Those of you who are 1stfans got an introduction to the animal mummy research project being done at the Museum when we held an informal presentation about the project to look at some x-radiographs and see some animal mummies up close and personal.
In the months that have followed this presentation, the conservation lab has continued to examine and x-ray the collection which consists of about 60 animals in all. We have enlisted the help of a radiologist at The Animal Medical Center Dr. Anthony Fischetti, DVM, MS. Recently Anthony and a colleague came to the museum specifically to look at the x-radiographs of our cat mummies.
The wrappings and coffins, when present, represent a huge range of styles and levels of complexity. The collection consists of a young cat wrapped with simple pieces of linen to larger cats with very complex patterning of dyed linens cut into fine strips. The coffins themselves can be simple stone boxes with polychrome designs, to wooden forms in the shape of seated cats with sometimes elaborate polychrome and gilt decoration.
In examining the radiographs, the veterinarians were able to confirm that the animals in the x-rays were in fact cats, and were able to give us information regarding possible age. Depending on the size and shape of the skull and teeth, they were sometimes able to suggest whether the mummified cat was more likely a species of domesticated cat (Felis silvestris) or a wild species (Felis chaus).
As more institutions begin to study their collections of ancient animal mummies, there seems to only be more questions as to what these differences in mummification styles and animal species might actually mean. The Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis is heading a feline genome project.
The project is looking into what ancient DNA can tell us about current domestic cat populations. Due to the condition of two of Brooklyn’s cat mummies, long bones were able to be sent to Dr. Leslie Lyons for inclusion in the genome project.
Lisa Bruno is the head conservator of objects at the Brooklyn Museum, where she has been working since 1993. She has previously worked at the Art Institute of Chicago, and has had internships at The Cleveland Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and in private practice. She has a Masters Degree in Art Conservation from the University of Delaware, Winterthur Museum Art Conservation Department. She is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation.