painstaking work is a prelude to the spring exhibition, Mysteries
of the Mummies: The Art and Archaeology of Death in Ancient
Egypt, and will culminate in the October 6 opening
of the new, expanded Egyptian galleries on the museums
the first time, the museums conservation labs were open
to visitors for a week in January, allowing some two hundred
museum members to have a peek behind the scenes. On this afternoons
tour, assistant conservator Renee A. Stein is perched on a stool
beside the priests elaborately painted wooden coffin,
using long cotton swabs to gently remove eons of grime without
damaging the colorful hieroglyphics beneath.
are always limited by what the object allows us to do,
an adjoining room, conservators are working on reconstructing
the Egyptian coffin of Nespekashuti, an overseer of the priests
of Min from the twenty-fifth dynasty. The coffin, carved from
imported hardwood, was in poor condition when it arrived. It
had fire damage and has been dropped at least twice,
conservator Therese M. OGorman says.
are bent over small shards of painted wood as if reconstructing
a scattered jigsaw puzzle. The team, which includes seven conservators,
museum volunteers trained in conservation techniques, visiting
Egyptian conservationist Abdel-Rahman El-Serogy, and graduate
students, will spend countless hours patiently stabilizing the
the museum also is making use of cutting-edge technology in
analyzing the artifacts. X-rays and computed tomography (CT)
scans of the mummies were taken at Emory Hospitals radiology
department, which helped to determine their sex, age, and any
diseases or illnesses. DNA tests are being
conducted to verify identities.
of the most exciting discoveries is the possibility that one
of the mummies from the Niagara collection is the renowned Ramesses
I, the patriarch of Egypt's nineteenth dynasty and grandfather
of Ramesses the Great, whose remains are on view at the Cairo
possibility generated national attention for the Carlos Museum,
when it was reported in the Washington Post and USA Today and
broadcast on CNN and NOVA.
five-foot, five-inch mummy, which arrived unwrapped, has crossed
arms, indicating that he was a king or Pharaoh. His hooked nose
and high, arched feet are characteristic of the Ramesses line.
virtual imaging showed that there was a hardened mass of molten
resin in the mummys skull. This type of embalming fluid
was reserved for people of royal status because it was so expensive,
says Heidi Hoffman of Emory Hospitals Department of Radiology.
CT scanscross-sectional visual slices
of the mummys bodywere stacked up and manipulated
to give researchers the first three-dimensional view of the
inside of a mummy. We were able to take a virtual fly-through
of the body, like something out of Fantastic Voyage,
says Anthony G. Hirschel, museum director.
proof that the mummy is, indeed, Ramesses I would come from
comparing his DNA to that of his descendants
in Cairo. If the mummy does turn out to be the missing Pharaonic
patriarch, he will be returned to Egypt.
T. Lell, a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Molecular Medicine
who is assisting director Douglas C. Wallace on the
DNA project, says they will try to get the DNA
from protected areas such as inside long bones and teeth.
one has really had success doing what we are trying to do now
with Egyptian mummies, Lell says. Any DNA
we get from these mummies is exciting to us.M.J.L.