CAIRO – The blue and gold braided beard on the golden mask of famed pharaoh Tutankhamun was hastily glued back on with epoxy, damaging the relic after it became detached during cleaning, conservators at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo said Wednesday.
The museum, which many archaeologists and restorers say is not run to professional standards, is one of the city’s main tourist sites. Tutankhamun’s mask, over 3,300 years old, and other contents of his tomb are its top exhibits, drawing tourists from around the world.
Three of the museum’s conservators reached by telephone gave differing accounts of when the incident occurred late last year, and whether the beard was knocked off by accident or was removed because it was loose.
They agree however that orders came from above to fix it quickly and that an inappropriate adhesive was used. All spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of professional reprisals.
“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 Tutankhmun’s golden mask,” one conservator said.
“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 conservator added.
Another museum conservator, who was present at the time of the repair, said that epoxy had dried on the face of the boy king’s mask and that a colleague used a spatula to remove it, leaving 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.
Egypt’s tourist industry, once a pillar of the economy, has yet to recover from three years of tumult following a 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Museums and the opening of new tombs are part of plans to revive the industry. But authorities have made no significant improvements the Egyptian Museum since its construction in 1902, and plans to move the Tutankhamun exhibit to its new home in the Grand Egyptian Museum scheduled to open in 2018, have yet to be divulged.