Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1277, (7 - 13 January 2016)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1277, (7 - 13 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Tutankhamun’s mask back on show

The restoration of Tutankhamun’s gold mask, now back on show at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, has revealed further secrets of the techniques used to make it, German restorer Christian Eckmann tells Al-Ahram Weekly

Al-Ahram Weekly

After nine weeks of restoration, the gold mask of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun is back on permanent display in the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square in Cairo, having revealed more secrets of its carving techniques and the original materials that the ancient Egyptians used to make it and to fix on the mask’s beard.

Before the showcase where the iconic gold mask of Tutankhamun now rests, German restorer Christian Eckmann stands admiring the mask after repairing the botched restoration work carried out on it in 2014 and correctly fixing the beard back to its original position. He spoke to Nevine El-Aref about his experience of working on the mask.

How do you feel after accomplishing your mission successfully?
I am very happy and proud to have accomplished this great mission successfully and returned the mask to its original condition as it was before. It was a great challenge because we are dealing with an iconic artefact, and we wanted to finish the restoration in a very limited time in order not to take the mask out of its permanent display and stop museum visitors from admiring it.

I have to admit that it was a remarkable moment in my professional career when the mask first lay in front of me. I would have slept better if this beautiful piece had been back in its showcase. The restoration work on Tutankhamun’s iconic mask should be a model that all international museums can benefit from. The original discoverer of Tutankhamun’s tomb, Howard Carter, accomplished the first restoration of the mask in December 1925, and today we have the pleasure to present the mask again in its original form.

What were the challenges you faced during the restoration?
Taking the beard off the mask and removing the epoxy resin used in the botched restoration work in 2014 was the first challenge we faced.

The second challenge was extracting the internal gold tube discovered accidently inside the beard in order to restore the beard properly. The internal tube was filled with epoxy resin and then fixed inside the beard and it was hard to remove it. It took three weeks to remove the resin from the beard, and then we were able to dissolve the glue material found inside it.

What is the role of the internal tube? Was it inserted by Carter during the first restoration carried out on the mask in 1925 or was it part of the original mask?
Early studies have revealed that the internal tube was part of the original mask and it was used by the ancient Egyptians to fix the beard to the mask.

How did you manage to take out the internal tube without affecting the beard?
We did not use any chemical solvent to remove the epoxy resin, but used limewood rods to scrape away the resin between the beard and the mask by hand, meticulously preserving the precious gold as we did so. That was why it took so long to remove the resin from the beard. We only went square mm by square mm, and the deeper we went into the tube the narrower was the space. At one point we were really a bit afraid that we wouldn’t be able to remove it because it was so densely packed together. However, we did it successfully.

What material did you use to fix the beard and why did you choose it?
We used beeswax because it is a natural, safe and strong material. We used it raw without adding any other materials to it. Beeswax was also used in the second restoration work to fix the beard to the mask in 1946, but the restorers at the time added another material to it.

Did you carry out any documentation on the mask during your restoration work?
We fully documented the mask. We measured all the inlaid materials and the gold sheets used to make the mask, but we now have to analyse our data to finish the complete documentation of it. We need another two or three months.

What is your opinion concerning Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves’ theory that the mask of Tutankhamun originally belonged to Queen Nefertiti, as is shown by the face, the earring holes and the cartouche?

This hypothesis was suggested long ago but has never been investigated. We took this opportunity to study the technique used to manufacture the mask as well as to investigate the controversial areas mentioned by Reeves (the face, the holes in the ears and the cartouche) in order to gain more knowledge about it. At the moment, I cannot comment on this suggestion or theory until the completion of our investigations.

We saw some traces of the cartouche, but we have to compare these to other areas on the mask that bear inscriptions in order to be sure or to prove if these are manufacturing traces or rewritings of the cartouche or something else. I cannot reject or confirm or say anything conclusive about the theory at the moment. I have to carry out further studies and evaluate our data first in order to come up with a concrete opinion.

As for the face, we did not notice any differences or changes in the kind of gold layers used for the face and the other parts of the mask or even if they were laid on at different times. There are slight differences in many parts of the mask, but they are not very big differences. From the technological point of view, it makes sense that the ancient Egyptians shaped the face first before fixing it to the rest of the mask. There was a need for workmanship on both sides, and the face was the last thing to be attached to the mask. There was no evidence that the gold here is completely different to what we see on the rest of the mask.

As for the earring holes, I am not an Egyptologist so I cannot confirm that ancient Egyptian kings did not wear earrings. But as a professional restorer I can confirm that the mummy of King Tutankhamun has holes in both his ears, and if you look in the Amarna depictions you will see depressions in the ears of all the male figures. So I cannot say definitely, but I would not be surprised if you found ear holes on other depictions. This has to be cleared up by study.

Where do we find ear holes — on royal statues of males or females or both? I am a technician and such a study should be carried out by Egyptologists.

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