummies Revealed exhibition to explore while the Ancient world gallery is closed.

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