Ugly Object of the Month – December

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

Hello readers! How are you? I ask because a lot of people I know are feeling tired and stressed. The academic term is ending. Some people have to take a lot of exams, other people have to grade a lot of exams. If you’re a graduate student, you might be doing both. What about your plans for the winter break? All set? Well, that’s great. I’m very pleased for you. Sadly, some of us have not been so organized and now we are really regretting it.

What’s the solution? I’ll tell you, although you might’ve already guessed. Yes, it IS once again time to invite relaxation and happiness into your life by contemplating an ancient, ugly object.  Some people might call this kind of activity “procrastination,” but those are not people we care to know at the moment. So enough jibber jabber, let’s get to it.

 

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Figurine of a woman. Clay. 3rd – 4th c. AD. Karanis, Egypt. KM 7525.

 

I know I say this about every ugly object, but this one is really the best.  When it was excavated in 1928 in Karanis, Egypt, the excavators described it as a, “roughly made mud figurine, small,” and categorized it as a toy. The last bit might not be true, but the rest checks out. The object is made of unfired clay, it’s burned, and it’s broken. Not the best-looking figurine on the block, in other words, but it is surprisingly detailed and well-crafted for something made of mud. It fits easily in the palm of your hand and has a hairdo reminiscent of Bart Simpson’s. The breasts and necklace are carefully delineated, as is decoration around the navel. And, although you can’t see it in this photo, shoulder blades have been modeled on the back.

Was it really a toy? Today, scholars think not. Former IPCAA student Drew Wilburn has studied this figurine as evidence of magic at Karanis, and he writes that it was most likely used as part of a love spell. Although the suggestion is that this spell was compulsive in nature (you know, a spell to make someone fall in love with you), the exact details of the figurine’s use are not easy to determine.

The bottom line, for me, is that it was created in the service of love. Somebody loved somebody else, and wanted it to be reciprocal. We don’t know how things worked out for our ancient, lovelorn friend but, in his or her memory, we can take a few minutes today and in the days that come to send love to people we care about. Thankfully, we don’t need a spell, or a burned mud figurine. Because let’s be honest – it would be hard to top the perfection of this one. Also, now we have texting and Snapchat.

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İyi günler! Thrust faults are fun!

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

What do this Turkish phrase (Good day!) and thrust faults have in common? They are both things Carrie and I are learning right now. She is studying geology and I’m taking Turkish 101.

One of the best things about conservation is that you’re always learning something new. You might think these things would always be about chemistry, or other conservation-specific kinds of info, but you’d be wrong. I’m studying Turkish – following on 1.5 years of Arabic – to be able to communicate better with colleagues and community members at the Kelsey’s field projects. Carrie, who’s our stone conservation guru,  wants to understand stone building fabrics better.

Did you know that flashy flow (vs. continuous flow) is something you get from steep river gradients? Or that you can have mature and immature sediment? Well, now you do.

Turkish is a member of the Ural-Altaic linguistic family, and it’s agglutinative (just like Klingon, according to Wikipedia). In Turkish, you stick little word parts (or morphemes) onto the ends of words, and these suffixes indicate things like person, case, tense, etc. Did you know that Turkish has no grammatical gender? That’s right, folks – no she or he, no him or her. I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. If you’ve ever studied a Romance language (or German or Arabic, for that matter) think about this lack of gender for a moment and you, too, might begin to feel my love. No gender agreement necessary. Ever.

Carrie and I are happy to be in a discipline and at an institution where learning is valued and supported. At a time when many of us are feeling upset from the long and divisive presidential campaign, here’s our advice to you: distract yourself! It’s a great time to start fresh and learn something new.

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Ugly Object of the Month – November

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

This month’s Ugly Object is a familiar character – assuming you know your Romano-Egyptian child deities. That’s right folks, Harpocrates is back. Only this time, he’s taken the form of a baby bust.

