One of the first objects we treated on joining the Polar Museum was the stuffed musk ox head which hangs in the stairwell outside the Director's office. No-one quite knows how or when it came to the Institute, but it has been in the stairwell as long as anyone can remember. It was looking exceedingly dusty after all the building work related to the refurbishment of the Museum and needed a jolly good vacuum.
Underneath the dust the head is in suspiciously good condition. You would expect something so large and woolly to have been attacked by moth or other pests after decades unprotected in a stairwell, unless it was very thoroughly impregnated with a pesticide. Most of the long-lasting pesticides used in the past are toxic, so we always wear protective clothing when handling objects which have been treated in this way. We saved some loose hairs from the musk ox and will analyse these to see if we can find out which pesticide has been used on it.
To clean the head properly we needed to take it off the wall. We covered it in a plastic bag to contain the surface dust while we moved it. The head is heavy and unwieldy, and hangs very high on the wall, so it took four tall strapping people to get it down.
We cleaned the fur with a vacuum cleaner and "smoke sponge", a rubber sponge which you can cut up, and which is excellent for cleaning fur. You can see in the picture below how much dirt came off on the sponge! For the ingrained dirt on the horns we used a "molecular trap", which is made from tacky modified natural rubber. We didn't use any water or cleaning solutions as these could damage the horn and fur.
The musk ox is back on the wall and looks much cleaner now – though it still has rather a lugubrious expression…