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


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.



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!



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



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.



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.


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)


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


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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An Open Letter to Ancient People

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation


Dear Ancient People,

I am writing this letter in response to my recent work on your textiles for the upcoming Kelsey Museum exhibit Less Than Perfect. I am writing this letter because I love you. I do. Please believe that. Your textiles are lovely. Super beautiful. But they are also frankly just crooked as heck, and they are a huge pain to exhibit because they absolutely will not hang straight. Seriously, folks, could you not sew a straight seam? Did you even try?

You guys built canals and aqueducts and enormous buildings. You kept time with complicated water clocks and annual calendars. You dyed fibers using complex chemistry and spent hours doing meticulous embroidery. But you couldn’t sew straight? Am I really supposed to believe that? Really???

I have just spent many hours of my life trying to accommodate your wackadoodle craftsmanship and show it to best advantage. This was not fun or easy. What’s past is past. I get that. There are no do-overs. But friends, if this is your A game, it needs work. I’m just saying. When you were like, “Whatever! That’s good enough! I mean, who cares if this is perfect? Who’ll notice?” That would be me, y’all. I noticed, and I do not thank you.

Sincerely yours,



August Cons Post Photo

Exhibit Preparator Scott Meier comments on my attempt to make this textile hang level. It is longer on one side than the other and has wonky seams, so yeah: It’s less than perfect.

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Ugly Object of the Month – August

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



Sleeve from a child’s tunic. Wool. 2nd – 4th c AD. KMA 13995.


This month’s Ugly is a hideous but sweet little specimen: the ripped sleeve of a child’s tunic. It looks pretty bad. It’s the kind of raggy little thing which, if you found it in your house, you’d probably throw away. And in fact, that seems to be what happened: when University of Michigan excavated Karanis, Egypt in the 1920s, the team found this in the ancient town’s street.

This grotty little rag will soon be featured in the exhibit Less Than Perfect, on view at the Kelsey August 26, 2016 through January 8, 2017. The exhibit explores three themes: failed perfection, deliberate imperfection, and – my favorite – restoring perfection. The sleeve occupies this latter category, because of the elbow patch designed to extend the life of the garment.

Was the sleeve ever perfect? This seems debatable to me, but its seamstress did take care to make it attractive. The rolled hem is nicely finished with an overcast stitch in a contrasting red thread, and the elbow patch or applique (originally twice as big as what remains today) has an interesting woven design in blue and cream.

Today, of course, the wool has yellowed, the sleeve is ripped, the seams have failed, and half the original patch is missing altogether, as is the rest of the tunic. But I can imagine that someone treasured it for a long time, before finally giving up on the garment and throwing the remains in the street. Come see this cute-ugly bit of ancient detritus for yourself!



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From the Archives

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

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Istanbul is a beautiful city. For the readers who have had the pleasure of visiting this majestic city, you will know the wonders to be found around each corner. The Hagia Sophia standing iconically in Sultanahmet, not far from the Blue Mosque. In between a park where people gather at all times of day, but that comes to life at night. The area of Sultanahmet, though touristy, is ripe with colours and glamorous views from atop hotels that look out over the Bosphorus.

A few minutes away one can get lost in the Grand Bazaar. Various corridors will take the visitor to shops of all kinds. If you need a souvenir, you can find it in the bazaar. Fresh fruits, fish and meats, nuts, spices, including Iranian saffron, are all there for the picking. Jewelry and household adornments. Clothing and housewares. An ornate tea set that would look great in your parent’s house. Hours later, you might still find yourself going down paths that are new to you, and keep finding new goods you cannot live without. The shopkeepers eager to encourage you to buy.

Walk long enough in the bazaar and you might come to an exit eventually. Though you entered coming from Sultanahmet, you find a new exit. This one brings you directly to the Bosphorus and the Galata Bridge. There is still much to see on the old side of the city, but you wander onto the bridge. Here, along the lower level, you can stop for lunch at one of the numerous restaurants clamoring for your patronage. Enjoy the fish coming off the boats and wash it down with the local brew, Efes.

From here, you can continue to the new side of the city, where modern shops with brand names litter Istiklal Street. You see more cafes, where artists gather to talk the hot topic. Restaurants and food vendors are found on every corner, and between. The Galata Tower towering over this area, and the steep steps leading you up to get a good view. Turn around, or climb the tower (which has a restaurant), and glance again at the Bosphorus and the old city. The minarets sprinkling the city from end to end. You see the bazaar waiting to greet you again. Maybe you continue to Taksim Square, or visit Galatasaray Lisesi, the high school on Istiklal. Or you do some shopping.

Eventually you return to Galata Bridge, but rather than head back into the old city, you take a ferry tour of the Bosphorus. A tour guide pointing out the famous buildings in landmarks, as you relax on the gentle waters. When done, you head back to Sultanahmet and you see a gathering of people. What is this, you wonder, and you come close to an outdoor theatre where whirling dervish dancers perform. They spin to the music, and you find yourself lost in the motion.

Nearby, as it is dark, you see families out playing with light toys that shoot up in the sky. Street vendors sell corn and other treats. Others, including locals and tourists, duck into hookah lounges, where they enjoy some chai and flavored shisha.

There is much to this city, and Francis Kelsey and George Swain found something quite similar when they visited. Back then, the city was still known as Constantinople, though in his photos, Swain refers to a “Stamboul.” The city has changed much since the 1920s. A comparison of photos shows the spread of buildings and new construction found everywhere. Still, locals will look over these photos and see much they recognize. And they speak to the changes to modern times. The photos Swain took are, quite literally, a snapshot of a bygone time, but one not that long ago.

Istanbul has been an important city for a long time. It is where Asia meets Europe. Much trade goes through this city, as it also controls access to the Black Sea. It is no wonder that Kelsey visited many times on his way back and forth between North Africa and Europe, with stops in Palestine and Syria. And many present-day Kelsey archaeologists go through Istanbul on their way to Notion, or Aphrodisias, or any number of sites where Michigan has a presence. Istanbul is a magical city, one highly recommended to visit. It is full of life and beautiful scenes. Nothing can detract from this.

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