 

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KM 6461

The bust was found in one of the ancient houses of Karanis in 1926, and I have to say, it’s really captured my fancy.  I love many things about this Harpocrates. First and foremost is that it’s a bust. You see a lot of marble portraits in this format, but it’s cool to see this miniaturized and translated into terracotta (very meta).  I also love the shaved head with the intricate side lock (a Harpocrates signifier, but also – dare I say it? – very edgy!).  And finally, I love the face. To me it’s a curious cross between a sweet baby face and a wise old sage, not unlike the strange depictions of the baby Jesus we sometimes see in medieval panel paintings.

You can see this version of Harpocrates in The Art and Science of Healing starting February 10. I’m sorry to report that the colorful Harpocrates featured in October will not be going on display after all. But there will be many other fascinating artifacts on view, including medical manuscripts, amulets to ward off sciatica and stomachache, and more. Definitely come check it out!

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From the Archives #14

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

It’s October, when vampires and werewolves and mummies go out in the cold, dark nights, scaring folks for candy and treats. The Kelsey’s own mummies know a thing or two about wandering outside as well. Just earlier this month, the cat mummy, grain mummy, and one of our bird mummies made the trek to the University of Michigan Hospital to get CT scanned (see Kelsey blog post by Suzanne Davis, 10/18/2016).

These three are not the only mummies from our collections that have made such a journey. In 2002, curators Janet Richards and Terry Wilfong, along with student Grant Martin (who initiated this scanning endeavor), took our child mummy (KM1971.2.179) to the hospital system to be scanned as well. This month’s From the Archives highlights this fun and unique adventure. The archives at the Kelsey hold not only the story as written by Terry and Janet, found in the Spring 2002 Kelsey newsletter, but also correspondence, reports, and other ephemera associated with the event.

On display this month are a scan of the 2002 newsletter, where Terry and Janet detail their middle of the night adventures driving a hearse and being welcomed by the staff of the hospital excited to see the VIP guest. Along with their tale, we present two pages from the report written by Martin Grant, where he explains some of the findings from the scanning, including some visuals of the scans themselves and the making of the resin skull (currently on exhibit in the Upjohn Exhibition Wing).

Thrown into the mix is the original outgoing receipt for this transaction (collections managers document all movement of objects leaving and arriving at the Kelsey). It is humorous, in a way, to read the simple note on why the object is leaving. “[O]ne mummy of a child from Kelsey Museum collections for scanning in UHospital after hours.” It is written so nonchalantly, as if a regular occurrence for us. This simple phrasing hides the excitement and buzz from the experience, and the depth of knowledge we acquired as a result.

This was not the first time this mummy received such attention. Many years earlier, the mummy was x-rayed, and that image is shared here as well. As much as this photograph shows us, developing technologies still offer us a greater chance to learn about our artifacts. Maybe in another 10 years, a new machine will come about that will reveal even more about our artifacts, and our mummy will go off in the night again.

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Grain Mummy Goes To the Hospital

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

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The grain mummy and the animal mummies positioned on the CT scanner bed.

 

Last week our colleagues Ron Bude and Michele Sakala, who are MDs in the Radiology Department of  the University of Michigan Health System, arranged for the Kelsey’s grain mummy (and his friends cat mummy and hawk mummy) to have CT scans at the UM Hospital.

These little mummies are not sick! But CT scanning – computerized tomography scanning – is a great, nondestructive way to look inside an archaeological artifact. This technique uses Xrays, but it’s more detailed than a regular Xray. The scanner takes images from many different angles, and then special software combines these to create cross-sectional images, or slices, of what was scanned.

 

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Patient identification sign on the scanner.

 

With CT scanning, we’re hoping to see what’s actually inside these objects. For example, what kind of grain is inside the grain mummy? And, are there any little amulets in there with it? What about the cat mummy? Does it actually have cat bones inside?

We don’t have results yet, so stay tuned! We did have a great time at the hospital, which is not something one often says, and the Kelsey artifacts were quite popular with Radiology staff members. Apparently, when you use radiology every day as a diagnostic tool for humans, a cat mummy makes a nice change of pace!

