Archeologists Use Lego to Restore a 3,000-year old Mummy Sarcophagus

The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge recently restored a 3,000-year old mummy case using Lego frames. The sarcophagus is now restored to its former glory, complete with an internal Lego support system. This is just further proof that there is literally nothing that Lego can't do.

The project was extremely risky. Conservators had considered various methods for restoration, and determined that reshaping by using humidity to soften the damaged cartonnage was the best bet. However, applying water to the material in any form was quite risky and could result in further collapse. To apply water in a controlled way, was only possible if the cartonnage was face-down, which was virtually impossible.


The mummy case was found in the Ramesseum at Thebes in 1896. The gilded wooden face had been torn out by robbers and the mummy removed. Cartonnage is a uniquely Egyptian material, often only a few millimetres thick, consisting of layers of plaster, linen and glue. It is remarkably rigid but also very sensitive to humidity. At some point Hor had been exposed to damp conditions and had sagged dramatically around the chest and face. This caused structural problems and also serious cracking and instability in the painted decoration. There had been some attempts at repair and restoration, most probably in the cartonnage’s early years in the Museum.

Enter Lego...

The University of Cambridge's Department of Engineering collaborated with the conservation efforts and used the restoration as an end-of-year student project, and student David Knowles teamed up with conservator Sophie Rowe for the challenge. Knowles made a frame to suspend Hor, while Rowe began the reshaping efforts.


After reshaping the chest and face, the surface was stabilized and Knowles "designed and built a display mount for the mummy case":

An essential part of this is the internal support which ensures that the structure cannot collapse again in the future. Six light, ingenious little structures made from LEGO have been placed inside the chest cavity. They are adjustable using screw threads, and are padded with archival foam where they are in contact with the ancient surface.


Lego never ceases to amaze me. [Patheos]


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