Writing a Dissertation on the Archaic Forum Boarium

BY ANDREA BROCK, Ph.D. candidate in the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, University of Michigan

“Every journey begins with one step.” –my mom

My at-home workspace, complete with furry dissertation buddy.

My at-home workspace, complete with furry dissertation buddy.

Enough with the background reading and procrastinating. This fall semester marked the official start of my dissertation, in written form at least. I feel like I’ve been working on this project for a decade already (although three years is more realistic). My dissertation is centered on my fieldwork at the Sant’Omobono Project in Rome. Specifically, I am interested in reconstructing the environment and topography of the archaic Forum Boarium. After returning from Rome at the end of the summer, I wrote a long to-do list of my intended accomplishments for the upcoming semester. A major part of that list was to write the opening chapters of my dissertation.

Although the primary goal was always hanging over my head, for weeks I couldn’t even begin to think about the dissertation. First there were conference abstracts that needed to be submitted, then countless grant proposals that needed to be dealt with if I had any hope of supporting my fieldwork in 2015, then just another book that I needed to read, then a meeting with my advisor, then some data crunching, then writing the conference papers… and so it goes. By the time the day came when I had nothing else to do, I just stared at my computer screen. An entire day wasted doing nothing but sitting in front of my computer! It is incredibly daunting to write the first sentence of such an intimidatingly long task. Upon lamenting (read: procrastinating) to my mom, she offered the true, albeit corny, words of encouragement above. I finally realized that I couldn’t avoid it any longer and started typing.

The main strategy that helped me get started on my first dissertation chapter was to write an extensive outline first. That way, I was able to get all of my thoughts on paper without having to worry about constructing vaguely coherent prose. This outline included the abundant references, which I would ultimately need to put into footnotes. After discussing the outline with the applicable committee member—and fortunately getting her approval—I was able to write more freely and quickly. I still encountered days where my momentum slowed, but I tried to keep the task in perspective. Each day was just focused on a particular section of a particular chapter. And each chapter isn’t so different from a seminar term paper, right? And I knocked those out tons of times as a pre-candidate, so why be intimidated by my dissertation? Well, that thought process worked for me at least. The semester is nearing an end and that long to-do list I wrote has been largely completed. Now, I just need to repeat the process next semester, and the semester after that, and the semester after that. But first, a break!


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Using UV Light to Examine Ancient Paint

BY MADELEINE NEIMAN, 2014–2015 Samuel H. Kress Conservation Fellow at the Kelsey Museum. During her time here, Madeleine’s work will focus on the technical analysis and treatment of objects from Seleucia on the Tigris, a site approximately 18 miles south of modern-day Baghdad, Iraq.

One of my major projects here at the Kelsey is conducting a survey of artifacts from the Seleucia collection. The goal of this work is to answer three questions:

  • What are the artifacts made of and how are they made?
  • What is the condition of the object? More simply, is there any evidence of damage or deterioration (e.g. breaks, cracks, discoloration) present?
  • Have the objects been modified (e.g. repaired or reused) in any way by modern or ancient people?

Conservators utilize a number of tools to help us answer these questions. Today I thought I would share with you a bit about one of our most commonly employed techniques—examination under ultraviolet light.

Light is a form of electromagnetic radiation and exits as part of a large electromagnetic spectrum. Ultraviolet radiation, often called UV light, refers to that area just below what is visible to the human eye.   While we can’t see UV light, when it illuminates the surface of an artifact, certain types of materials, including some dyes, minerals, and resins commonly found on archaeological objects, fluoresce. These materials glow different colors!

Let’s look at an example.

Among the over 13,000 objects in the Seleucia collection are a group of bone figurines.   Several of these are decorated with a reddish-pink paint that displays a unique orangey-pink fluorescence.

Images of bone figurine (16187) with pink paint captured under visible (left) and UV (right) illumination.

Images of bone figurine (KM 16187) with pink paint captured under visible (left) and UV (right) illumination.

