A highlight of the popular Antiquities collection at Eton College is the mummification display. Recently we noticed that some of the wrappings on the mummified heads were starting to shed and come loose. To understand why this was happening and to repair the damage we brought in Jenny Mathiasson who specializes in the conservation of antiquities and human remains. Over two days we worked together treating every object in the display. After initial examination of the objects we determined the likely cause of the deterioration was due to extreme changes in the humidity within the case. Organic specimens can react quite violently to humidity changes. This coupled with their age and fragility meant interventive treatment was necessary to stabilize them for the future and prevent the permanent loss of any original material.
The stabilization was carried out in two parts. First, areas of flaking linen wrappings were consolidated and once completed the larger strips of linen could then be relaxed back into their original places and re attached. It was important to work with adhesives that would complement the original materials and to test a variety of strengths until the best solution was found. In our case we chose to use cellulose based adhesives such as 2% methylcellulose in a 50/50 solution of IMS (alcohol) and deionized water and wheat starch paste in deionized water. The methylcellulose adhesive was low tack and could be wicked up easily by the linen so it was ideal for consolidating the flaking edges of the wrappings. The wheat starch paste was higher tack and more viscous so it was ideal for re-adhering the larger strips of linen back in their original positions.
The final stage of the treatment was to re-position the object on their mounts as some had shifted slightly over time. Overall we were able to stabilize three mummified human heads, a mummified falcon, a mummified kitten and two mummified human hands.
To prevent damage like this from reoccurring there is a humidity control system installed within the case, which will keep our mummified objects comfortable for years to come.
A huge thanks to Jenny Mathiasson for her expertise and to David Goode and Hawtrey House for hosting Jenny during her time at Eton.