Want to hear about a bad day? They don’t get much worse than this.
King Tut’s 3,300-year-old funeral mask, called “the most famous archaeological relic in the world,” has been permanently damaged, Cairo’s Egyptian Museum announced this week. It’s still not entirely clear what happened. But it seems Tut’s drooping beard was somehow knocked off at some point last year. And then everything went from bad to worse.
Competing stories abound, the Associated Press found. “Three of the museum’s conservators reached by telephone gave differing accounts of when the incident occurred last year, and whether the beard was knocked off by accident while the mask’s case was being cleaned, or was removed because it was loose,” the news agency reported.
Amid the pandemonium, someone had the idea to hastily glue that sucker back on. According to the AP, Tut’s mask is a huge draw for tourists, so the museum wanted it back out there on the floor. Someone grabbed epoxy — an adhesive totally unsuitable for something like Tut’s mask — and, in an attempt to fix the mask, only damaged it further.
“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 conservator, speaking on the condition of anonymity because who in their right mind would want to be linked with this debacle, told the Associated Press.
“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,” he confessed.
Another museum conservator, who was present at the scene, said when one colleague realized what had happened, he grabbed a spatula to try and get the glue off, but instead left permanent scratches. “The first conservator, who inspects the artifact regularly, confirmed the scratches and said it was clear that they had been made by a tool used to scrape off the epoxy,” the AP reported.
So what’s the final damage?
There’s now a gap between the beard and the face. “Now you can see a layer of transparent yellow,” one conservator said.
Experts couldn’t believe it. “From the photos circulating among restorers, I can see that the mask has been repaired,” Egyptologist Tom Hardwick told the AP. “But you can’t tell with what.”