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 SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Encina earned a BA degree in Anthropology/History from St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY; an MA in Anthropology from George Washington University, Washington DC; and an MSI from the University of Michigan.

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Favorite Artifact. An Artist’s Sketch Slab. Limestone with red and black ink. Dynasty 19–20 (ca. 1303–1085 BCE). Bequest, Mrs. Irene Goudsmit. KM 81.4.18.

Why. “Sketch slabs remind us that not all ancient art is a finished product. Even the greatest artists had to practice or sketch their ideas before they executed and finalized a piece of art. This particular slab shows the hand of an artist who may have gone on to create wonderful art in a tomb, but this particular object was never intended to be on display or viewed as a work of art. It was mere practice to hone the artist’s talent or vision prior to creating the actual final piece of art.

“Some of the finest art of the ancient and modern world greets visitors to many museums, such as the treasures of Tutankhamun, the majesty of Versailles, or the genius of Picasso. Most often, the artifacts and objects came from the elite classes of the time. But the Kelsey, instead, focuses on the objects of ancient daily living. Sketch slabs were part of the daily life of ancient artists.”

About Artifact. This sketch slab preserves a royal Ramesside profile, with two beautiful studies of females superimposed. Vestiges of a lion’s head and a human arm are visible in the lower left, while traces of a hieratic notation appear very near the top.

Background. Different artists had different roles: one would draw, one would outline, and another would add color.

Find It. An Artist’s Sketch Slab is not on display in the museum’s permanent exhibition, but it is scheduled to be exhibited in the Kelsey’s special exhibition—Passionate Curiosities: Collecting in Egypt & the Near East 1880s–1950s—open August 28 through November 29, 2015.

Learn More. The exhibition catalog—Passionate Curiosities: Tales of Collectors and Collections from the Kelsey Museum by Lauren E. Talalay and Margaret Cool Root—will be available for purchase in the Kelsey Gift Shop and online from ISD.

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Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project Study Season

BY DAN DIFFENDALE, PhD student, Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, University of Michigan

Mt. Mainalon above the village of Kardara

Mt. Mainalon above the village of Kardara

I spent the first three weeks of June in Greece, working with the Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project. Although the project last conducted fieldwork at the Sanctuary of Zeus Lykaios on Mt. Lykaion in western Arcadia in 2010, we have been busy every summer since then studying the excavated materials. In excavation years, we rent private houses in a village close to the site; during study seasons, we stay in an off-season ski resort in eastern Arcadia, in order to be close to Tripoli, where the artifacts are housed. From Kardara it’s a thirty-minute van ride to our apotheke, or storeroom, where we study the materials almost every day (but never on Sunday). The study seasons witness a wide range of scholars and specialists coming and going as their schedules permit; among others, we have experts in animal bones, roof tiles, coins, and numerous varieties of ancient pottery, including Neolithic, Early, Middle and Late Bronze Age, Iron Age, Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman. Of course, this study could not proceed without the heroic efforts of our registrar, who is responsible for the organization of the apotheke and all procedural matters relating to the artifacts, along with her team of assistants, who do whatever assisting needs to be done.

At work in the apotheke

At work in the apotheke

This season I have been assisting one of the project’s directors in the study of the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age pottery, as well as preparing a final report on the stratigraphy of one of the project’s trenches on the peak of Mt. Lykaion. One of my goals this season has been looking for matches or “joins” between the tens of thousands of broken pieces of pottery from the trench. Although it is inherently satisfying to find such joins, a successful outcome is by no means guaranteed; it’s like playing a puzzle without a box-top picture to compare to, and with most, if not all, of the pieces missing. Despite the frequent frustration, it’s an important activity; knowing if there are pieces of the same pot scattered in different parts of the trench helps us to understand the formation processes of the site. If ancient people deposited a whole pot on the mountaintop, but we find broken pieces of it in different areas of our excavation, we deduce that it must have been broken and had its pieces scattered by one or more subsequent events. These events might be later human activity, animal disturbance, natural phenomena like earthquakes or frost heaves, or some combination of these. Given that the altar where we excavated has evidence for human activity spanning some three thousand years or more, from the Neolithic to the Hellenistic period, or from before 3000 BCE down to the 1st century BCE, followed by the two thousand years from then to now, it’s not surprising that things got so mixed around!

Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project website:
http://lykaionexcavation.org/

Mt. Lykaion preliminary reports:
http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2972/hesperia.83.4.0569
http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2972/hesperia.84.2.0207

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Ugly Object of the Month

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator for Conservation, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Beauty isn’t everything at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology; we value all evidence of life in the ancient world, even when the object is, erm, ugly. This month’s ugly object is an Aphrodite figurine made from copper alloy (aka bronze).

Figurine of Aphrodite. Bronze. Late 3rd century AD? KMA 10888. Before treatment.

Figurine of Aphrodite. Bronze. Late 3rd century AD? KMA 10888. Before treatment.

I would never argue that Aphrodite herself is unattractive, but this figurine has seen better days. It was severely corroded when excavated at Karanis, Egypt, in the 1930s, and the legs were in pieces. Sometime after excavation, the corrosion patina was stripped with an electrochemical treatment that was once popular for archaeological metals. This resulted in a dull, brown, pitted surface with multiple holes.

Fast forward to 2015, when this object was chosen for a special exhibition. We wanted to reattach the feet and other fragments, but the latter are very thin pieces of metal from the fronts of the legs. They did not attach well to the upper thighs, each other, or the feet, and they could not support the weight of the torso. Our solution was to make prosthetic legs for the Aphrodite, legs that would support the torso and to which the metal “skin” fragments could be attached. I was the conservator for this treatment, and I began by masking the metal surface with Parafilm, a plastic paraffin wrap that is used as a sealant in labs. This protected the metal surface as I worked with the object. Next, I formed new legs with a two-part epoxy putty.

At top, the surface is being masked with Parafilm. In the lower image, epoxy putty is being shaped for the left leg.

At top, the surface is being masked with Parafilm. In the lower image, epoxy putty is being shaped for the left leg.

I shaped the new legs one at a time by pressing them into the voids in the upper thighs and placing the feet and other fragments into position on the putty while it was still soft. Once it had cured, I removed the putty from the figurine and the metal fragments from the putty. I then painted the white putty and sealed all the join surfaces with a conservation sealant. Next, each leg and its fragments were glued into place with a conservation adhesive.

At left, the glue is setting for the finished left leg. At right, the right leg is being shaped in place on the figurine.

At left, the glue is setting for the finished left leg. At right, the right leg is being shaped in place on the figurine.

We conservators like this object because it looks very real to us. This Aphrodite is almost 2,000 years old, and she is not lying about her age. In most museums, we see perfect examples of objects like this one. But in the field, on a real-life excavation (or at the Kelsey!), an object like this Aphrodite is incredibly special, even though it’s not perfectly gorgeous.

You can appreciate this ugly object yourself; from June 5 through July 26 it is on view in the exhibition “Rocks, Paper, Memory: Wendy Artin’s Watercolor Paintings of Ancient Sculptures.”

Figurine of Aphrodite, after treatment.

Figurine of Aphrodite, after treatment.

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Exam Time for Archaeology Graduate Student

BY CAITLIN CLERKIN, PhD student, Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology (IPCAA), University of Michigan

A confused pile of books for term papers and IPCAA archaeology qualifying exams that I need to cart back to the library.

A confused pile of books for term papers and IPCAA archaeology qualifying exams that I need to cart back to the library.

The end of the “winter” term at U of M marks not only the end of classes and preparations for summer work, whether in the field or stateside. For IPCAA students in their first three years, the end of the winter term also marks IPCAA exam time.

IPCAA students take a lot of exams before advancing to PhD candidacy: beyond exams in courses, we have to pass four language exams (Latin and Greek, and German and French or Italian), a qualifying exam in ancient history, and archaeology qualifying exams in three major areas (Egypt and the Near East, Prehistoric Aegean and Greek, and Etruscan and Roman), and preliminary exams (preliminary, that is, to a dissertation). The language exams occur throughout the school year, but the other three exams occur just after the end of each academic year. First-years take the ancient history qual; second-years take “Quals” (the archaeology exams); and third-years take their prelims, on topics they’ve chosen in consultation with faculty members. Thus, if you visited the Kelsey during the first week of May, you may have seen some dazed, ermm, I mean, well-rested, calm, and chock-full-of-knowledge-looking graduate students wandering around the building.