 

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Dr. Ron Bude and the UM Radiology team who assisted with the scans.

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Ugly Object of the Month – October

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

 

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Harpocrates figurine made of ceramic, with intact ground and paint layers. 2nd – 3rd c AD. KMA 6449

 

It’s October, folks, and that means the season of decorative gourds and dressing up in festive costumes is upon us. This is partly why I chose this ceramic figurine of Harpocrates as October’s ugly object.

Who, you might ask, is Harpocrates? He was a deity worshipped in Ptolemaic Egypt, a child version of the sun god Horus. This ceramic figurine bears many of Harpocrates’ signature traits, such as a finger raised to his mouth, the double crown and crescent moon, and a garland. This figurine is also probably one of many identical ceramics produced for mass consumption.  But what’s really cool, to me, is what’s going on the surface: this Harpocrates is seriously decked out in a variety of well-preserved paint colors, which include black, pink, red, yellow and blue. Equally cool is the likelihood that other ceramics like this one, many of which retain no polychromy at all, were just as colorful.

While documenting the figurine I thought it might be worth doing some technical imaging of the pigments, to get a preliminary idea of what they could be. The longwave ultraviolet luminescence (UVL) image revealed that the pink garland is likely made of rose madder pigment, and the visible-induced infrared luminescence (VIL) image showed traces of Egyptian blue pigment on the structure next to Harpocrates, as well as on his crown. The remaining colors are likely iron-based earth pigments, and the black carbon-based. Other techniques that could help us confirm these results include XRF or FTIR spectroscopies, the first of which (like imaging) is non-invasive.

 

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Left: UVL image showing orange autofluorescence of madder in the garland. Right: VIL image showing luminescent Egyptian blue stripes to the right of the figure, as well as in the crown

 

This highly colorful Harpocrates will be on display at the Kelsey starting February 10, 2017, as part of the upcoming special exhibition The Art of Science and Healing: From Antiquity to the Renaissance, curated by Pablo Alvarez.

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From the Archives

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

The Kelsey Museum’s newest exhibition, Less Than Perfect, is now open to the public and available for viewing. With this show, curator Professor Carla Sinopoli has demonstrated how not everything we collect at a museum, and not everything left behind in archaeology, are beautiful works of art. Instead, archaeologists often find wasters, mistakes, errors. Rather than dispose of them as of little value, archaeologists collect these to learn more about the production method, about the people who left them behind, and about so much more.

Less Than Perfect has three themes running throughout the gallery: Failed Perfection; Deliberate Imperfection; Restoring Perfection. Each theme has a number of examples from antiquity (and also ones not so old) that speak to the topic. Many of these come from the Kelsey collections, while the rest are borrowed from the University of Michigan’s Museum of Art and Museum of Anthropological Archaeology.

The materials from the Kelsey collections came from various sources. Some, such as the ushabti, are from archaeological excavations conducted by the University of Michigan in the 1920s and 1930s. Others were collected by private collectors. The postcard image of the glass vessels in a row, showing various states of “imperfection,” come from Egypt, but were not found through digging. Instead, these were collected by Dr. David Askren. The glass shows how mistakes happened during production. Many of these may have been left unsold due to their flaws. Others may have been sold, or put up for sale, perhaps at a discount. Do these show the mistakes of a professional, or the learning curve for an apprentice?

Though they were not collected through controlled excavations, the objects do teach us about production, materiality, and aesthetic appeals of the people who made and collected such items. It is important to have these in a museum, and show them to the public that art is not just what is beautiful, and we don’t learn only through the pristine pieces.

Francis Kelsey was keen on gathering a collection of artifacts for educational purposes here in Ann Arbor. He was not so interested in the perfect item, but the wide range that taught the breadth of history. When he could not make the purchases himself, he relied on surrogates, such as Dr. Askren.

