Detail of Egyptian squeeze

The 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.

Egyptian squeeze donated by C.P. Stone

Egyptian sqeezes in new blue board sink mats created by Eloise Vitiello.

Closeup of Egyptian sqeeze


In Memorium:
Conservators Bethune Gibson and Carolyn Rose

August 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 more »

Don hurlbert with horn headdress

Photographer Don Hurlbert with the horn headdress after final treatment.




Sue Bosma applying pongee fabric

Sue Bosma applying a covering of polyester pongee fabric to the interior of each box cavity.



Box for Shanidar vertibrae

This box was constructed to hold Shanidar vertibrae.



Polycarbinate box lid

Polycarbonate plastic sheeting makes the contents of each box visible and keeps them rigid for ease of lifting.



Anthropology Conservation Laboratory
What's New for March 2003

Egyptian Squeezes Conserved

Because 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.

ACL 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.

The 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.

The Challenges of Ethnographic Conservation

An 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.

When 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.

Following 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.

Rehousing of Homo Neanderthalensis Specimen

Within 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.

The 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.

New 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.

The 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.

For 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.

Each 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.

Popular American Indian Hall is Taken Down, Conserved, and Returned to Storage

On 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 »

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