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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My Favorite Artifact

False Door of Qar

False Door Panel of Qar

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 TINA SMITH, Volunteer docent and member of Kelsey Board of Members. Smith is a long-time docent who has been active in nearly every activity at the museum. She holds three degrees:  a B.A. in Biology from Mt. Holyoke College, an M.S. in Biology from Brown University, and an M.S. from Rackham in Natural Resources Planning and Conservation from the University of Michigan.

Favorite Artifact:  False Door Panel of Qar, also known as Pepy-nefer. Limestone, paint. 6th Dynasty (2407–2260 BC). Egypt. KM 1981.4.1.

Detail of False Door Panel of Qar

Why:  “It’s great fun to work with when I give gallery tours. For example, I point out the man’s picture and use it to talk about ancient Egyptian art. I ask the children to pose like the “photo ID.”  I have them try to look at me while at the same time keeping their heads in profile as in the ancient Egyptian way of drawing people. Much stretching, wiggling, and contortion ensue as the children attempt Egyptian poses. It’s an attention-getter, and I can then tell them about the ancient Egyptian rules of drawing the human body using a grid to divide the body into three portions, a system devised during Dynasty 5 (about 2,500 BC).

This leads me to explain who Osiris was and how he became god of the Underworld, the process of mummification, and how ancient Egyptians buried their dead in tomb shafts with false doors to trick tomb raiders. And how the sun had barely set on the funeral proceedings before they arrived to steal the grave goods, despite all the precautions taken to hide the burial chamber.

And then there are all those wonderful hieroglyphs that enable me to discuss writing, the significance of the Rosetta Stone, and the realization that ancient Egyptian was a syllabic language and that no one has ever heard it spoken.

One can use that false door panel to talk about so much!

About Artifact:  The false door panel of Qar is from his tomb at Saqqara in northern Egypt, which was equipped with several false doors, each a focal point for offerings to his ka. This panel, which formed the left jamb of one of these doors, depicts Qar holding a staff and scepter of authority, markers of his governmental role as chief magistrate. Qar’s nickname—Pepy-Nefer—incorporates the name of the reigning king, Pepy I, and reinforces the notion of royal favor attached to the location of his tomb in the court cemetery of his time.

But it simultaneously communicates another message: such nicknames in the 6th Dynasty were part of a larger royal initiative to highlight the king’s positive qualities through the inscriptions of his officials: Pepy-Nefer means “King Pepy is good.”

Translation:  Right vertical line: “The lector Priest who is in the heart of his lord, the true senior warden of Nekhen, the revered Qar.” Left vertical line: “For the House of the Eternity of the Revered Qar, whose nickname is Pepy-Nefer.”

Background:  In addition to building elaborate tombs in prestigious cemeteries, elite officials of the Old Kingdom expressed status and identity in their tombs by emphasizing ties to the king and through the extensive use of hieroglyphic text in the decorative schemes of their chapels. Access to this sacred script was extremely limited at this time, and its use signaled both privilege and literacy, a highly regarded personal achievement.

Find It:  On the first floor of the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing, find the Djehutymose Coffin. On the left-hand side of the wall called “Place, Proximity and Literacy in Old Kingdom” (directly across from the coffin) you’ll find the False Door of Qar.

Learn More:  Society and Death in Ancient Egypt: Landscapes of the Middle Kingdom, by Janet Richards, Kelsey Curator of Dynastic Egypt Collections. Published in 2005 by Cambridge University Press, the book is available in hardcover or paperback through Amazon.com.

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Camping and Kanka Cola: Life at Labraunda

BY CHRISTINA DIFABIO, PhD student, Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, University of Michigan

The BULP 2014 Team and the Monumental Fountain House, photo courtesy of Liam Dean-Johnson.

The BULP 2014 Team and the Monumental Fountain House, photo courtesy of Liam Dean-Johnson.

My fieldwork experience was crucial for my decision to apply to graduate school. During my junior year at Brown University, I had the opportunity to become involved in a new archaeological project directed by Prof. Felipe Rojas, who is at the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown. Since 2013, I have been part of the Brown University Labraunda Project (BULP). BULP is concerned with the rural sanctuary of Labraunda in ancient Caria, now modern southwestern Turkey, and is part of the greater Labraunda archaeological project directed by Dr. Olivier Henry.

In antiquity, Labraunda was a sanctuary dedicated to Zeus Labraundos, and people from cities to the north and south came to worship the local deity at an annual festival. The sanctuary is known for its monumentalization by local satraps under the Persian Empire in the mid-4th century BCE: Mausolos (most famous for his Mausoleum, a wonder of the ancient world, located in Halikarnassos, now modern Bodrum) and his brother Idrieus. The current objective of the project is to study a monumental fountain house that lies just outside of the sanctuary. Before our studies, the fountain was largely overlooked because it does not conform to traditional classical architecture, even though its importance is clear due to its position between the two entrance gates to the sanctuary. Our studies suggest that the fountain was built in the mid-4th century BCE and used in some capacity through the Christian period. It is the largest fountain house at Labraunda, and it would have provided rest and refreshment for visitors after a long journey.

