Brooklyn Museum wrote:
In preparation for an outgoing loan, the Outer Sarcophagus of...
In preparation for an outgoing loan, the Outer Sarcophagus of the Royal Prince, Count of Thebes, Pa-seba-khai-en-ipet came to the conservation lab for examination, documentation and treatment. In addition to deciding how best to stabilize the coffin for travel, conservators took the opportunity to learn more about how this object was made and how it changed over time.
The substrate of this coffin is made from many pieces of wood joined together. Because indigenous trees capable of producing timber were relatively scarce in ancient Egypt, Egyptian carpenters developed techniques that helped them to be efficient with their resources. Woodworkers often mixed pieces of lower grade timber with domestic or imported higher quality wood, and they used a wide variety of joining techniques to cobble the pieces together.
The wood was shaped using various tools, including saws, adzes, chisels and drills. To prepare the wood surface for decoration, joins were often covered with textile patches or other preparation layers. On Pa-seba-khai-en-ipet's coffin, textile patches are visible in some areas where the surface decoration has been lost, and some areas have been modeled using a putty made from clay, gypsum and calcite.
The surface decoration of Pa-seba-khai-en-ipet's coffin was done by first applying a white ground layer (these were often made from gypsum mixed with animal glue) and then painting using mineral pigments mixed with a plant or animal-based binding medium (ie. gum Arabic or animal glue). Paints were probably applied using reed pens or brushes made from plant materials, and sometimes low relief was created with Egyptian blue, a pigment made by combining a copper source with calcite, sand and an alkali flux and heating this mixture to a high temperature. Additionally, coffin surfaces—particularly during some periods of Egyptian history—were often coated with a varnish layer. The varnish on Pa-seba-khai-en-ipet's coffin is made from tree resin.
In order to learn more about these techniques I attended a workshop and conference at the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University titled Ancient Egyptian Coffins: Past, Present, Future. During the three-day workshop, participants learned all about the raw materials of coffin production and we got to try many of these techniques ourselves. It was definitely a challenge! One of the great things about this type of experimentation is that it gets us to think like craftspeople, and it can help inform the questions we ask when examining the objects in our collection.
Posted by Anna Serotta