The goal underlying Quals is ensuring that IPCAA students gain a foundational understanding of the major subject areas of our field, which will allow them to develop their research focus informed by knowledge about major sites, monuments, and theories while also equipping them with the resource base to teach about these different areas. As such, studying for and taking Quals is an exercise in solidarity and solidification. Solidification, because we are asked to consolidate our understanding of facts, developments, theories, and trends so that we can redeploy all these things to answer new questions. Solidarity, because taking Quals is an experience (or labor) undergone by individual cohorts together, but that also unites IPCAA cohorts across time, on what I imagine is a sociological or ritual rites-of-passage kind of level. Not only have we learned similar material, but we’ve all sat and written essay after essay, slide ID after slide ID for hours (twelve actually), after months of studying and anticipation. As a second-year in IPCAA, I, with my three cohort-mates, just took Quals. Afterward, when corresponding with an IPCAA alumna with whom I work in the field about our upcoming fieldwork, I sensed a sigh of relief in her congratulations to me for having the exam in my rearview mirror.

Before entering IPCAA, I received an MA in Latin from the University of Georgia, which involved passing a “Reading List Exam” in March of our first year in the program. In the frenzied studying for that exam, my cohort quizzed each other on writers, works of literature, and historical events. Since then, I have not forgotten that the Roman playwright and Stoic Seneca was forced to commit suicide by Nero in 69 CE, along with his nephew, the poet Lucan, because a classmate came up with the mnemonic soundbite that Seneca and Lucan “died in each other’s arms” (not strictly true but will be forever ingrained in my memory). Similarly, I think (or hope) I will never forget my go-to examples of the mixing of the Doric and Ionic orders on temples (Temple of Athena, Paestum), or where the Stone Law Code Stele of Hammurabi was found (Susa) and why that matters. Thanks, cohort-mates, for getting me through this IPCAA milestone!

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Staff Favorite

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 RICHARD REDDING, Research Scientist, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology; principal investigator on archaeological projects in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia; Chief Operating Officer and Chief Research Officer of Ancient Egyptian Research Associates. Redding works in Giza, Egypt, during dig season.

Front, inside, and back views of the Djehutymose coffin.

Front, inside, and back views of the Djehutymose coffin.

Favorite Artifact: The Coffin of Djehutymose. Mummiform coffin of the priest Djehutymose. Wood, plaster, and paint. Saite period (26th dynasty, 685–525 BC).

Why: “This coffin is both elegant and beautiful and offers human solutions to natural events such as the sun rising each day after the darkness of night. For example, see the goddess Nut painted on the interior of the coffin lid with a red sun disk on her mouth, which she swallows every night and to which she gives birth (the red disk at her feet) every morning.”

About Artifact: It dates to the Saite Period, an era of great artistic revival in ancient Egypt. Texts on the coffin identify its owner as a man named Djehutymose, a priest of the falcon god Horus and the “Golden Goddess” Hathor, and give the names of his parents, Nespakhered (also a priest) and Taro (“The Lady of the House.”)

The coffin, carved to represent the mummy of Djehutymose, is covered with magical spells from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead and images of protective gods and goddesses. In this way, the identification of Djehutymose with Osiris is reinforced, and he is provided with multiple levels of protection against the perils of the afterlife as well as appropriate spells for the successful continuation of life in the world of the dead. The coffin represents a microcosm of the afterworld and the eternity that Djehutymose expects to enjoy.

Lid Exterior: Djehutymose’s face is green in imitation of the god of the dead, Osiris; the color symbolizes regeneration and rebirth. His false beard is characteristic of Osiris; his collar with falcon-headed terminals is another symbol of rebirth. His name reinforces his personal identity throughout the texts on the coffin. The goddess Isis, wife of Osiris, spreads her wings protectively over Djehutymose’s feet. A snake encircles the entire coffin lid, its tail and head meeting above Djehutymose’s feet. This circled snake symbolizes protection and eternity.