In antiquity, people created paints using mineral pigments as well as organic colorants found in plants and animals.   Among the most common sources of red were the pigments hematite (iron oxide), cinnabar (mercury sulfide), and red lead as well as the dyes kermes (from the Kermes vermilio insect) and madder (from the plant Rubia tinctorium).  When viewed in visible light all five appear red. However, when examined under UV light, one stands out: madder. Madder contains four principal colorants: alizarin (red), purpurin (red), pseudopurprin (red) and xanthine (yellow). The purpurin and pseudopurpurin glow a bright orangey-pink when exposed to UV light, making it easy to distinguish.

By examining the figurines under UV light we can tell that an ancient artist used madder to decorate these figurines!

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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 DAWN JOHNSON, Associate Director, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan.


Favorite Artifact: Hawk Mummy. Ptolemaic Period (332 BC–AD 100). Egypt (Bayview Collection). KM 1971.2.182

Why. “I saw this hawk mummy on my first tour of the museum’s collections in storage. A different hawk mummy is on display in our permanent collections that I also like. But I’m a very visual person, so this hawk mummy’s distinctive beak profile and vigilant turn of head formed a beautiful line that caught my eye immediately. The linen bandages seem to wrap around its head like a cloak.

The hawk’s intelligence and keen visual ability equip it to be a kind of ‘avian foodie!’ As a ‘foodie’ myself, I admire its skillful and intelligent approach to hunting at night for exactly the perfect meal, not settling for just any sustenance. Really, I think of them as the sophisticated diners of the avian world.”

About Artifact:
Although currently not on public exhibit, this hawk mummy last appeared in the Kelsey’s “Conserving Antiquity” special exhibition from Nov. 2, 2012 to Feb. 10, 2013. A picture of it appears in the Kelsey publication Life, Death, and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt: The Coffin of Djehutymose by T. G. Wilfong. See “Learn More” below.

Background. One distinctive feature of Egyptian religion is the association of gods with animals. Temples often featured animal cults, in which an animal was revered as a symbol of a particular god. Animal cult centers, such as the temples of crocodile gods at Karanis and Soknopaiou Nesos, became pilgrimage and tourist destinations, with cemeteries where cult animals would be mummified and buried as offerings. Greek and Roman visitors were baffled by what they saw as animal worship in Egypt but failed to understand the complex relationship between god and animal in Egyptian thought. Animal cults had roots in Egyptian prehistory and survived well after the introduction of Christianity into Egypt; the last known animal cult in Egypt was active up to AD 340, and others may have persisted longer.

Find It. Currently, this particular hawk mummy is not on public exhibit. Scholars may inquire for more information from Museum Collections Coordinator Sebastian Encina at sencina@umich.edu.

However, another hawk mummy is on exhibit on the first floor of the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing. To find it, look for The Seated Priest near the stairway to the second floor. From there, go left one exhibit case. Then turn right to face the case. It’s in the lower third of the exhibit.

Learn More. Life, Death, and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt: The Coffin of Djehutymose, by T. G. Wilfong, is available in our gift shop or online at https://www.isdistribution.com/BookDetail.aspx?aId=34777.

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Teaching Roman history for the first time

Arianna Zapelloni Pavia prepares to teach her class.

Arianna Zapelloni Pavia prepares to teach her class.

BY ARIANNA ZAPELLONI PAVIA, PhD student, Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology

My life as a PhD student is not always easy. The commitment it requires sometimes feels like a heavy load that I am not sure I am handling well. On top of these difficulties, as an international student, I also face the challenge of being far from home. I have learned to accept that I will lie awake on certain nights and think of all the things I am missing out on back home.

Suddenly, in my second year, after only three days of training, I entered my first class as an instructor: 25 students are sitting in front of me, some looking at me with curiosity, others still busy with their phones, but all waiting for me to say something.

Honestly, I thought I would exit the classroom after my first day feeling unworthy. Looking back, I do not know exactly what happened that day, but as soon as I began talking, the insecurity and anxiety vanished. My fear of being ill equipped slowly faded away and made me realize that I am a young scholar who loves what she does, and facing the challenge of teaching is part of my role as a student. I recognized that I was just being myself, trying to pass on to my students my own energy and passion for the topic.

Now, teaching is one of the most stimulating and rewarding parts of my semester. It is amazing to see how the class develops its own personality and reactions to my teaching style. One of the most valuable things I am learning is that humor can be effective in breaking barriers between me and the students. I also noticed that making connections with personal experience helps students see Roman history as something more than just a remote past. Once, while reading Livy, I remarked that Camillus’s feelings toward Rome are the same feelings I have when I think about this city, my hometown. It is when I see that the students are becoming more engaged and are learning new concepts, while at the same time I manage to create a relaxing environment, that I know I am on the right path to one day becoming a professor.

Learning is not a one-way street. I, myself, am learning a lot. Every time I leave the classroom I carry with me new insights that I received from my students. Interacting with undergraduates from a wide range of disciplines, who do not necessarily have the background I take for granted, sometimes leads to questions about fundamentals of Roman history that many of us in academia consider self-evident. Moreover, explaining these fundamentals to students helps me to focus on the most important things, to simplify difficult concepts and make them approachable. As a result I have clearer ideas of the topic I am teaching.

Teaching is also a refuge for me. When I feel overwhelmed by classes and research, it is very comforting to know that I can still shut everything out of my mind for the two hours I spend in the classroom talking about the Roman Republic.

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You really don’t want to be a bird in Hierapolis

BY PAOLO MARANZANA, PhD student, University of Michigan Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology

The Plutonion at Hierapolis, Turkey.

The Plutonion at Hierapolis, Turkey.

As a student in the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, I have at long last reached the stage in which I start planning my dissertation. I have been looking forward to beginning my research on what historians call Late Antiquity, a period that encompasses a series of events that radically transformed the ancient world. During this period, between 300 and 600 CE, Christianity emerged, Classical cities disappeared, and the western Roman Empire fell under the invasions of Germanic tribes. For my dissertation, I would like investigate the causes that led to the decline of Classical cities in the eastern empire (Turkey, specifically). Turkey was one of the most urbanized regions in antiquity, and it has been at the center of many large excavations, mostly run by the German and Austrian Archaeological Institutes, since the 1800s (the most famous are certainly Ephesus and Pergamon). There is, therefore, plenty of material for me to work with in my study of ancient cities and their decline.

This summer, I took a study trip to visit a number of sites that I could use as case studies for my research. My stay in Turkey was about three weeks long, and I was able to visit nine different sites. These sites will certainly form the backbone of my research. During my visit, I met with the directors of the current archaeological projects, where I was shown the latest discoveries. The most striking was undoubtedly the uncovering of the so-called Plutonion, a sanctuary built at Hierapolis (southwestern Turkey, modern Pamukkale) in honor of Pluto, god of the underworld. The life of this sanctuary explains perfectly the kind of transformations that cities underwent during this period. Hierapolis was built over a large number of underground tunnels that were filled with earth gases (mostly toxic) and thermal water. The ancient population considered the entrance to one of these underground galleries to be the gateway to the underworld, where Pluto resided. This area was therefore monumentalized with the construction of a small sitting area (for worshippers) and a pool, where the thermal water could flow, and a marble archway that led into the underground cave. Among the many statues placed around the pool was found a colossal representation of Pluto, together with a reproduction of Cereberus, the three-headed dog who guarded the entrance to the underworld. The rituals performed seem to have involved the killing of birds, which were thrown inside the cave and died almost instantaneously because of the toxic gases. Excavations have confirmed the performance of this ritual, uncovering thousands of bones belonging to small birds inside the cave.

After the emergence of Christianity the sanctuary was destroyed (6th century CE), and the statues were taken down and thrown into the pool, which archaeologists found completely filled with material belonging to the destroyed sanctuary. In what appears to be almost a ritual annihilation, all pagan material was obliterated or hidden. The area was later occupied by private residences, showing that the city was inhabited at this point but that the use of the urban space had changed dramatically.

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News from the Conservation Lab

The Kelsey Conservation Lab is pleased to welcome Madeleine Neiman as our new Samuel H. Kress Fellow for the 2014–2015 academic year.

Madeleine is a recent graduate of the UCLA/Getty Program on the Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographic Materials, and has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology from Bryn Mawr College. She just completed a year-long graduate practicum internship at the Arizona State Museum (University of Arizona) and has also previously worked at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the Alaska State Museum, and the Anchorage Museum, where she focused on the conservation and technical analysis of ethnographic and archaeological materials.

Madeleine Neiman

Madeleine Neiman

At the Kelsey, Madeleine’s research will center on conservation projects for the Seleucia collection. For example, she will research and treat an incantation or “demon” bowl from Seleucia, an unglazed ceramic bowl painted with magical spells designed to entrap demons. The inscriptions on this bowl are obscured by a darkened surface layer (possibly a modern coating) and by the presence of chunky salts, probably deposited while the bowl was buried. Important goals of conservation treatment will be to stabilize the bowl’s inscription and make it more legible.

In addition to the bowl, Madeleine will survey and study a group of bone figurines from the Seleucia collection. The figurines are carved in both stylized and naturalistic human forms, and some are painted. Madeleine will collaborate with zooarchaeologist Dr. Richard Redding, as well as materials scientists at the University and elsewhere, to answer a variety of research questions about the figurines.

Bone figurine from Seleucia

Bone figurine from Seleucia

We are thrilled to have Madeleine here to research and treat these unique artifacts, and we’re grateful to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation for supporting her fellowship. Welcome, Madeleine!

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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 ANN VAN ROSEVELT, Adjunct Research Scientist Emeritus, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Her learned background includes a B.A. in Classical Studies in English from Vassar College and three M.A. degrees in Classical Studies, Museum Procedures, and Classical Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Associated with the Kelsey for nearly 50 years, currently as a volunteer docent.

Sculpture of a Lion

Sculpture of a Lion

Favorite Artifact: Sculpture of a Lion. Limestone. Roman Period (1st–4th century AD). Karanis, Egypt. KM 25785. U-M Excavations 1924–1935.

Why. “This lion’s rather human profile reminds me of movie director Alfred Hitchcock! It looks a little like a cartoon character. It’s a comfortably sized lion and not frightening. There probably weren’t free-ranging lions in Egypt during the Coptic Period, so I can’t help but wonder if the sculptor was using a sphinx for a model?”

About Artifact: One of many sculptures that University of Michigan archaeologists uncovered at Karanis during its 1924–1935 excavations, Sculpture of a Lion appeared in Curator Elaine Gazda’s 1978 Kelsey exhibition, “Guardians of the Nile: Sculptures from Karanis in the Fayum (c. 250 BC–AD 450).”

Background. According to Kelsey Curator T. G. Wilfong, Karanis was a town in Egypt’s Fayum region, founded around 250 BC to house a population meant to work newly reclaimed agricultural land. It was a farming community with a diverse population and a complex material culture that lasted for hundreds of years after its foundation. Ultimately abandoned by its inhabitants and partly covered by the encroaching desert, Karanis eventually proved to be an extraordinarily rich archaeological site, yielding thousands of artifacts and texts on papyrus that provide a wealth of information about daily life in the Roman period Egyptian town.

The University of Michigan excavated at Karanis from 1924 to 1935, and during these seasons the Egyptian government granted nearly 45,000 of the artifacts discovered to the University of Michigan. Along with extensive archival records and photographs of the excavation, the Karanis material forms one of the major components of the collection of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.

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. You’ll find Sculpture of a Lion in the exhibit case right behind The Seated Priest on the left.

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

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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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