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Hasty fix causes irreparable damage to King Tut's burial mask

A quick attempt to reattach the king's beard with epoxy-based glue has defaced the Egyptian Museum's biggest draw forever.

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King Tut's burial mask was damaged by a botched attempt to fix a broken beard with epoxy glue.Bjørn Christian Tørrissen (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo is learning a painful lesson after a quick fix left King Tut's burial mask with irreparable damage.

Three museum conservators gave the Associated Press differing accounts of exactly when the beard was removed and whether it was knocked off accidentally during a routine cleaning or removed intentionally because it was loose. What they do agree upon, however, is that they received orders to fix it quickly -- and whoever fixed it decided to use an epoxy-based adhesive, which proved unsuitable for such a restoration. The mask is now permanently damaged.

"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 of the conservators told AP. "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."

The epoxy left a visible gap of yellow between the mask and the beard. Worse still is that whoever reattached the beard got some epoxy on the face of the mask and then hastily tried to use a spatula to get it off. The spatula got rid of the epoxy, but left a series of scratches on the face.

An investigation into the botched restoration is under way, but the damage has been done. The whole story is a reminder that when you have items that are incredibly old and of tremendous historical significance, you should always take the time needed to maintain and repair it appropriately.