I enjoy the intellectually stimulating (and physically tiring) research, but even more so I love learning and living in the Labraunda community. Multiple groups work at Labraunda at a time. In addition to our Brown team, I interact with Turkish, French, and Swedish scholars on site. During the week, we camp about a five-minute walk from site, so we do not have the same accommodations we would have if we were staying in a hotel in the closest town (i.e., we have limited electricity and two working toilets). When I tell this to people, they often describe it as “roughing it,” but with such great company and views of the mountains and stars, I can’t complain at all. I have also enjoyed working with local Turks in the trenches. Language is often a barrier, and I am on my way to learning Turkish. However, we often find things to chat about, mostly the weather (Bugün hava çok sıcak—Today the weather is very hot!), and we have fun as we work together. Some of the younger workers have affectionately dubbed our team members kankalar, similar to “bros” in English, and we have named our daily soda breaks “Kanka Cola.”

When I first heard about this project, I never could have imagined where it would lead me. Now as a first-year student in IPCAA, I plan to specialize in Western Anatolia and continue fieldwork in Turkey. The excavations of the monumental fountain house are almost complete, but I look forward to seeing where BULP’s future studies at Labraunda will go.

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Conserving a Dog Skull

BY MADELEINE NEIMAN, 2014–2015 Samuel H. Kress conservation fellow at the Kelsey Museum

This past Friday marked the opening of our new exhibition, “Death Dogs: The Jackal Gods of Ancient Egypt.” My favorite object in the exhibition is a desiccated dog skull excavated from Karanis, a Roman period village in Egypt. Here at the conservation lab we have affectionately named the skull Kalbi, or “my dog” in Arabic.

While he is not the prettiest specimen, the conservator in me is amazed by Kalbi’s phenomenal state of preservation. Large portions of the dog’s skin were preserved by the arid desert environment at Karanis. Even his eyelids and nose remain! Today, I thought I would share with you the challenges of displaying Kalbi, as well as how we overcame those challenges.

Challenge 1: The dried skin covering the skull is extremely fragile. Skin is composed of a network of collagen fibers—chains of amino acids that are spiraled together to form fibrils that, in turn, bundle together to form fibers. As the skin covering the skull dried, the fibers shrank and stuck together, causing it to become brittle and cracked. In several locations along the edges, the delicate skin was in danger of completely falling off.

Solution 1: Cracks in the skin were stabilized by gluing small pieces of Japanese tissue beneath the cracks. The tissue acts like a splint; it bridges/reinforces splits in the skin and secures loose pieces in place.

Gluing Japanese tissue mends under cracks in the skin

Gluing Japanese tissue mends under cracks in the skin

Challenge 2: Several of the teeth had fallen out of the dental aveoli—the small voids in the jaw that hold the roots of the teeth.   While we could easily secure the teeth in place with a small amount of adhesive, figuring out their correct anatomical location was trickier.

Solution 2: For assistance, we turned to Richard Redding, a Kelsey Research Scientist and zooarchaeologist (specialist in archaeological faunal remains). Richard determined the proper placement of each tooth, and we glued them into place.

Challenge 3: We needed to find a way to put the head back together. The dog’s head came to the lab in two pieces; without muscles to hold them together, the skull and jaw had separated. Unfortunately, the fragile teeth and delicate skin along the lower jaw meant that the skull could not safely rest on top of the jaw.

Solution 3: A mount. The creation of mounts is typically the domain of our talented exhibition preparator Scott Meier. When objects are particularly fragile, however, Scott and the conservation staff collaborate. In this case, we combined forces to create a mount that would allow the skull to float above the jaw, giving the appearance of a complete head without allowing the two pieces to touch.   Scott made a raised support using a carved wood block and brass dowels. To the top of the wood block, I attached carved pieces of ethafoam, which keyed into raised areas along the base of the cranium, locking it into place. With the skull held above, the jaw could be slid into place below. Each piece is separately supported, but Kalbi’s head appears complete.

Kalbi on display at the Kelsey Museum

Kalbi on display at the Kelsey Museum

As you can see, the preparation of objects for exhibition is a team effort! We hope you will come by to visit Kalbi and all of the other artifacts on display in “Death Dogs: The Jackal Gods of Ancient Egypt.

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Curator Favorites

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

BY MARGARET COOL ROOT, Curator of Greek and Near Eastern Collections, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, and Professor of Classical and Near Eastern Art and Archaeology, University of Michigan

Stone stamp seal (upper left), impression made by the seal (upper right), with drawing of the seal below

Stone stamp seal (upper left), impression made by the seal (upper right), with drawing of the seal below

Favorite Artifact: Female with grain and symbols. Stone stamp seal. Late prehistoric period (4500–3800 BC). Tepe Giyan, Iran. KM 1991.3.74.

