Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Otzi the Iceman

On September 19th, 1991, Ötzi the Iceman was found in the Austrian-Italian Alps. He is the oldest, best preserved human body known to science at 5300 years old. Ötzi  Man lived in approximately 3300 BCE and when his body was discovered he was still wearing one of his shoes, which are the oldest known preserved shoes in Europe. The thrilling discovery of this prehistoric shoe led to an in-depth study of his footwear. 

This exact replica, produced under the guidance of the late Czech researcher Dr. Petr Hlavácek, was part of that detailed research. This replica shoe is made from the original raw materials and using the primitive tools, like the flint-stone knife. The hides (bear leather, deer skin and veal skin) were tanned using the primitive technology that was most likely available to the Ötzi  man: beef brain mixed with pork liver, and lightly smoke-dried. After experimenting, Dr. Hlavacek's team believes they also found the Ötzi 's technique for making the bast strings.

This shoe was made to fit Dr. Hlavacek, and was worn by him on a 12-man Czech-Austrian expedition with representatives from Hlavacek's university and the media in September 2001. The men climbed to the peak of Mount Similaun (3,599 metres) shod in the replicas of the Iceman's shoes to demonstrate the footwear's suitability to Alpine snow, water and ice conditions.

Hlavacek's conclusions after two field tests were positive. Assuming the Ötzi 's shoes were custom tailored with an exactness of +/- 5mm, his boots allowed for very comfortable movement, even over uneven forest terrain. The shoes were so effective at weight distribution that the wearers had no blisters and feet were kept dry and warm, effective in temperatures of -5°C to -10°C.

You can see this replica shoe on display now in our "All About Shoes" exhibition. The Ötzi  man mummy is on view at the Museo Archeologico dell'Alto Adige (the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology), in Bolzano, Italy. Visit www.iceman.it/en/ for more information. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Conservation Blog: Monkey Business

In 1986 the BSM acquired at auction an automaton made in the 1880s at the famous Phalibois workshop in Paris, France. It features a monkey cobbler sitting at his workbench under a flowering tree. This artifact was selected for the exhibition in the third floor gallery, Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century, thus providing an excellent opportunity to get the monkey in working order.

There are two separate mechanisms inside the ebonized base: one set of gears, cams and cam riders which make the monkey function when a key is turned; the other component is a music box that plays two tunes by pulling a string. There was one hundred and thirty years of dust and grime stuck to all these moving parts. The wood gears and brass arms to which the cam riders are attached were cleaned in-house. The music box was sent to Jeremie Ryder, an automaton conservator who takes care of the Murtogh D. Guinness Collection of Automatic Musical Instruments and Automata, at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey.

                               Brass arms viewed from above; cleaning in progress.

The vertical brass arms have riders at their mid-point which glide over the cut profile of the wooden cams, making the horizontal wires which pass upward into the monkey’s torso, move the head, the jaw, the eyes and an arm which bangs the hammer on the boot stand.

The mechanism at the top of the photo above shows the steel-pinned, brass cylinder, which as it rotates, plucks the teeth in the musical comb. Those plucked, vibrating teeth, produce the tones for the musical arrangement. Underneath the tooth tips, are found tiny chicken feathers, attached by shellac. They dampen an already vibrating tooth just before being plucked by another cylinder pin, thus reducing undesirable mechanical noises. All these feathers were replaced after the metal components were cleaned, as seen in the next photo.

The reassembled automaton can now be seen in Fashion Victims.  For a sneak peek of the monkey cobbler hard at work, check out the museum’s YouTube channel.