Lego Supports Slumping Mummy

Digs & Discoveries January/February 2014

(Courtesy Sophie Rowe © Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)

After 3,000 years, the case that had held the mummy of Hor, a vizier’s son who died in tenth-century B.C. Thebes, was in a slump. It had succumbed to years of storage in moist conditions in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, and was sagging badly at the chest and neck.

The casing is made of cartonnage, a rigid, millimeters-thick material made from layers of plaster and linen. To restore Hor’s shape, museum conservator Sophie Rowe teamed up with Dan Knowles, a 22-year-old Cambridge master’s student in engineering. Knowles constructed a special frame to suspend Hor facedown, and Rowe used an existing hole in its back to introduce moisture. After three weeks, Hor’s chest had re-expanded. Then the cartonnage needed to be held up from the inside.

“We considered inflatable systems and struts radiating from a central pole,” Rowe explained. Then Knowles came up with the idea of using Lego bricks. He fashioned supports that include a threaded screw system from a commercially available Lego set, adding archival foam where the toy bricks touch the ancient cartonnage.

The Lego supports are “an elegant solution,” says Rowe, noting that the hole in Hor’s back is small, so having a system that can be adjusted by feel is a plus. Hor is now on permanent display for museum visitors.

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