Last week a painted ancient Egyptian coffin in the University’s museums’ collection left Aberdeen for conservation in Hildesheim near Hannover in Germany.
The wooden coffin dates to the Middle Kingdom (2000-1700BC) and was discovered in Beni Hasan, Middle Egypt, by Professor John Garstang in 1903-4. It was made for a royal official, Nekht, whose name means ‘strong’. We hope to find out more about him, but this was a fairly common name in Egypt. The site has some Old Kingdom burials but most, like this coffin, date to the Middle Kingdom. There are over 800 rock-cut tombs at Beni Hasan, with most consisting of a shaft with a chamber at the bottom in which the coffin was placed. A photograph from the Garstang Museum in University of Liverpool shows another coffin (now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge) as it was found in its chamber.
Another archive photograph shows Garstang and an assistant with a coffin and other finds in a larger chamber in which the excavators lived! The excavations were funded by subscription, so the finds are now spread between many museums across the world including the Aberdeen, Liverpool and Cambridge.
The coffin is being conserved by a specialist conservator, Jens Klocke, who is based in Hildesheim. Having been damaged by wet rot, it is very fragile, Jens came to Aberdeen to stabilise the coffin before it was transported in a specially made crate complete with Nekht’s name in hieroglyphics added by Jens! Preparation included covered the coffin in a waxy seal of cyclododecane spray, which offers protection to the artefact while it is being transported but will completely vanish by evaporation after a few days. In the conservation lab, Jens will remove all of the temporary consolidant and gently clean it. He will then consolidating the painted areas the cracking of the wood, before strengthening the coffin by replacing missing dowels and then re-attaching the base of the coffin.
This conservation has been made possible by our partnership with the Lokschuppen exhibition centre in Rosenheim near Munich, and the generous support of an anonymous donor to the Aberdeen Humanities Fund. Once conserved, the coffin will be on display in Rosenheim as part of a large exhibition on Ancient Egypt which is based on Aberdeen’s collection.