Dr. Askren was a missionary and doctor living in Fayoum, Egypt, where Karanis is located. Askren served as a confidante for Kelsey, and a man on the ground at Karanis. Kelsey listened to Askren on matters taking place at Karanis, but also as a connection to dealers and people in the area. Askren was hired as doctor for the Karanis dig, but he held a more intricate role on the project.  In their 2015 book and exhibition, Passionate Curiosities, Drs. Lauren Talalay and Margaret Root discuss the relationship between Askren and Kelsey.

Talalay and Root learned about Askren and his dealings by spending copious amount of time in the archives of the Kelsey, as well as in the Bentley Library and other repositories. The archives provide an opportunity for us to not only learn about the collections and where they originated, but  also give us a glimpse into the people who did the collecting. Askren is not just a name in the files from whence a portion of our collections came from, but an actual person with a family and history. By spending time in the files, a more complete image of that person comes forth. For this month’s From the Archives, we present Dr. David Askren, along with his wife and children on the steps of their home in Egypt. This gives us an image of a man who was crucial to the collections of the Kelsey, not only with his own collecting, but his service to Kelsey and E.E. Peterson, Karanis director. Askren connected the men to locals, was instrumental in the day-to-day handling of Karanis, and served as a colleague of Kelsey’s on important matters.
The archives are often sources for much discovery. We go in expecting to find the history of the museum and its collections. We count on the archives to hold maps, and journals, and excavation notes. And then we find some personal histories. We learn about the names that dot the letters and journals and newspaper clippings. We learn about their connections to the Kelsey Museum, and all they did for the institution. A more complete story emerges, one that shows the reach of the Museum its connections throughout the world.

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Dr. David L. Askren, Mrs. Askren and their six children, on the steps at the entrance to their house, Medinet-el-Fayoum, Egypt. (George R. Swain, April 29, 1920, Medinet-el-Fayoum, Egypt)

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Glass vessels, 400-700 BC, Gift of David Askren: KM5073, KM5077, KM5069, KM5070, KM5076, KM5075 (Image by Randal Stegmeyer, March 21, 2016, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA)

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Bug Busters

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Conservators at the Kelsey Museum wear many hats, and one of them has a scared-looking bug printed on it. That’s because in addition to documenting and treating objects in the collection, Suzanne and I oversee the Kelsey’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan.

The goal of IPM is to prevent or mitigate damage to the collection due to pest activity through preventive action, monitoring, and (whenever possible) pesticide-free intervention. In implementing our Museum’s IPM plan, Suzanne and I look out for and identify insect infestations and other pest activity at the Kelsey. This task might make some cringe, but I’ll confess – I enjoy being the Museum’s bug watcher. And I really enjoy the part where I get to identify bugs – especially when the bug is carefully trapped and presented to me by a vigilant Kelsey colleague, as below.

 

Recently, I noticed a particularly tiny bug on a few of our sticky traps. To the naked eye it looked like a speck of dust. But under the microscope their little insect bodies were immediately apparent. The would-be wood dust specs are in fact minute brown scavenger beetles, a type of beetle that eats mold (gross)! I suppose there’s no accounting for taste. But these bugs are considered ‘museum pests’, so we are keeping a close eye on them.

So, Kelsey colleagues – if you find a suspicious bug on the premises, you know who to call.

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Ugly Object of the Month – September

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

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Athenian tetradrachm. Silver. 4th c BC. KMA 85513.

 

Money, money, money. If you take the time to really look at the money you carry around, you will probably notice two things: most of it is dirty, and it also looks pretty weird. Pretend you’ve never seen U.S. currency before and look at it carefully: there are shields and seals, birds, buildings, strange symbols, and people with crazy hair.

