The golden mask of Tutankhamun (pictured) was damaged after its ‘beard’ was stuck on with glue
Eight people involved in a botched glue repair of the famed golden burial mask of King Tutankhamun have been referred to trial for ‘gross negligence’.
Prosecutors say the 3,300-year old mask, whose beard was accidentally knocked off and hastily glued on with epoxy in 2014, was scratched and damaged as a result.
And although it was corrected last month by a team of German-Egyptian specialists, it’s alleged officials dealt ‘recklessly’ with the artifact.
The patch-up job was fixed when the team removed the epoxy and reattached the beard using beeswax, which is often used as an adhesive for antiquities.
Restoration specialist Christian Eckmann said a year ago that the cause of a scratch discovered on the mask had had not been determined, but that it could have been recent.
The Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where the burial mask is kept, is one of the city’s main tourist sites.
However, in some areas, ancient wooden sarcophagi lay unprotected from the public, while pharaonic burial shrouds mounted on walls crumble behind open glass cases.
Tutankhamun’s mask, over 3,300 years old, and other contents of his tomb are the museum’s top exhibits.
It was reported a year ago that three of the museum’s curators reached by telephone gave differing accounts of when the incident occurred in 2014.
They also could not agree whether the beard was knocked off by accident while the mask’s case was being cleaned or if was removed because it was loose.
They did 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 Tutankhamun’s golden mask,’ one curator 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,’ they added.
German restorer Christian Eckmann begins restoration work on the mask in October 2015 after the beard was broken off and hastily glued back on using epoxy
The curator said that the mask now shows a gap between the face and the beard, whereas before it was directly attached: ‘Now you can see a layer of transparent yellow.’
Another museum curator, 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 curator, 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 the 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 to 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.
The burial mask, discovered by British archeologists Howard Carter and George Herbert in 1922, triggered worldwide interest in archaeology and ancient Egypt when it was unearthed along with Tutankhamun’s nearly intact tomb.
The burial mask is kept in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (pictured), which is one of the city’s main tourist sites
THE BRIEF REIGN OF BOY KING TUTANKHAMUN
The mummified and embalmed face of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun, pictured on display in a climate controlled case in his tomb at the Valley of the Kings
Tutankhamun was an Egyptian pharaoh who ruled from 1332BC – 1323BC after taking the throne at the age of nine or ten.
The son of Akhenaten, when he became king, he married his half-sister, Ankhesenpaaten.
However, his reign was short-lived – he died at the age of 19 and is believed to have suffered from scoliosis, a condition which means the spine is curved.
He remains one of the best known pharaohs and there has been widespread research about his life and health following the discovery of his tomb.
In 1907, Lord Carnarvon George Herbert asked English archaeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter to supervise excavations in the Valley of the Kings.
On 4 November 1922, Carter’s group found steps that led to Tutankhamun’s tomb, which would eventually lead to what was the most complete ancient Egyptian tomb ever discovered.
He spent several months cataloguing the antechamber before opening the burial chamber and discovering the sarcophagus in February the following year.