Delicate process of preserving artifacts as things get shaky at UPenn museum

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Gently, delicately, thousands of artifacts must be safeguarded during the coming months at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. (WPVI)

It's a careful and considerable process.

Gently, delicately, thousands of artifacts must be safeguarded during the coming months at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

"Based on their type, based on size, based on the fragility will get packed a different way," said Special Projects Manager Bob Thurlow.

All artifacts must be secured or relocated off site due to the floor-by-floor demolition of the hospital's Penn Tower and the construction of a patient pavilion. The heavy equipment and demolition cause vibrations that could damage the artifacts.

Museum leadership began meeting with Penn Medicine more than a year ago.

"The primary objective was to work in a collaborative fashion with them about any potential impact our work may have," said Patrick Dorris, Associate VP for Penn Medicine.

"The biggest concern is when the go down into the bedrock, when they start doing first stages of construction because the bedrock will just shake and send it completely into our building because we sit on same bedrock," said Thurlow.

Thurlow says the museum has around 1 million pieces in its collection. A survey off their material in storage and galleries identified the susceptible pieces.

Some of the larger ones need to be de-installed, other pieces stabilized. Sensors with alarms are installed throughout the building.

"We had to address and evaluate a few thousand pieces on display and change some of their storage conditions," said Thurlow.

Much of the Egyptian section will be moved off site. Smaller artifacts will be braced in foam packed cavities. Others, like pieces of a coffin, are strapped down to pallets.

"We wrapped it in Tyvek, which is a very nonabrasive material so that we can put foam underneath to prevent any sort of vibrations during transit," said Thurlow.

The museum will stay open during construction, and they'll work to improve the pieces that will remain on display.
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