Looking for Non-elites at Gabii

BY J. TROY SAMUELS, Ph.D. student, University of Michigan Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology

Me, at right, looking for non-elites (and numerous other things) at Gabii with Dr. Marilyn Evans (ICCS). Photo courtesy of the Gabii Project Facebook page.

Me, at right, looking for non-elites (and numerous other things) at Gabii with Dr. Marilyn Evans (ICCS). Photo courtesy of the Gabii Project Facebook page.

As a student in the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology moving from the coursework phase of my time at U of M toward the dissertation-writing phase, I had the opportunity this summer for preliminary research in my dissertation topic: non-elites in Republican central Italy. Archaeology has long been a discipline associated with the material of elite lifestyle. It has often been far easier to attract interest with a fancy temple or golden ornament than with the potentially mundane trappings of non-elite life. Because of this, non-elites in the ancient world have, in general, received considerably less attention than their elite compatriots. While this imbalance has been changing over the past half century, there is still (thankfully for me) much work to be done.

My current research focuses on a major lacuna for studies of this important group: the early and middle Republican period (roughly speaking, the early 4th century through the early 1st century BCE) in central Italy. Non-elites are not the only poorly understood topic for this period; this has always been a bit of an archaeological terra incognita (the typical example for this lack of information being mid-Republican Rome itself, where Augustan and later Imperial building projects have largely obscured the city’s “teenage” years). However, new research has begun to expand our understanding of life during this formative phase of the Roman state. The University of Michigan excavations at Gabii have been leading the way in these discoveries, uncovering Republican habitation on a scale hitherto unseen (for more, see my earlier blog post/associated links). However, as much of this activity is elite in appearance, the non-elites at Gabii remain enigmatic.

This past summer, while excavating at Gabii, I have made a conscious effort to promote the study of the city’s non-elite population. This has taken both a research-based and a pedagogical form. It is important to question what exactly we mean by elite: is it a value judgment based on the quality of material or craftsmanship? Is it based on our assumptions about life in Republican Italy? While I do not have (nor do I believe there is) an easy answer to this question, it has been productive reformulating this in as many ways as possible. It has also, I hope, been productive in challenging the students working at Gabii, making them question the material they are excavating. In doing so, they can begin to consider the less visible, possibly non-elite, individuals involved in the production, consumption, and distribution of the artifacts we discovered. This summer has proved highly productive, and I hope that my continuing research will help problematize and further bring to the forefront these sometimes invisible yet crucially important participants in Roman life.

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First Season of the Olynthos Project

BY KATE LARSON, PhD candidate, U-M Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology (IPCAA)

The sun rises over the houses of Olynthos as excavated in the 1920s, now conserved and open to visitors.

The sun rises over the houses of Olynthos as excavated in the 1920s, now conserved and open to visitors.

In the past few decades, archaeologists have become more interested in the way people of ancient Greece actually lived. The evidence from written sources suggests that men and women were separated into different areas of the house, and they seldom discuss household tasks like cooking, weaving, and religious worship, which archaeology can illuminate. IPCAA professor Lisa Nevett has dedicated her career to understanding Greek houses, but until now she has had to rely on excavation data that focused primarily on architecture and intact artifacts. Nevett began to wonder how much more we might be able to learn about Greek houses if we used 21st-century archaeological techniques to pay attention to fragmentary material, non-fine ware pottery, and microscopic chemical and organic materials preserved in soil. She, along with her co-directors Zosia Archibald of the University of Liverpool and Bettina Tsigarida of the 16th Ephoreia of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities in Greece, have been granted a five-year permit under the auspices of the British School at Athens to reexcavate one such site. Located in the Chalcidice peninsula of northeastern Greece, Olynthos—no, that’s not a typo, although on a clear day you can see the famous Mount Olympus from the site of Olynthos—has been considered “the Pompeii of Classical Greece.” Historical accounts tell us that Phillip II of Macedon (the father of Alexander the Great) destroyed the city in 348 BCE and exiled all its occupants, who left behind their houses and belongings. The site was initially excavated by David Robinson of Johns Hopkins University between 1928 and 1938.  Robinson found more than 100 houses, covering about 10 percent of the area of the site; each house contained a wealth of objects from daily life, including pottery, loom weights, figurines, and coins. While Robinson and his team carefully recorded which finds came from which rooms of the houses, the publications and archive don’t contain information about which finds the excavators deemed not important enough to record or save (such as fragmentary objects, non-fine ware pottery, and bone) or any stratigraphic information about soil deposits and sequences.  By contrast, the new Olynthos Project plans to excavate two houses over the course of five seasons using techniques not available to Robinson, such as geophysical survey, water floatation, micromorphology and microdebris analysis, geochemistry, and surface survey.

Olynthos Project 2014 members excavate a small 2 x 2 meter trial trench.

Olynthos Project 2014 members excavate a small 2 x 2 meter trial trench.

The project began in February 2014, when a small team conducted magnetometry and resistivity (types of remote sensing that help identify structures and features under the soil prior to excavation)  in order to find promising areas for excavation.  From July to August 2014, a multinational group composed of undergraduate and graduate students, professional archaeologists, and specialists in various archaeological disciplines came together to test these results and identify areas for subsequent work.  Olynthos still has much to teach us about life in ancient Greek houses.

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News from the Conservation Lab

Meet Shelley Almburg, microscope repairperson extraordinaire.

Shelley Almburg

Shelley Almburg

Shelley works for the Microscopy and Image-analysis Lab at the University of Michigan. She is the one and only microscope troubleshooter for the University, travelsing from lab to lab with a bag of tools designed to tweak, align, degrease, re-lube, and fix whatever ails microscopes. As a conservator, I use our polarized light microscope quite often, to look at fibers, pigments, salts that might be growing on an excavated pot, you name it. But when the light bulb in our Olympus BH-2 burned out, did I know the first thing about how to fix it? Nope. Not a clue.

“Make sure not to touch the new bulb,” Shelley told us as she pulled the replacement light from her bag and installed it with the greatest of ease into the microscope’s base. She then proceeded to disassemble the microscope piece by piece, with the deliberateness of a master clock worker inspecting the parts of an intricate, antique timepiece. I realized then that my fear of breaking the scope had prevented me from ever exploring its inner workings, preventing it from ever working properly! It takes some serious knowledge and guts—and maybe a little WD-40—to take something like this apart and know that you’ll be able to put it together again, and make it better in the process.

Thank you Shelley!

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The Barosso watercolors are back!


Conservators from ICA Art Conservation prepare to reinstall a watercolor panel.

Conservators from ICA Art Conservation prepare to reinstall a watercolor panel.

Barosso reinstall_01

The Barosso panel being reinstalled.

Following a brief hiatus from display, the Kelsey Museum’s famous renderings of the Villa of the Mysteries fresco cycle are once again on view. Commissioned by Francis Kelsey himself in the mid-1920s, the watercolors were painted by Italian artist and archaeologist Maria Barosso at a scale of 5/6 the size of the original frescoes in Pompeii. The watercolors captured the vivid color of the frescoes before color photography existed. They have served as an important educational tool and document of the paintings’ condition at the time the renderings were created. The original frescoes have darkened significantly since the time of the Barosso commission, and they are currently undergoing laser cleaning by conservators at Pompeii (http://www.archaeology.org/issues/124-1403/features/1813-pompeii-saving-the-villa-of-the-mysteries).

The Museum was able to put the watercolors on permanent display for the first time in 2008, thanks to the space provided by the Museum’s new Upjohn Exhibit Wing, and an IMLS grant to support their conservation treatment and installation in the galleries. Conservators at ICA Art Conservation (http://www.ica-artconservation.org/) carried out this complex treatment, as well as some recent repair work to the watercolors’ mounting system that required their temporary deinstallation. It took about three days to reinstall the massive panels, the largest of which is 5 x 20 feet.

We are so grateful to conservator Jamye Jamison, Chris Pelrine and 05 (that’s right, our colleague’s name is zero – five) for all their hard work!

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Android Tablets at Gabii

BY J. TROY SAMUELS, PhD student in the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, University of Michigan

Buon Giorno from Rome! This summer, the Gabii Project, a University of Michigan archaeological excavation and field school, undertook our sixth full season of fieldwork focused on the ancient Latin city of Gabii. Directed by University of Michigan professor Nicola Terrenato, this large-scale open area excavation aims to both increase our understanding of this city, a neighbor and rival to Rome in the first millennium BCE, and educate students in archaeological method, theory, Roman history, and myriad other topics. To that end, this season we welcomed forty-two volunteers from a variety of undergraduate and graduate colleges and universities to Rome, who, along with various staff members, spent the last five weeks significantly expanding our understanding of the city of Gabii, its people, and its history.

Gabii Project 2014 Team

Gabii Project 2014 Team

Alongside the normal challenges and opportunities offered by such a large-scale undertaking, the 2014 edition of the project featured a massive shift in recording strategies. Instead of the paper forms used in previous seasons, this year we decided to go paperless in the field. All data was recorded exclusively on four Panasonic Toughpads and seven Android tablets. Despite early trepidations, perhaps best exemplified by the Seven Deadly Sin–themed names assigned to the seven Android tablets, this new system has proved highly successful. Paperless recording not only cut down on off-site data entry but also encouraged a degree of student autonomy in information gathering and recording. The individual nature of tablet data entry encouraged students to attempt to record and understand the archaeology on their own terms before seeking the help of their supervisors. By the end of the second week, it was commonplace to see five students on their own tablets, independently entering data pertaining to the stratigraphic unit they had excavated by themselves. The presence of excellent students helped this transition go smoothly, and paperless recording will certainly be a feature at Gabii for years to come.

Matt Naglak (University of Michigan, IPCAA) creates a photo model while Dr. Marilyn Evans (ICCS) instructs Rachel Goldstein (Yale University) in her work on “Wrath,” the Android tablet.

Matt Naglak (University of Michigan, IPCAA) creates a photo model while Dr. Marilyn Evans (ICCS) instructs Rachel Goldstein (Yale University) in her work on “Wrath,” the Android tablet.

In terms of archaeological discovery, this season was also highly successful. The large size of the project allows for two distinct areas of excavation, Area F, focused on expanding our understanding of the monumental complex revealed last season, and Area D, focused on an occupation area from the early, formative phases of the city. While vastly different in terms of surviving architecture and excavation method, both areas continue to provide important information that will shape our understanding of the cities and people of first-millennium BCE central Italy. We are excited both about the many things we uncovered and the future seasons that will help us continue to better understand the multifaceted, fascinating material history of this important site.

For more information please visit our websites, Facebook page, or read our wonderful student blogs.





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My Favorite Artifact

When it comes to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s collections, not all artifacts are created equal. Some call out to us intellectually, others emotionally.

BY CATHERINE PERSON, Educational and Academic Outreach Coordinator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan. New to the Kelsey last year, Catherine received her Ph.D. in Archaeology from Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pa.

Conical glass lamp in stand from Karanis, Egypt.

Conical glass lamp in stand from Karanis, Egypt.

Favorite Artifact: Conical Glass Lamp in Stand. Glass, wood. Roman Period (1st-4th century AD). Karanis, Egypt. KM 5929 lamp, KM 3632 stand.

Why. “I like this piece for its aesthetics. I’m attracted to the combination of materials, the glass and the carved wood, as well as the dots of blue on the glass mirroring the circles that march up the legs of the stand. I also like the versatility of the piece: it could be used for lighting but also for something else, such as a drinking vessel or a dice cup for gambling. You can see a similar glass lamp that was used that way in another exhibit case here. In a museum filled with labels, it’s good to remember that, like today, things in the ancient world were not always one-dimensional.”

About Artifact: According to Kelsey publication Karanis: An Egyptian Town in Roman Times, the number of wooden reading stands found in the U-M excavations of 1924-35 indicates that literacy, while by no means universal, had been attained by more than a few.

In the dark rooms of Karanis houses, light was provided for reading by various kinds of lamps. Conical lamps [such as this one] were probably set into tripod holders or suspended on ropes or chains. These lamps, many of which were found at Karanis, would have been filled entirely with oil or with water covered by a thin layer of oil. When ignited the oil would have given a muted but adequate light.

The sheer volume of glass discovered [in Karanis], over twice as much as at any other single site in Egypt, has led to the assumption that glass was manufactured at Karanis. No definitive evidence was recovered, however, to prove that it was made locally.

Background. Museum namesake Professor Francis W. Kelsey began a series of excavations in Egypt that were intended to find artifacts and documents in an archaeological context to illustrate daily life in the Greek and Roman world. These excavations began with the site of Karanis (modern Kom Aushim), extensive ruins of an abandoned town of the Greek and Roman periods.

The Karanis excavations uncovered hundreds of homes containing thousands of objects. Much of this material attests to the domestic lives of the people—from this material we know what people ate, worked at, read, and how they lived.

The University of Michigan spent 11 seasons at Karanis, where the team unearthed a wealth of material of everyday life. Thousands of these objects were given to the University by the Egyptian government, and the artifacts are now housed at the Kelsey and the papyri in the University Library Papyrus Collection.

