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Antiquities expert says King Tut mask can be restored after beard reattached with epoxy

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CAIRO — Epoxy used to glue a blue and gold braided beard back on to the burial mask of Egypt's famed King Tutankhamun can be removed and the mask properly restored, a German expert summoned to Cairo to examine it said Saturday.

Speaking at a packed news conference at the Egyptian museum, restoration specialist Christian Eckmann said the beard, which has been detached before from the mask and had likely loosened over the years, was accidentally knocked off last August during work on the relic's lighting. The cause of a scratch discovered on the mask had yet to be determined.

"There will be a committee of experts consisting of conservators, archeologists and natural scientists in order to develop a plan for re-conservation," he said. "Up till now we found one scratch which is visible but it cannot be said now whether this scratch is an ancient one, a recent one, or a modern one which just happened right now," he added.

PHOTO: A detail of the gold mask of King Tutankhamun showing where the beard is attached is seen in a glass case during a press tour, in the Egyptian Museum near Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. German restoration specialist, Christian Eckmann, summoned to Cairo to examine the damaged burial mask, spoke at a packed news conference Saturday at the Egyptian museum, saying that epoxy used to glue the mask's beard back on can be removed and the mask properly restored. Eckmann said the beard, which has been detached before from the mask and had likely loosened over the years, was accidentally knocked off last August during work on the relic’s lighting. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
A detail of the gold mask of King Tutankhamun showing where the beard is attached is seen in a glass case during a press tour, in the Egyptian Museum near Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. German restoration specialist, Christian Eckmann, summoned to Cairo to examine the damaged burial mask, spoke at a packed news conference Saturday at the Egyptian museum, saying that epoxy used to glue the mask's beard back on can be removed and the mask properly restored. Eckmann said the beard, which has been detached before from the mask and had likely loosened over the years, was accidentally knocked off last August during work on the relic’s lighting. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

On Wednesday, museum conservators speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of professional reprisals said that the beard had been hastily glued back on with epoxy, a powerful adhesive extremely difficult to remove. The 3,300-year old mask remains on display, with epoxy filling a small gap between the chin and what is known as a "model beard" commonly worn by kings and gods.

Museum administrators at the news conference declined to comment on which specific type of epoxy was used. Experts say adhesives used in such repairs are chosen for their reversibility, for which epoxy is not renown, although the difficulty of its removal varies according to the type of resin used.

Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty, present at the conference, said he was only alerted to the incident two days ago.

The burial mask, discovered by British archeologists in 1922, sparked worldwide interest in archaeology and ancient Egypt when it was unearthed along with Tutankhamun's nearly intact tomb.

It is arguably the best-known piece in the museum, one of the city's main tourist sites, which was built in 1902 and has seen little change since.

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