Published: April 7, 2015

How to Uncoffin a Mummy

Morgan Nau, Assistant Conservator, Exhibitions


Three conservators carefully work to move an Egyptian mummy.

Removing the lid of the coffin was just the start. Now there was the problem of removing the damaged mummy from the lower half of the coffin. With the lid off we found that the right side piece, which had been held in place by the lid, was detached from the bottom of the coffin and could easily be removed. This meant that the mummy could be slid out, instead of trying to pick it up – good news because the assembly was very fragile. Even so, this was no small task, and it took four people to safely move him out of the coffin.

With the mummy out of the coffin it was time to carefully examine the damaged elements of the mummy for treatment.

The linen burial shroud had twisted around the mummy and had to be carefully unwound. Once it was removed, we laid the fabric out flat for a better look. What we found was that the shroud had split into two main pieces. The front half, which had lain on top of the mummy under the cartonnage, was torn but in reasonable condition. The lower half, which the mummy had been lying on, was stained by resin that had leaked from the mummy and was very fragile.

From the CT scans which we took before we opened the coffin, we knew how damaged the cartonnage was. But it wasn’t until we could ease the pieces off the mummy that it was possible to thoroughly examine them and start to figure out our treatment options. What the CT scan had not been able to show us was the brilliantly colored designs on the cartonnage.

Even after the removal of the mummy, the coffin still wasn’t empty. There was a large pile of debris to be carefully studied to separate out pieces of broken cartonnage, fragments of linen wrappings, and detached human remains.

Once we had taken all the contents out of the coffin, we were able to see just how much work needed to be done to prepare it all for travel and exhibition. We also made a few discoveries that we hadn’t seen before, including a painting of the sky goddess Nut on the inside of the coffin.

Once again, reporters from AP News (and from several other news outlets) came out to see what we were up to. See the video featuring conservators Mimi Leveque and Morgan Nau below: