Among the most important of ancient artefacts is the death or funeral mask belonging to King Tutankhamen. The mask was excavated in 1922 from The Valley of Kings and the boy king ruled, 1332BC to 1323BC. He has always been held in regard as a historical figure of mystery and the mask found by British archaeologists Howard Carter and George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon would become as synonymous with ancient Egyptian culture as the pyramids.
The rumoured curse of his funeral mask has struck The Egyptian Museum in Cairo, who are facing a plague of potential legal battles, accusations and tarnished reputations. Photos are circling the internet, in which, it appears the beard has been glued on to the golden face mask with a transparent adhesive.
There are different accounts as to what transpired and the Associated Press found. “All of the museum’s conservators reached by telephone gave differing accounts.”
According to The Guardian, one museum official said, “What happened is that one night they wanted to fix the lighting in the showcase, and when they did that they held the mask in the wrong way and broke the beard,”
Conservators at the museum also claim it was knocked during cleaning and the beard fell off then. Some versions of this sequence of events border on the scandalous claiming the gluing job is unprofessional as a result of the cleaners trying to remedy the situation themselves under the cover of night.
The Egyptian Museum general director, Mahmoud El Halwagi claims the adhesive was administered at his say so and it is to prevent the beard being dislodging in the future. He dismissed the claims it was damaged and in an interview with Ahram online says the beard is undamaged, still in its original position and that nothing has happened to the mask since he took up position in October. ”
Regardless of how it happened all accounts agree that the use of epoxy, a common household adhesive was a poor choice. The decision to use a glue intended for metallic and stone surfaces on a 3,300 year old artefact has been criticised by experts.
“Unfortunately he used a very irreversible material – epoxy has a very high property for attaching and is used on metal or stone but I think it wasn’t suitable for an outstanding object like Tutankhamun’s golden mask,” one curator said.
A curator who was present at the time of the repair said that when excess glue dried on the mask a colleague used a spatula to remove it, leaving scratches. This poor workmanship not befitting a museum has outraged many.
“The mask should have been taken to the conservation lab but they were in a rush to get it displayed quickly again and used this quick drying, irreversible material,” the same curator told The Telegraph.
According to the AP, “Tut’s mask is a huge draw for tourists, so the museum wanted it back out there on the floor.” It is little wonder why in a country struggling to attract tourist after the 2011 uprising which ousted Hosni Mubarak, Egypt needs all it tourist attractions on display.
The museum could very well have a law suit on their hands. Monica Hanna, an Egyptologist who inspected the mask, said she was so shocked by what she saw that her group is taking the matter to the public prosecutor.
“We are presenting a complaint on mismanagement to the prosecutor tomorrow,” said Ms Hanna, from Egypt’s Heritage Task Force, which has long battled mismanagement and looting of Egypt’s legendary ancient artefacts.
The international media is using this opportunity to portray the Egyptian Museum unfit to handle relics of such immense value. While it’s unclear exactly what happened the papers are happy to speculate and the museums inability to set the story straight, is making it far too easy for these international papers to bring the competence of the whole country into question. The BBC had this to say “As Orla Guerin reports from Cairo, the incident has raised concerns about how Egypt’s ancient treasures are being treated.” The Egyptian Museum is being described as underfunded and gloomy.
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