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Subject: Mummified head

Mummified head

From: Paul Storch <paul.storch>
Date: Tuesday, June 22, 1999
Roberta Salmaso inquired about how to remedially treat a wet
mummified head.  I would think that throwing it out would not be a
treatment option at this point, but I know of some people who had
considered that option a while back in a similar situation!

I would suggest that you arrange the head on a support so that air
can circulate over all of the surfaces in order to dry it slowly.
Slow drying with a fan directed over and around the object should
minimize shrinkage.  You can monitor the drying process by weighing
the head before and at regular intervals during the drying.  When
the weight remains the same, the process is complete.  The skin was
shrunk with hot rocks, then tanned/semi-tanned with various
vegetable-type tannins, and the interior is usually supported with
vegetal materials.  I would imagine that the tide lines are
precipitates of minerals and any oils in the skin from the tanning

The fungal infestation will be controlled once the EMC in the skin
is reduced to 10-12% by controlled drying. One way to disinfect an
object such as this is to gently swab the surface with ethanol
(always test the surface for color removal and other adverse effects
before proceeding).  The ethanol treatment will probably also remove
the tide lines, although those might be permanent depending on the
composition of the staining.

The essential factor, however, is to keep the object at between
45-50% RH in storage and exhibit to prevent the mold spores from
reactivating.  The main problem with the head is getting the excess
moisture out of the interior.  If controlled drying does not work,
you might have to take more intrusive measures, but that is beyond
what I can recommend here. Hope this helps and contact me off list
for further information.

Paul S. Storch
Objects Conservator
Daniels Objects Conservation Laboratory (DOCL)
B-109.1, Minnesota History Center
345 Kellogg Blvd West
St. Paul, MN  55102-1906
Fax: 651-297-2967

                  Conservation DistList Instance 13:3
                  Distributed: Thursday, June 24, 1999
                        Message Id: cdl-13-3-002
Received on Tuesday, 22 June, 1999

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