Why: First—this object is one of a large group collected at the site of Tepe Giyan by Ernst Herzfeld, a very famous and important archaeologist. Second—the imagery carved on the seal is really important in the history of visual art.

About Artifact: Images of power, cult, and cosmos were disseminated on large monuments and also on small portable objects such as cylinder and stamp seals. Seals bore scenes carved in the negative onto cylindrical or flat surfaces and then rolled or pressed into still-damp clay documents and tablets to yield infinitely reproducible possible renderings.

This stone stamp seal is one of the earliest examples of a particular and very resonant image of female fecundity in ancient Near Eastern art: an iconic motif of the female figure with limbs splayed to suggest sexual invitation, birthing, or both. She is flanked by sheaves of grain, symbols of abundance through the ages, representing the fertility of flocks, human families, and the earth itself, an image that reverberated throughout later seal traditions in the region for the next 3,500 years.

When viewing the seal, keep in mind that ancient seal carvers worked at a very small scale and had to create forms in the negative.

Background: Gods, rulers, regular mortals, and institutions all had seals. Seals carried status as emblems of personal identity and administrative authority, and they were used as signatures on contracts and/or official tablets. They also had magical properties to bring good luck or ward off evil. Often seals were passed down as heirlooms. By the same token, the special properties attached to seals meant that they were often buried with their owners or strewn as votive offerings in the brick work of important buildings.

People proudly wore pendant stamps and cylinder seals suspended around their necks or wrists or pinned to their clothing. The act of making an impression with one’s seal was a creative moment likened unto the force of the rising sun, as these words from the Hebrew book of Job 38:13–14 (Old Testament) suggest: “Have you taught the dawn to grasp the fringes of the earth . . . to bring up the horizon in relief as clay under a seal?”

Find It: In the ancient Near Eastern seal exhibit case on the first floor of the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Enter the museum through the Maynard St. entrance, go straight by the Security Desk, and then turn right and right. The ancient Near Eastern seal exhibit case will be directly in front of you.

Learn More: The stamp seal described above is featured in Root’s 2005 book, This Fertile Land, available in our Gift Shop or online.

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Snowing Dogs and More Dogs

BY MARLENE MICHELS GOLDSMITH, Volunteer Docent, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan

"Death Dogs" poster (left) and lamppost banner outside the Kelsey Museum (right).

“Death Dogs” poster (left) and lamppost banner outside the Kelsey Museum (right).

As I write this, it seems to be snowing dogs and more dogs inside and outside of the Kelsey Museum, all in preparation for our upcoming special exhibition: Death Dogs: The Jackal Gods of Ancient Egypt, opening Friday, February 6.

Let me tell you why.

Our docent class was cancelled today due to a morning snowstorm, but by afternoon I managed to trek to the museum. Death Dogs banners greeted me everywhere! Up on the second floor, I found Exhibitions Coordinator Scott Meier busy mounting some electrifying background art. Even though no artifacts yet graced the space, I definitely found myself in ancient Egypt. That’s when I pulled out my camera phone.

I’m not an academic, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an ancient Egyptian exhibit on jackal gods. Exhibition Curator Terry Wilfong, however, has been intrigued by them since childhood. I know this because I once audited his course on ancient Egyptian religion. Also, I know he is a longtime film buff (the original The Mummy film with actor Boris Karloff tops his favorites list). At the Kelsey, Wilfong is curator of Graeco-Roman Egypt. At the University of Michigan, he is professor of Egyptology in Near Eastern Studies.

The exhibition will explore these mysterious jackal-headed gods associated with death and the afterlife in ancient Egypt. At the heart of the exhibition will be the three most important jackal gods:

  • Anubis, best-known of the Egyptian jackal dogs, embalmer, and guide to the dead;
  • Wepwawet, opener of the ways to the afterlife, frequently working with Anubis, and
  • Duamutef, son of Horus, protector of the canopic jar containing the stomach and protector of the East.

The exhibition will feature about 40 artifacts, some never before displayed and many coming from University of Michigan excavations in Egypt during the 1920s–30s. Alongside these, you’ll see archival photographs and explanatory graphics as well as an assemblage of modern toys, games, and other pop cultural manifestations of the Egyptian jackal gods.

And in the Gift Shop, you’ll find a special “Death Dogs” tee-shirt for sale, I’m told. Think concert tee-shirts with jackal gods on the back side.

Now you know you have to go to this exhibition – right? Mark your calendar now – “Death Dogs: The Jackal Gods of Ancient Egypt” opens Friday, February 6, and runs through Sunday, May 3, 2015.

The "Death Dogs" exhibition includes banners inspired by (left) representations of dogs found on ancient stelae from Terenouthis, Egypt, and (right) an Egyptian hieroglyph of a jackal god.

The “Death Dogs” exhibition includes banners inspired by (left) representations of dogs found on ancient stelae from Terenouthis, Egypt, and (right) an Egyptian hieroglyph of a jackal god.

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