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Tuesday, May 17 • 2:30pm - 3:00pm
(Objects) Conservation and investigation of ancient bodies at Abydos - Challenging work in post-revolutionary Egypt

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Excavations during the spring of 2012 at the North Cemetery at Abydos were eventful, with many chance finds discovered, including some beautiful furnished burials from the Middle Kingdom (around 1800BC) requiring urgent conservation intervention. One year after the January 25th revolution, tensions were high on site and the possible threat of illicit looting of the site for antiquities forced the archaeologists to keep the work low-key but also ensure the methods used were as transparent as possible – in order to not provoke rumors or attract too much attention from the local villagers – and to satisfy the concerns and wishes of the Ministry of Antiquities authorities. The second phase of the project took place in 2015, amid serious issues with the Ministry of Antiquities, who, due to security fears, threatened to close the storage magazine, move all of the artifacts to a government store and rebury human remains stored in Abydos. This paper will focus on two human burials discovered buried at the base of a giant sand dune in the North Cemetery. We will describe the conservation process, and how we managed to achieve our goals in a very challenging working environment. Due to remarkable natural preservation of hair, flesh and skin on the bodies, and textile wrappings encasing them, careful planning was necessary to find a method of maintaining the bodies intact during excavation. A creative technique was employed for block-lifting the complete burials. Following transfer of the block-lifted burials, within wooden crates, to the onsite magazine in Abydos, they remained in storage until May 2015 when a grant from the American Research Center in Egypt allowed a small team to return to Abydos and continue the treatment and investigation. This next – and most bold step in the conservation process involved inverting the crates to allow treatment of the bases of the two wooden coffins beneath the bodies. Once the underside of the coffins had been conserved and supportive mounts constructed, the crates were turned upright once again, the sides of the crates and cushioning materials removed – exposing the bodies for the first time since excavation. Careful planning was essential to ensure we had sufficient materials for conservation treatment on site. Nevertheless, because of the difficulties we faced with importing or purchasing conservation grade materials in Egypt (even in Cairo), it was sometimes necessary to substitute imported supplies (such as adhesives for constructing the supportive backing for the burials) with local alternatives. Final conservation of the bodies themselves is now practically finished and at the beginning of 2016, the investigation, analysis and documentation will be completed, allowing us to begin preparing the final publication. The project was ambitious in its aims, striving to demonstrate what it is possible to achieve with determination and resourcefulness – in a country where the logistics of working are becoming increasingly difficult.

avatar for Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim

Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim

Conservator, Egyptian Museum of Antiquities
Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim graduated with a BA from Cairo University, Faculty of Archaeology, Restoration and Conservation Department in 2008. He has worked as a conservator in the Egyptian Museum-Cairo, Ministry of State for Antiquities Affairs since 2012. Mohamed works in both organic... Read More →
avatar for Lucy-Anne Skinner

Lucy-Anne Skinner

Principle Investigator - Conservation Of Bio-Archaeology, NY-IFA Archaeological Project, Abydos
Lucy-Anne Skinner currently works independently as an archaeological conservator and is involved with several projects in Egypt. She is PI for the “Conservation of Bio-archaeology” project at Abydos and a Lead Conservator of the “Coffin Conservation Project” at Tel el Amarna... Read More →

Tuesday May 17, 2016 2:30pm - 3:00pm EDT
Room 516 AB