Chemical analysis of materials used to create the paint found on the College of Wooster's Egyptian coffin

Kimberly Anne Krall, The College of Wooster


Paints fragments from the Egyptian coffin containing the remains of a female named Ta-irty-bai ("The Two Eyes of My Soul") were analyzed to determine their composition. This artifact from Akhmim, Egypt was carbon 14 dated between 320-240 B.C.E. determining its creation to be during the Ptolemaic period (305-30 B.C.E.). Chemical analysis was performed using a set of analytical techniques including, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy attenuated total reflectance (FT-IR-ATR) and atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS) to determine the composition of the organic and inorganic materials, respectively. An understanding into the different materials used by the ancient Egyptians within their decorous paints provided comparable data to be used with the results. These analyses indicate a use of a wide range of materials, including gum Arabic, beeswax and calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Overall, FT-IR-ATR confirmed gum Arabic was the primary binding adhesive within the paint. The coffin was subjected to a fire that occurred on the campus of the College of Wooster in 1901. This caused soot and water damage to occur to the interior and exterior. The material composition helps in the understanding of Egyptian technology and their cultural emphasis in art. During a conservational attempt to clean the coffin in 2005, a majority of the pigments were observed to swell under the addition of water. Organic plant gums are highly water soluble, proving difficult to clean. These results will thus provide insight into other options for further cleaning on the Wooster coffin in the future.


© Copyright 2010 Kimberly Anne Krall