Lid Interior: The sky goddess Nut spreads her wings protectively over Djehutymose’s chest. Nut’s crown is a sun disk containing her name, and she holds powerful ankh (life) symbols in her outstretched hands. The two eyes of Horus (wedjat) symbolizing protection and rejuvenation are confronted on either side of her head.

Base Exterior: Protective texts from the Book of the Dead and processions of gods and goddesses line the sides of the coffin.

Base Interior: The goddess Imentet magically embraced Djehutymose’s mummy as it lay in the coffin.

Background: For much of Egyptian history, the bodies of the dead were placed in coffins, which often bore texts giving the names, titles, and parentage of the deceased, as well as religious texts for provisioning, protection, and regeneration in the afterlife.

Djehutymose lies on a funerary bed, where he is being embalmed by the jackal-headed god Anubis. His soul (ba) in the form of a human headed bird, hovers overhead. Beneath the bed are four canopic jars containing Djehutymose’s internal organs, removed during the mummification process.

Djehutymose lies on a funerary bed, where he is being embalmed by the jackal-headed god Anubis. His soul (ba) in the form of a human-headed bird, hovers overhead. Beneath the bed are four canopic jars containing Djehutymose’s internal organs, removed during the mummification process.

“Fashioned nearly 2,600 years ago, the Djehutymose Coffin has made a complicated journey into the present. In the intervening centuries, the coffin was separated from Djehutymose’s mummy, now lost. Within the last hundred years, Djehutymose’s coffin traveled far beyond the imaginings of the ancient Egyptians: from Egypt to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Donated to the University of Michigan in 1906, the coffin was long on display at the Kalamazoo Public Museum before it returned to Ann Arbor in 1989,” according to the Kelsey publication, Life, Death, and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt: The Djehutymose Coffin.

Although the mummy of Djehutymose is long lost, the coffin has a large modern-day following on Facebook’s Mummy Djehutymose, with 3,892 followers to date, and on Twitter’s @Djehutymose with 3,650 followers). Through Twitter, Djehutymose converses regularly with three ancient Egyptian mummies:

  • @KVMMUMMY from Kalamazoo Valley Museum in Michigan;
  • @LASMummy from Louisiana Arts & Science Museum in Baton Rouge, La.;
  • @MummyDjedi at Tulane University in New Orleans, La., and
  • @RockaroundCroc, a crocodile mummy at the British Museum in London, UK.

 Find: Look for The Coffin of Djehutymose in a prominent exhibit case in the middle of the first floor of the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. The coffin stands tall and open, with the interiors of the lid and base facing visitors. Exteriors of the lid and base can also be viewed from the back of the exhibit.

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

Find out more about Richard Redding’s work in Giza, Egypt, at http://www.aeraweb.org.

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IPCAA Field Conservation Workshops—Spring 2015

BY CARRIE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

The Kelsey Conservation Lab recently hosted two hands-on conservation workshops for PhD candidates in the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology (IPCAA): one covering ceramics and the other copper alloy (bronze) conservation. Our goals were to help familiarize the students with archaeological conservation best practices, learn about condition issues and field recovery, and gain some useful hand skills. In essence, we wanted to provide them with conservation information they could take with them into the field.

The first workshop covered ceramics conservation, beginning with an overview of deterioration phenomena. We spent some time looking at artifacts that demonstrated springing, spalling, and other structural condition problems; and we talked about lifting, transport, and temporary storage, as well as long-term ceramic storage considerations. We then proceeded with the hands-on part: the smashing and subsequent reconstruction of thrift store ceramics (the most challenging object proved to be the purse-shaped cookie jar adopted by Shannon Ness). The students learned how to make their own Paraloid B-72, a conservation grade adhesive, and label their homemade adhesive tubes with hazardous materials labels. Fun times!

IPCAA students Dan Diffendale and Alison Rittershaus reconstruct broken ceramics.

IPCAA students Dan Diffendale and Alison Rittershaus reconstruct broken ceramics.

The second workshop covered copper alloy conservation. This time we discussed deterioration, field recovery, and the goals of cleaning small metal finds (to stabilize artifacts and reveal information). The students participated in a cleaning exercise, where they learned how to use various tools—from bamboo skewers to scalpels—to clean archaeological copper alloy artifacts. They wore Optivisors during this step of the workshop. These magnifiers allowed them to better see the progress of their cleaning. The Optivisors also provided a fun talking point, as they basically transform the wearer into a lab tech/Star Trek-looking character. We finished by making Ethafoam cavity-cut supports for their artifacts and talking about the pros and cons of using silica gel in microclimate storage.

Conservator Carrie Roberts talks to the students about copper alloy corrosion.

Conservator Carrie Roberts talks to the students about copper alloy corrosion.

We conservators had a lot of fun working with the IPCAA students. They had many questions for us and participated in the hands-on sections with real enthusiasm. I think they’ll be taking some useful information with them into the field. We’ve benefitted too; teaching drives home the fact that one of the best preservation strategies we have is to share our knowledge with others. We hope to provide interested students with other conservation workshops in the coming years!

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Life on a Fulbright: Fieldnotes from Naples

BY JENNY KREIGER, PhD candidate, Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, University of Michigan, and Fulbright Fellow, 2014–2015

Since October, I have been living in Naples, Italy, where I have been conducting my dissertation research with the help of a grant from the US-Italy Fulbright Commission. The Fulbright Program supports academic exchange programs for American and international students, faculty, and researchers, and Italy is just one of many countries that participate in a bilateral Fulbright Commission.

A view of Naples from a hilltop castle. That very straight street at the lower left is one of the Roman decumani, still in use as a main road today.

A view of Naples from a hilltop castle. That very straight street at the lower left is one of the Roman decumani, still in use as a main road today.

The beauty of the Fulbright program is that it gives me the time and resources to do my research abroad while encouraging me to serve as a “citizen diplomat,” representing my country and learning about my host country at the same time. I wanted to immerse myself in the culture of Naples, so I rented a room in an apartment with Italian roommates. As it turned out, these were not just any roommates: they are the managers of an experimental theater company (TeatrInGestAzione; see link below). Their principal project every year is Alto Fest, a performing arts festival that puts artists into unusual venues in Naples—terraces, garages, kitchens, even the airport—offered for free by the owners. Artists come from around the world to create and adapt works for these spaces throughout the city, encouraging audiences to explore and connect with Naples on an intimate level. In our day-to-day life in this rooftop apartment, my roommates show me how the arts and cultural heritage can be used for social development and urban renewal in a concrete and personal way.

My roommates are not the only young Neapolitans using culture and heritage to change their city for the better. Through my research on the catacombs of Naples I have come into contact with the people of La Paranza, a social cooperative organization that is developing the catacombs and other heritage sites of the Rione Sanità as tourist destinations and sources of employment and local pride. La Paranza organizes concerts, art exhibitions, and other special events in addition to regular tours of the catacombs, and their programs attract locals and visitors alike. Centuries ago, the catacombs were important sites of cult and memory, and in their modern context the catacombs continue to shape local identity and daily life.

A view of one of the main galleries in the Catacomb of San Gennaro. That central arch is big enough to accommodate a city bus!

A view of one of the main galleries in the Catacomb of San Gennaro. That central arch is big enough to accommodate a city bus!

Finally, I want to share a few words about my research itself. My dissertation examines three major Italian catacomb complexes (in Rome, Naples, and Syracuse) to learn about the funerary industry in late antique urban contexts. Specifically, I am looking at inscriptions, paintings, and architecture in catacombs for clues about how funerary labor was organized, how laborers balanced customization and “mass production” in their work, and how materials (like marble slabs) were recycled and traded for funerary use. In practical terms, this has meant visiting sites, museums, and archives to study surviving materials and analyzing what I find using an array of philological, art historical, and archaeological methods. One of the broader goals of my dissertation is to consider the roles that ordinary workers played in the shaping of ancient culture, and it has been an invaluable part of this process to get to observe small organizations shaping the culture of a major modern city.

For more information on the Fulbright Program, TeatrInGestAzione and Alto Fest, or La Paranza and the Catacombe di Napoli, follow the links below.

On the Fulbright Program in general: http://eca.state.gov/fulbright/about-fulbright/funding-and-administration/fulbright-commissions

The US-Italy Fulbright Commission site: http://www.fulbright.it

TeatrInGestAzione site (in Italian): http://www.teatringestazione.com/tiga/chi-siamo/

Alto Fest 2015 call for applications: http://www.teatringestazione.com/altofest/open-calls/

La Paranza, “Who we are” (in Italian): http://www.catacombedinapoli.it/chisiamo.asp

Catacombe di Napoli main site (in Italian): http://catacombedinapoli.com

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My Favorite Artifact

BY CARL ABREGO, Department Manager, Residential College (former Kelsey Administrative Specialist) and Member, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan

Favorite Artifact: Description de l’Égypte. Paper, pigment, leather binding. Deluxe first edition. Published 1809–1822 in Paris. Bound by Rowfant Bindery in Cleveland, Ohio, 1912–1914. KM 2003.4.1a–w.

Why: “One of my co-workers described the Description de l’Égypte volumes as ‘coffee table books on steroids!’ I love books so when Sebastián Encina, Museum Collections Manager, first showed them to me, I had to agree! Their size is very impressive, as is the sheer vibrant color of many of the illustrations. Plus, the Kelsey’s set is a deluxe first edition.

“I couldn’t ever imagine being one of the people who drew the illustrations or wrote the descriptions. It’s impressive in itself how much time and energy went into the development of the content to provide a real record of Egypt at that time.”

About Artifact: Description de l’Égypte is an amazingly detailed description of Egypt’s past and then-present. Editor François Jomard based the content on material collected by a scientific commission of approximately 175 scholars, appointed by Napoleon to accompany his 1798 expedition to Egypt. There, he directed the scholars to study all of Egypt.

The Kelsey’s set includes 23 volumes: 10 with text and 13 with illustrations (including 3 elephantine folios), many in color. Published from 1809 to 1829, Description pages were sold individually, mainly to financially well-off people. Owners later arranged to have their pages bound into books. The Kelsey’s pages were published 1809 through 1822.

Desscription volumes

Left: Volumes of the Description de l’Égypte in their storage drawer in the Kelsey Museum; right: Collections Manager Sebastián Encina displays an elephantine volume.

The scientific commission included engineers, mechanics, surveyors, cartographers, interpreters, printers, architects, surgeons, pharmacists, physicists, chemists, mathematicians, astronomers, geologists, zoologists, archaeologists, economists, artists, musicians, and poets, according to historian J. Christopher Herold in The Age of Napoleon.

Once in Cairo, the scientific commission established the Institute of Egypt and a headquarters on the edge of the city. Before them lay a massive undertaking. They set up a library, laboratories, workshops, observatory, museum, zoological and botanical collections, aviary, agricultural-experiment station, artists’ studios, printing plant, living quarters, and a meeting hall, all to support and process their research findings.

“Freed from the social distractions of Paris,” writes Herold, “the scholars gave themselves over with adventurous zeal to their various pursuits . . . . to the study of the fish of the Nile, of mummified cats and birds, of desert insects, of Oriental music. Field teams were assigned to such tasks as surveying the Isthmus of Suez, compiling detailed topographical maps of Egypt, and exploring the ruins and antiquities.”

Two illustrations from the Description de l'Égypte: on the left, an asp; on the right, ibis mummies and other mummy fragments.

Two illustrations from the Description de l’Égypte: on the left, an asp; on the right, ibis mummies and other mummy fragments.

Worldwide Impact: “This work, a unique event in archaeological history, at one stroke impressed on the modern world’s attention a culture hitherto unknown but to a few travelers, a culture as remote and mysterious, if not completely hidden from view, as that of Troy,” said C. W. Ceram in Gods, Graves, and Scholars. “They saw in it things never seen before, they read of absolute novelties, they became aware of a mode of life the existence of which had previously not even been suspected. Having more capacity for reverence than ourselves, they must have experienced a shuddering sensation as they were carried back thousands of years.”

And Egyptology was born.

Artifact Source: In 1953, Dr. Otto O. Fisher gave the Kelsey a complete deluxe first edition of Description de l’Égypte. Fisher was a surgeon who interned at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital in 1922–23 and then practiced in Detroit. According to Kelsey Curator Emerita Lauren Talalay, Fisher was an avid bibliophile, whose collection of rare books and documents numbered more than 20,000 at one time.

Talalay said he gave Description to the Kelsey in exchange for his recall of the Fisher Papyrus (an impressive copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead), which he had lent to the museum on a long-term basis but eventually wished to sell.

Background: Napoleon I left Toulon, France, in 1798 with a fleet of 328 vessels, carrying 38,000 men headed for Egypt. He intended a world-conquering expedition (such as Alexander the Great’s), which he initially expected to push as far east as India. Napoleon did capture Egypt for about a year. But, in the end, he was defeated and fled Egypt in 1799. Many of his soldiers and scholars, however, remained for another year.

One of Napoleon’s soldiers found a stele of polished black basalt with inscriptions in three different forms of writing. This was the famous Rosetta Stone, now housed in the British Museum (the British having defeated the French in Egypt). Although many of the artifacts found by the French eventually had to be turned over to Britain, the French retained all the drawings and descriptions of Egypt that they had completed, taking them back to France and eventually producing the Description.

Find It: Currently, none of the Kelsey’s Description de l’Égypte volumes are on exhibit, but at least one volume will be part of a special exhibition—“Passionate Curiosities: Collecting in Egypt & the Near East, 1880s–1950s” (August 28–November 29, 2015)—to be curated by Margaret Cool Root. Scholars may inquire about the books from Museum Collections Manager Sebastián Encina at sencina@umich.edu.

Learn More: Currently scheduled for publication in late 2015: Passionate Curiosities: Tales of Collectors & Collections from the Kelsey Museum by Lauren E. Talalay and Margaret Cool Root. To be available for purchase in the Kelsey Gift Shop and online from ISD.

View an online edition of Description de l’Égypte here.

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Letter from the Met

BY EMMA SACHS, PhD candidate, Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology and Museum Studies, University of Michigan; Bothmer Fellow, Metropolitan Museum of Art

This year I have been conducting research and writing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a Bothmer Fellow in the Department of Greek and Roman Art. I vividly remember the day I found out I’d be coming to the Met—February 21, 2014—because that was the day Pompeii opened in IMAX. Expecting that this would be a major box office hit, I preordered tickets and dragged my extremely amenable friend to the theater 45 minutes early to stand in line—only to be told by a confused theater employee that there was no line, and the theater would be available about 10 minutes before the show. We should have lowered our expectations when a woman in the restroom loudly announced that “If anyone is planning to see the movie Pompeii, don’t do it!!” But sometimes hope is blind and academics naïve—especially when their field of study is featured in 3D. Needless to say, it was terrible. Vesuvius couldn’t have erupted too soon, and even when it finally happened, the IMAX effects were mediocre. If we had to sit through a poorly crafted story, we could at least have been rewarded with a few more fiery rocks flying at our faces. That evening I was busy explaining my disappointment over the phone to my parents when the fellowship offer from the Met appeared in my inbox. So it wasn’t a bad evening after all.

I moved to New York in August and started at the Met in September. The Bothmer Fellowship was awarded in support of my dissertation research, and accordingly most of my time has been spent closely studying the museum’s fantastic collection and writing at my desk in the Watson Library, the museum’s central library (the Met has 28 libraries in total!).  I also routinely participate in talks, tours, and lectures arranged to introduce Fellows to the museum’s 17 curatorial departments, its system of administration, and active projects.

The focus of my research is wall painting from the Bay of Naples region, where the volcano Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 and buried much of the surrounding region, including the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and nearby villas in the countryside. While this disaster by no means “froze” this region in time, perfectly preserving it for posterity, the volcanic debris did help to preserve a considerable amount of wall painting, protecting it from exposure the elements. For this reason, the majority of the corpus of Roman fresco comes from Campania, and any systematic study ever done that pertains to “Roman” wall painting has its roots in this material and in this region. The Met has the best collection of Roman wall painting in the Western hemisphere, so it is naturally a magnet for wall painting specialists. I am particularly interested in the museum’s paintings from the Villa of Publius Fannius Synistor in Boscoreale, which was excavated in 1899–1902. In 1903, many of the villa’s frescoes, mosaics, and smaller finds were sold at a Paris auction and dispersed to numerous institutions and private collectors around the world. Nineteen fresco sections were purchased by the Met in 1903, and they have been a highlight of the museum’s collection ever since. I should note that a few small finds eventually made their way to the Kelsey Museum, including bronze hardware, agricultural tools, and a stone rotary mill on display on the Kelsey’s second floor.