Find It. On the first floor of the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing, look for The Seated Priest near the stairway to the second floor. Facing the statue, turn left, walk toward a trio of female sculptures, then turn left again. You should be facing the three Karanis household exhibit cases. The Conical Glass Lamp in Stand is in the right-hand exhibit.

 Learn More. A number of books about U-M’s Karanis excavations are available in our Gift Shop, or online, including:

  • Karanis: An Egyptian Town in Roman Times: Discoveries of the University of Michigan Excavation to Egypt (1924-1935), edited by Elaine K. Gazda with new preface and updated bibliography by T. G. Wilfong. Purchase online here.
  • Karanis Revealed: Discovering the Past and Present of a Michigan Excavation in Egypt, edited by T. G. Wilfong with the assistance of Andrew W. S. Ferrara. Purchase online here.
  • In the Field: The Archaeological Expeditions of the Kelsey Museum, edited by Lauren E. Talalay and Susan Alcock. Purchase online here.
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Ancient populations on the move

BY JANA MOKRISOVA, PhD student, Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, University of Michigan

Looking from mountainous Kos toward the coast of Anatolia: the sea has always acted as an important link, a corridor facilitating travel.

Understanding the mobility of people—and the material connections expressed through the distribution of objects—is vital to the reconstruction of human activity in the past. In my dissertation, I look at the interaction of different groups of people in the Aegean and Western Anatolia at the end of the 2nd millennium BCE in order to assess if and to what degree groups moved at the end of the Bronze Age.

Questions concerning how people moved in the past are not easily addressed, since the clues passed down to us from millennia ago are limited in scope. The evidence for population movement is indirect, which makes our task challenging. The categories of material culture include, but are not limited to, portable objects (pottery, spindle whorls, jewelry) or the knowledge of how to make things. In the beginning of the 20th century, early pioneers of archaeology often thought of the distribution of foreign objects as directly reflecting the movement of people. Migrations, then, were considered large-scale movements of people with a shared sense of ethnicity and belonging. For example, if a pot from Mycenae traveled to the coast of Anatolia, so must the Mycenaeans have traveled with it. This view came under sharp criticism as archaeological research showed that artisans, sailors, traders, brides, workers, and others moved for different reasons, carrying a wide range of objects from a multiplicity of places. Therefore, in order to answer questions related to mobile populations, I consider archaeological evidence at multiple scales—starting from portable objects and their manner of manufacture to tracing cultural behavior within built spaces, such as houses. In general, I try to seek clues combining evidence for the introduction of new practices, such as the use of domestic space and the ways of making objects, rather than through the appearance of new objects alone.

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News from the Conservation Lab

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Associate Curator and Head of Conservation, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Conservator Carrie Roberts.

Conservator Carrie Roberts.

Last month we welcomed a new conservator, Caroline Roberts, to the Museum. Carrie takes over the position previously held by Claudia Chemello. Regular Kelsey visitors and staff will remember Carrie from her year here as a Samuel H. Kress Conservation Fellow in 2011-2012. As a Kress Fellow, Carrie conducted research on the Terenouthis funerary stelae, performed treatment on a cartonnage mummy mask, and contributed to the “Conserving Antiquity” exhibition. Following her time as a Kress Fellow, she held conservation fellowships at the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Carrie holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Smith College and a Master of Science in Art Conservation from the University of Delaware. Her interests range from conservation treatment of stone objects and architecture to preventive conservation, and she specializes in the conservation of archaeological materials both in museum collections and in the field. Prior to joining the Kelsey she worked as a consulting conservator for the NYU Institute of Fine Arts Excavations at Selinunte, Italy, where she supervised conservation graduate students and conducted multispectral imaging research.

Carrie has a strong interest in conservation education and outreach. She has lectured for the Getty’s VITA high school outreach program and for the University of Delaware’s conservation graduate program. She is also committed to professional service. She is a member of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) and has held various committee appointments within that organization. In her new job at the Kelsey Museum, Carrie is especially interested in forging stronger relationships with University of Michigan research laboratories and scientists. She is also looking forward to developing the Kelsey’s in-house abilities to conduct technical research using a variety of low-tech means, such as multi-spectral imaging. We are very happy to welcome Carrie to the Kelsey!

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Curator Favorites

When it comes to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s collections, not all artifacts are created equal. Some call out to us intellectually, others emotionally. To that end, we asked our curators to name their favorite Kelsey artifact or object.

Attic lekythos with funeral scene. KM 2604.

