A painting of what is believed to be an Egyptian goddess inside a mummy sarcophagus has just been seen for the first time in 3,000 years. Egypt is a rich source of treasures for anyone in archaeology fortunate enough to be on hand at one of the many excavations that have occurred over the past century right across the country. Sometimes, just when the experts think a site has offered up every possible antiquity contained within it, a new surprise occasionally lays in wait; it just takes a little extra investigation to find it.
But rarely is a site fully excavated, its treasures examined, cleaned and ready for display, only to reveal that the initial search didn’t quite capture all that rested there. Thoroughness is a trait archaeologists pride themselves on, along with patience, so that no treasure is left behind, undetected. And leaving behind one antiquity by accident is one thing; discovering one in a long held exhibit is quite another.
But that is precisely what happened recently when experts opened a sarcophagus under restoration in Perth, Scotland. When experts lifted the mummified body of Ta-Kr-Hb from within her final resting place, lo and behold, two brand new (old) antiquities were there, much to the delight of the restorers.
In March, the Perth Museum & Art Gallery decided to get the mummy’s restoration underway, part of an effort formally known as “Conservation In Action: Saving The Perth Mummy.” Staff hope to have work on the ancient woman ready for exhibition in 2022, coinciding with the redevelopment of the local city hall.
When the mummy was finally lifted from the coffin, conservationists were startled to discover that two paintings line the coffin’s trough, the term used to describe both the inside and outside of its lower section. “We never had a reason to lift the whole thing so high that we could see underneath of the trough, and had never lifted the mummy out before and didn’t expect to see anything there,” explained Mark Hall, collections officer told the online news website, the Scotsman, in early April.
What they found were two images, one a clear representation of the Egyptian priestess/princess/goddess Amentet, also spelled Imentet. Legend has it she lived, archaeologists say, during Egypt’s 25th dynasty, from 747 — 656 BC. In the painting, she is wearing a red dress, and her arms are adorned in ribbons; the painting is in profile, and it is the right side of her face that shows. Amentet was known, experts say, as “She Of The West.”
The mummy came into the Perth Museum’s possession in 1936. It was purchased from Egyptian officials sometime around the end of the 19th century by William Bailey, who ultimately donated it to the Alloa Society of Natural Science & Archaeology, which in turn donated them to the Perth Museum. Unfortunately, the tomb in which these antiquities were buried was badly damaged by disasters both natural and not — floods, and robbers, who sought treasures to sell on the black market.
But when the mummy and coffin came into the museum’s possession, they were tended to carefully so that no further damage occurred, or at least as little as humanly possible. “Although the mummy and the coffin have suffered badly,” Hall said, “…they have survived remarkably well, and will need careful, patient conservation treatment to enable them to survive for many more years.”
And that is precisely what the experts at the Perth Museum are undertaking, spending the better part of the next two years accomplishing their task. And now, with this mummy painting of a goddess, they have even more to display, when the time comes.
“…To get a painting on both surfaces is a real bonus,” Hall enthused to the Scotsman, “and gives us something extra special to share with visitors.” That may still be some time away, but no doubt these conservationists and researchers will give Amentet all their skill, expertise and know-how to ensure she’s looking her best on opening day.