View of the Villa of Publius Fannius Synistor with Vesuvius in background, 1900 (F. Barnabie, La Villa Pompeiana di P. Fannio Sinistore, scoperta presso Boscoreale, 1901, tav. XI)

View of the Villa of Publius Fannius Synistor with Vesuvius in background, 1900
(F. Barnabie, La Villa Pompeiana di P. Fannio Sinistore, scoperta presso Boscoreale, 1901, tav. XI)

First installing of cubiculum M at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, c. 1905

First installing of cubiculum M at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, c. 1905

While my experience thus far has been very fruitful for my dissertation, I have also learned a great deal about the museum and its objects. The great breadth and depth of the museum’s collection of antiquities—dating from the fifth millennium BC to the fourth century AD—allows for an encyclopedic display, organized by time and region (much like the Kelsey’s installation, if a bit more expansive). While I came to the museum a little skeptical of this linear march through time, I have observed that it is accessible to many different kinds of audiences: easily comprehensible to casual visitors and yet helpfully contextual for specialists. One of my favorite Fellows’ activities was conducting a tour of the Greek and Roman galleries to about 20 other scholars. This allowed me to explore the Met’s institutional history and the prominent role the art of antiquity has played since the museum’s founding in 1870. Indeed, the first object accessioned by the Met was actually a Roman sarcophagus from Tarsus in southeast Turkey. In 1870 it was donated to the museum—which at that time only existed on paper—as a gesture of diplomacy by the American vice-consul in Tarsus, Abdo Dabbas. The most sizable acquisition made by the museum in the next thirty years was that of the Cesnola collection, about 35,000 ancient objects from Cyprus, purchased from General Luigi Palma di Cesnola in 1874 and 1876. This collection formed the core of the Met’s early holdings, and in fact the general himself became the first director of the museum in 1879, holding the position until his death in 1904. While as a Fellow I have learned so much about the Met and its collections, as always, the Kelsey is never very far out of sight. Some pieces from the Cesnola collection eventually made their way to the Kelsey and are on view in the Cypriot case on the first floor.

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A Romano-Egyptian Lion Takes a Bath

BY CARRIE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

When it comes to conserving works of art, how do you treat what you can’t see?

When a carved limestone lion from Karanis came to the conservation lab a few months ago, grain-sized bits of stone were coming away from the sculpture’s pitted, weathered surface. It was the type of deterioration conservators often associate with salt activity. Egypt has salty burial conditions, and objects that are porous—like ceramics and stone—absorb salty water into their bodies.

Sodium chloride, or table salt, is a common type of water-soluble salt found in archaeological artifacts. When moisture levels in the air fluctuate, sodium chloride crystallizes and liquefies. This action is called “cycling,” as the salt goes through cycles of change from liquid, to solid, to liquid phases. With these phase changes come changes in volume—an expansion and contraction of the salt. In the crystalline phase, salts are sometimes visible on an artifact’s surface; this is called efflorescence. Crystallizing salts can grow right through the surface of an artifact, sometimes even pushing it off. Imagine salts cycling inside an artifact, and, well, you can see why so many ancient stone sculptures are in such bad shape!

A close look at the Karanis lion revealed no salt crystals visible on the surface. However, salts can be present even if visible efflorescence is not. I had a hunch. I took a small sample of stone powder that had detached from the surface, and tested it for chloride salts. Sure enough, the test came back positive.

Limestone lion during desalination treatment

Limestone lion during desalination treatment

Since salts are so sensitive to fluctuating humidity levels, and since the lion was slated for display outside its usual climate-controlled storage environment, I decided it was time for the lion to take a bath. Soaking artifacts in a water bath is an often-used method for extracting potentially harmful salts, and by measuring the amount of salt in the water bath over time, we could monitor this extraction in a quantitative way. After a few hours in a bath of purified, or deionized, water, quite a bit of salt was removed from the lion, and with it much of the risk of potential damage from salt activity.

Conservator Carrie Roberts tests salt levels in the bath

Conservator Carrie Roberts tests salt levels in the bath

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