Attic lekythos with funeral scene. KM 2604.

BY CHRISTOPHER RATTÉ, Director and Curator of Greek and Hellenistic Collections, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology; and Professor, Departments of Classical Studies and History of Art, University of Michigan

Favorite Artifact: Attic Lekythos with Funeral Scene. Clay, white ground. Greece. KM 2604.

Why. I have been captivated by Greek vases ever since I was 10 or 11 years old—perhaps (although I certainly didn’t know it at the time) for the same reason that inspired Keats to write the “Ode on a Grecian Urn”: because, as the “foster child[ren] of silence and slow time,” Greek vases conjure up such vivid sensations of an ideal past.

My favorite vase in the Kelsey is a 5th-century BC oil jar known as a lekythos, made as a grave offering. Vases of this type are often decorated with scenes of men and women leaving gifts in front of tombs, and in this way they are interestingly self-referential.  But what I like most about them is their draftsmanship.

This vase shows two men standing on either side of a gravestone. Both the men and the monument they flank are drawn in outline on a white background, with details such as the men’s cloaks filled in with colored paint. In many ways this is a humble object—it was produced quickly for retail sale—but that is partly what makes it so appealing. Its simple line work seems perfectly in tune both with the function of the vase and with the solemnity of the scene it depicts.

Background. White ground lekythoi, like this one, were usually associated with funerary rituals. Produced primarily in Attica during the 5th century BC, they were placed both inside and outside graves and filled with oil as an offering to the deceased or to the gods of the underworld.

The coating of white slip and delicate drawings are often fugitive, since much of the color was added after firing. This vase shows a typical image of a tomb encircled with ribbons. One of the figures may represent the departed, the other a visitor to the grave.

Find It. Locate the ancient Greece exhibit case, which faces the wall of windows on the first floor of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing. Facing the exhibit case, turn right and walk to the end of the case, then turn left and left. You’ll be facing the end case, which holds two lekythos, including Director Ratté’s favorite.

Learn More: Edited by Ortwin Daly and Christopher Ratté, Archaeology and the Cities of Asia Minor in Late Antiquity is available in our Gift Shop, or click here to purchase it online.

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News from the Conservation Lab

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Associate Curator and Head of Conservation

At the end of May, I attended the big professional conference for conservators in the United States—the annual meeting of the American Institute for Conservation. This was a special meeting for me because I was in charge of the program for the “Objects” group. This group has about 900 members, all of whom focus on the conservation of three-dimensional art and artifacts—in other words, objects.

Usually at a conservation conference, I attend the presentations about archaeological conservation because that’s what will help me most in my work for the Kelsey. But this year, because I was the program chair, I had to be there for ALL the papers. I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it, but it was great!

Conservator Hiroko Kariya at work at Luxor Temple, Egypt. Photo from the University of Chicago/Oriental Institute Epigraphic Survey webpage.

Conservator Hiroko Kariya at work at Luxor Temple, Egypt. Photo from the University of Chicago/Oriental Institute Epigraphic Survey webpage.

I learned about conservation work at Luxor Temple in Egypt—that’s up my alley—but also about preservation of public art in the Modernist architectural mecca of Columbus, Indiana (who knew?) and about conservation of the Watts Towers in Los Angeles, California, a National Historic Landmark sculptural site created by Sabato Rodia between 1921 and 1954 that’s considered a masterpiece of “outsider art.”

View of the Watts Towers. Photo from the Watts Towers webpage.

View of the Watts Towers. Photo from the Watts Towers webpage.

I also heard about the National Air and Space Museum’s amazing research and conservation of a Nazi Bat Wing stealth fighter aircraft made out of plywood (you can read a recent post about this work here on the NASM blog) and about preservation of animation cels at the Walt Disney Animation Research Library. I learned about how conservators at the Arizona State Museum are treating pine-pitch coated Native American baskets, and about how a team at the Field Museum used CT scanning to virtually restore a skull from the Magdalenian Era.

Magdalenian Era skeleton, with subsequent virtual facial reconstruction. Photo from University of Chicago Radiology webpage. See a Field Museum video about this project, featuring conservator JP Brown, here.

Magdalenian Era skeleton, with subsequent virtual facial reconstruction. Photo from University of Chicago Radiology webpage. See a Field Museum video about this project, featuring conservator JP Brown, here.

I gained a surprising amount of useful information about the treatment of complex, composite objects from these papers. This is knowledge that I can, actually, apply to my work at the Kelsey. Continuing education rules!

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