FOR nine months, experts have been using a hyperdermic needle and catheter tubing to slowly restore a single 2,750-year-old coffin.
A small team of conservators at the Ashmolean Museum are finishing their painstaking work to restore and preserve dozens of Ancient Egyptian artefacts in time for the grand opening of the new £5m galleries next month.
The new galleries of Ancient Egypt and Nubia will open to the public on Saturday, November 26, and set to boost visitor numbers to new record levels.
But, behind the scenes and high above the Oxford skyline, the experts have spent months slowly conserving priceless objects inch-by-inch.
Head of conservation Mark Norman said: “In the entire collection there are about 50,000 objects, although a lot of that is archaeological material not suitable for public display.
“Only a very small proportion goes out on display, and the conservation effort has been focussed on the most fragile and vulnerable pieces.”
Many of the items have not been conserved since the 1950s and 1960s, and previous work has previously damaged the ancient artefacts.
The coffin lid for dates back to between 945 and 715BC, and was found in Abusir el-Meleq in 1904.
Over time, the sycamore fig wood has dried and warped, and the layer of paint on the fine white plaster covering has buckled and blistered.
Now, three millennia after craftsmen fashioned the coffin for the High Priest of Herishef, conservators are using 21st century medical equipment to inject a pulpy adhesive into underneath the paint to preserve it. The process has taken nine months.
Conservator Elisabeth Gardner said: “With all these pieces, we have been cleaning them, and making them more stable to go on display.”
And the work has also thrown up new discoveries. As conservators worked on the mummy of a woman from Hawara dating from 130AD, they found tiny fragments of leaf tucked under the linen ribbons.
According to keeper of antiquities Susan Walker, they came from the myrtle tree, which was used to make wreaths given to women on their wedding day. If she had been buried with one, it could show she was of marriageable age, or she may have died in childbirth.
The mummy of the Theban priest Djeddjehutyiuefankh, dating back to 770BC, was sent up to the Churchill Hospital in Headington for a CAT scan using their hi-tech medical equipment.
The scan revealed that unlike many mummies, Djeddjehutyiuefankh’s organs were intact and showed no sign of either injury or arthritis which could have explained how he died.
The new galleries form the second phase of the Ashmolean’s redevelopment, after the museum’s extension opened in 2009. The museum has since become the most visited heritage attraction outside of London.
The world-renowned Egyptian collection will be displayed across five galleries, taking visitors on a chronological journey through 5,000 years of occupation of the Nile Valley.