I really like this coin because it’s ugly in a special, money kind of way. Dirty, corroded, and tarnished, it’s got an odd-looking woman on one side and a weird little bird on the other. And – like a lot of ancient coins – it wasn’t made all that well in the first place. It’s super crooked, in fact. But, back in the day, it was legit because it’s very recognizable as an Athenian owl coin. These coins were widely used throughout the ancient classical world. On the front is the head of the goddess Athena, facing to the right. On the back – another symbol of Athena and Athens – a small owl. I think the one shown above is especially cute. You can see six of these cute-ugly owl coins for yourself at the Kelsey; they’re on view now in the special exhibit Less Than Perfect.

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From the Archives

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

The Kelsey Museum Archives are quite an expansive collection. Though small in size, there are plenty of deep wormholes found throughout that will lead the researcher and archivist down a path they will be lost in for hours and hours. Every time a box is opened, a piece of the Kelsey’s history flows out and exposes the reader to new insight. Names only known through vague and incomplete notes are fleshed out, made into a more composite person. An occurrence in the past makes itself known to a group of people who would otherwise not know about it. Sites visited by Kelsey and Swain and others are exposed, informing us we have information from a location that had never been highlighted previously. The Kelsey universe expands, allowing us to share more stories about our past that will be of interest, both for research and for personal purposes.

 

With such a vast collection, on top of an already full collection of artifacts to care for, it becomes daunting trying to handle the archives and get it to a state where we would like. Better organization, greater knowledge of what the archives contain, more efficient access, are all goals we have. And as archival materials don’t have the same restrictions on them that artifacts do, the archives grow at a greater rate, meaning even more materials to parse through and organize.

 

Fortunately, the Kelsey has had a great team of interns and volunteers who have helped manage the archives over the years. Without them, much of the work would never have been completed. The archives are in a greater state today because of this team, focused and committed people who have taken their time to assist us in the day-to-day handling of materials, and the greater planning and organization of what we find within.

 

This page is not long enough to list all those people, but we can take the opportunity to thank one particular person who has worked with us since 2011. In that time, Randall McCombs has assisted the Registry and Kelsey Museum on a number of various projects. His work can be seen in nearly every exhibition we have hosted since 2012. His efforts have made their way to numerous publications. His assistance has led to greater organization of our digital assets, particularly those made as we have been scanning our photographic collections. It has been Randall all these years who has scanned photographs from Turkey, Egypt, Italy, in the various formats we find: glass, prints, negatives, slides, and others.

 

Sadly for the Kelsey, but a great step for him, Randall left the Museum in August to pursue his Master’s at the School of Information here at Michigan. We know that decision will pay off and will supply Randall with the skills and experience he will need moving forward. However, his presence will be missed.

 

Randall’s hands have touched a number of different collections, material types, projects, and themes. It would be difficult to limit our showing here to what he has done. Instead, this month’s From the Archives will highlight his most recent project. We’ve known for years we had a collection of panorama photos taken by George Swain in the 1920s with the use of a Cirkut camera. All this time those photographs sat in several drawers with barely a glance. One print, of the Athenian acropolis, hung in Kelsey Director Christopher Ratte’s office. This daily viewing led Dr. Ratte to inquire into this collection, what else we had, and how could we get it on display. We tasked Randall with the project, for he is quite adept at many things digital. That and he had the skills to stitch together these images, as our scanners are not large enough to capture the image in one scan. Instead, each photo had to be scanned in sections, pieced together in the editing process. Randall was able to do this seamlessly and quickly. A selection of these photographs are now on display in Newberry hallway (Athens, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Giza). But the project exposed us to the greater collection of panoramas, well over 100 photographs, and all the sites and views Swain captured.

 

For your pleasure, we present a selection of these panoramas here. You will see images from throughout the Mediterranean, from Libya and Tunisia to Greece and elsewhere. The views show landscapes/seascapes, archaeological remains, current city views, even people as they gathered in a town square.

 

We owe a great deal of thanks to Randall for his years of service. We wish him the best in this new chapter of his life. Someday, a future archivist will read and learn about Randall and his contributions to the Museum. And they, like us, will be appreciative of what Randall did.

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