Egyptian squeezes were photographed by Dave Rosenthal, who used
a single light to emphasize the reliefs. These images will soon
be available in EMu, the department's online catalog.
sqeezes in new blue board sink mats created by Eloise Vitiello.
Conservators Bethune Gibson and Carolyn Rose
2002 was a particularly sad month for ACL staff. Two special colleagues passed
away: Bethune Gibson and Carolyn Rose, both prominent in the establishment of
the laboratory. Read
Don Hurlbert with the horn headdress after final treatment.
Bosma applying a covering of polyester pongee fabric to the interior
of each box cavity.
box was constructed to hold Shanidar vertibrae.
plastic sheeting makes the contents of each box visible and keeps them
rigid for ease of lifting.
What's New for March 2003
they are not typically thought of as museum "objects," paper
materials in the Department of Anthropology ethnology collections
are often the most overlooked and least researched. The Department's
Egyptian squeezes represent one such long-neglected collection.
A squeeze is formed when soft, wet, moldable paper (or paper
pulp) is pressed into a low relief, allowed to dry, and then
removed; paper pulp is actually thrown into a relief. The removed
paper/pulp has the mirror image of the relief molded into it.
staff recently conserved 104 bas-relief squeezes from Egyptian
monuments that were donated to the Smithsonian in 1874 by Brigadier
General C.P. Stone, a Civil War Union general and soldier of
fortune in Egypt. The reliefs are very finely done, capturing
in exquisite detail figures such as fish, octopi, birds, plants,
wrestling men, hunting scenes, and hieroglyphs. There is no evidence
of erosion or wear of the original stone surface.
squeezes had been stored folded in tin boxes, probably the very
boxes in which they originally arrived at the museum in 1874.
ACL staff recently removed the squeezes, unfolded them, and re-housed
them in sink mats using double walled blue board. Volunteer Eloise
Vitiello, who was responsible for the project, worked one day
a week for three months. The result is a collection that is now
accessible to researchers and that can be viewed and researched
with little handling. The reliefs are also no longer resting
on top of each other, compressing the delicate raised images.
Challenges of Ethnographic Conservation
elaborate Plains Indian headdress attributed to Tall Bull (Cheyenne),
recently conserved for an exhibit at the New Orleans Museum of
Art, illustrates many of challenges which exhibition poses for
ethnographic conservation. Tall Bull, a noted Cheyenne warrior
and the leader of the Dog Soldier Band, was killed by U.S. troops
in the Battle of Summit Springs in 1869. His unusual headdress,
with buffalo horns attached all down its trailer, was in such
poor condition that it had never been exhibited, and for many
years it had not been fully unfolded and examined.
loan conservator Catherine Magee initially examined
the headdress, it was creased and folded and its horns were
lying flat. It was not even clear how the garment was meant to
be worn. Catherine's concerns about the stability of the native
tanned buffalo skin lead her to examine skin fibers for shrinkage
temperature at the National Museum of American Indian’s
conservation facility, where moistened fiber was observed on
a hot stage under a microscope. (The fiber's shrinkage time and
temperature determines how the leather will respond to the application
of humidity). Fibers from representative areas of the entire
headdress responded favorably, and Catherine was able to humidify
and relax the leather with a combination of ethanol and de-ionized
water. She was also able to reposition
the buffalo horns into their original configuration. During
the treatment she also discovered a small medicine bundle near
the left ear.
this treatment, a special bracket was built to support
the horns in their proper position during the exhibition and
afterwards, when the headdress returns to storage. The entire
headdress can now be examined easily and exhibited safely.
of Homo Neanderthalensis Specimen
the Human Origins Program is a remarkable specimen of Homo
neanderthalensis known as Shanidar 3, one
of several specimens discovered and excavated by Drs. Ralph and
Ruth Solecki in the Shanidar Cave in northern Iraq. The 60,000-year-old
specimen, which is on long-term loan to the Anthropology Department,
is the only accessible set of bones from this significant excavation;
the bones of other individuals excavated from this site were
returned to Iraq in the 1970s and their status is unclear. Because
of the high research value of Shanidar 3, Jennifer Clark and
Rick Potts of the Human
Origins Program requested a newly designed storage system.
Two ACL volunteers, Pat Henkel and Sue Bosma, were chosen to
work on this project.
130 bones and many fragments of Shanidar 3 are small and fragile.
The criteria for rehousing included safety for individual bones,
visibility, and accessibility. The bones were previously stored
in a variety of ways. Polyurethane foam had been used, which
was too soft and pliable and did not provide adequate support
(it is also not considered museum-quality material for long-term
storage). Bone fragments
were stored in old film canisters and were in danger of inadvertently
falling out of the container whenever the lid was opened.
containers were made of single wall blueboard following a design
established by a former conservation intern, Linda Lennon (see
photo at left). Ethafoam (closed cell polyethylene foam) was
placed into the interior of the blueboard box, and cavities were
cut into the foam in the shapes of the various bones. Two finger
spaces were cut into some of the shapes to accommodate retrieval
of the bone. All sides of the Ethafoam cavities were smoothed
with sharp knives. Polyester pongee fabric covered the interior
of each cavity. Slits were made into the Ethafoam to tuck in
the cloth, providing a very smooth surface for the delicate bones.
lids for the boxes (photo, left) were made of polycarbonate plastic
sheeting in order to be transparent (so the boxes would be opened
less often) and to keep them rigid for ease of lifting. Our first
choice was Mylar, but it remained too flexible. We considered
thin Plexiglas, but were put off by the joining aspect, i.e.,
melting through heat or solvent. A representative from Read Plastics
suggested polycarbonate sheeting because of the rigidity, transparency,
and workability we required.
the tiny fragments, small clear polystyrene boxes were purchased
and lined with cotton knit fabric covered with acid free tissue.
We consulted David Erhardt, senior chemist at the Smithsonian
Center for Materials Research and Education, who said the
polycarbonate and polystyrene would be acceptable storage materials
used in this way and for this purpose. Enclosures were made for small
bones, ribs and vertebrae.
blueboard box is labeled with a list of the bones contained in
the box. The list is attached
to a side of the box and covered with Mylar so opening and
closing the cover will not tear the list.
American Indian Hall is Taken Down, Conserved, and Returned
the evening of June 2, 1955, the American Indian Hall opened
at the National Museum of Natural History, and for the following
47 years the public enjoyed and learned from artifacts created
by the peoples of South and Central America, the American southwest
and California. Learn more »