Museum Curators Accidentally Ruin King Tut Burial Mask

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons

The details of this story are a little unclear as the three conservators, all of whom only agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, gave conflicting reports. But here's the general gist of it...

Sometime in the past year, the blue and gold braided beard hanging off the chin of the iconic burial mask of the pharaoh Tutankhamun came off—either it was inadvertently knocked off during cleaning or was intentionally removed because it had already become loose. Regardless, orders came from higher-ups to get that gilded beard back on that royal chin, and quickly. That's where things started to go wrong. Someone made a hasty (and ultimately incorrect) decision to use epoxy glue to stick the piece back on.

"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," one conservator said. "Now you can see a layer of transparent yellow."

As if that wasn't bad enough—remember, we're talking about a priceless, one-of-a-kind historic artifact that's over 3,300 years old here, not a faulty piece of IKEA furniture—some of the epoxy got on the golden face of the mask and attempts to remove it with a spatula left irreparable scratches.

It may not sound like such a big deal, but Egypt's tourism, which is a primary component of the country's economy, has suffered in the wake of the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. Museums, and the country at large, rely on these artifacts, in the unaltered state, to attract visitors.