From the Archives

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

Thanksgiving is upon us, and many of us will be flying or driving to see our families in other parts of the country. Highways will be congested and traffic slows down to a crawl at toll booths and highway gas stations. Often times, during these seasonal road trips so many of us venture out on, the price of gas rises to meet demand. “Isn’t there another way to do this?” we wonder.

This debate on alternative energy has been a focus for a number of years on the political landscape. What may be surprising to some people is that this debate is not new. Arguments for different energy sources has been with us for over a century. Early cars ran on both electricity and gas, with gas winning out in the early days.

This month’s From the Archives showcases a chance find in the archives. The materials stored at the Kelsey relate to the collections and business of the Museum, which includes newspaper articles from the Detroit News written about Museum/University matters. In 1924, the University of Michigan set out on several projects: Antioch (Turkey), Carthage (Tunisia), and Karanis (Egypt). The finds at Antioch proved to be exciting enough for the Detroit News to devote a large portion of their newspaper to the project. And, rightfully so, someone decided to save a copy of this for the records of the dig, where it then became a part of the history of the Museum.

Newspaper #1-1

Detroit News Sunday, September 21, 1924, p. 12

While the original intent of the newspaper clipping was to save the history of this archaeological excavation, often such mementos wind up sharing with the modern audience other bits of history. Below the finds of Antioch we see an image of famous American inventor Thomas Edison. The Wizard of Menlo Park is quoted discussing alternate sources of energy. “Why worry about coal? Asks Edison; Says sun and sea will do its work.” Even as far back as the 1920s, people like Thomas Edison lauded alternative energy, cleaner than coal and an endless supply. He speaks as if it is a given, an obvious solution to the problems facing society.

Newspaper #1-1 detail of Edison article

Detail of article on Edison from the Detroit News Sunday, September 21, 1924, p. 12

The push for alternative energies, with solar panels going on homes and high-end electric cars hitting the roads, seems to be a modern solution to a century-old problem. The truth is, this debate has been ongoing for much longer. Even America’s Inventor weighed in on the discussion, suggesting it was obvious and easy to harness wind and sun. It is interesting to think what the world would look like now if more attention was given to Edison and his recommendations were followed.

The clipping presents us with a fun aspect of archives. Historians and archivists often go through archival materials looking for specific bits of information. While perusing things such as newspapers, they come across random facts, stories, and articles that were not the focus at the time, but present such interesting history that could easily be overlooked. The past is made even more accessible and fuller, showing us all aspects of past lives. And to think, even more stories await us in the Kelsey archives!

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Ugly Object of the Month – November

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

The choice of this month’s ugly object was inspired by an upcoming exhibit at the Kelsey Museum. The exhibit, Less Than Perfect, is curated by Carla Sinopoli, along with a team of undergraduate students, and it uses art and archaeological objects to explore the ideas of failure and imperfection. Dr. Sinopoli, Professor of Anthropology, Curator of Asian Archaeology and Ethnology at the UM’s Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, and the Director of UM’s Museum Studies Program (and still finds time to create thought-provoking exhibits), presented the object selections for Less Than Perfect to our exhibition production team in October.  In her presentation she included a little guy like this one.

Ushabti, faience, 2nd – 4th century AD, KM 93299

Ushabti, faience, 2nd – 4th century AD, KM 92399

You can probably see why an object like this faience ushabti is a good candidate for an exhibit about imperfection and failure. The face is smushed, and the glaze did not form well. Egyptian faience is made from a paste of ground sand or quartz, mixed with various other components. It could be molded like Play-Doh (this figurine is mold made) and then fired. If the composition of the paste was right, and it was fired well, a faience object would develop a uniform, glassy, blue-green surface. But there are many places in the process where things can go wrong and, for many ushabtis, production wasn’t perfect.

This didn’t seem to matter to the ancient Egyptians, who conceived ushabtis as an answer to pesky household needs in the afterlife. These figures would magically make your bread, brew your beer, and do your housework (Wouldn’t you like one now? Before you’re dead?). The functionality of the ushabti was not, apparently, dependent on how good it looked. You can see this ushabti in the Kelsey’s permanent galleries, in the case focusing on Ptolemaic Egyptian burial practice. See the map below, where X marks the spot.

kelseyfloorplan1 (2)

Then, if you like this ushabti, turn around and walk a few steps to the case on Dynastic Egypt. Pull open the top drawer on the right to experience ushabtis in bulk. As the label in the drawer states – quantity mattered more than quality when it came to ushabtis. These figurines might not look perfect, but they were still perfectly good.

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From the Archives

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


GL00687: Charlotte Kelsey acting in Iphigenia

Halloween is upon us, and it is normally a time to dress up as monsters and ghouls and scare each other for candy and treats. But not all dressing up is solely for the purpose of frightening. Often we dress up for enchantment, amazement, and entertainment. The Kelsey family was no stranger to this.

Francis Kelsey was not only an influential force on the field of archaeology and the University of Michigan campus, he was also a caring father to three children. Easton Kelsey is often seen traveling with Francis to Egypt, Europe, and other points. Even Mrs. Kelsey would accompany her husband on occasion to Tunisia or Italy. Less visible in the Kelsey archives are Kelsey’s daughters, Ruth and Charlotte. However, they all were important in the life of Francis Kelsey. While overseas, Francis would write them letters and lovingly sign each “pater.”

The study of Classics has a long history at Michigan, and even the Kelsey children were involved in the discipline. This month’s “From the Archives” showcases Charlotte Kelsey, then an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, performing in the play Iphigenia. In the 1 October 1917 performance, Charlotte plays the titular role of Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon who was set to be sacrificed. Here we see Iphigenia praying at the altar.

It should not be a surprise that Charlotte was so involved in theatre. In his book, The Life and Work of Francis Willey Kelsey: Archaeology, Antiquity, and the Arts, John Pedley demonstrates how important music and theatre were to the Kelsey family. Ruth played violin; Isabelle (Mrs. Kelsey) played piano; Francis and Charlotte would sing. Kelsey himself was the president of the University Musical Society, and he and family would often be found at various performances both on campus and off. And Charlotte, according to Pedley, was at home on stage, always performing, even from a very young age. Iphigenia offered a merger of theatre and classics, an endeavor that Francis surely appreciated.

This image is taken from a glass slide. Before PowerPoint, and even before 35mm slides, glass slides proved to be a useful means for teaching and entertaining. It was through the sale of such slides that Francis Kelsey met George Swain, who at the time sold slides depicting battle sites from Caesar’s time. Swain was hired by the University and accompanied Kelsey on his international voyages. Back in Ann Arbor, Swain continued his photographic practice as University photographer. Here we see Swain’s handywork as he captured Charlotte performing, and his hand-coloring skills as well (photography at the time was still black and white).

Though most searching in the archives turns up archaeological evidence and work, we sometimes come across some more personal moments in people’s lives. The archives capture not only the business side of Kelsey, but also the lives of his family, friends, people he regularly interacted with. And sometimes we capture these familiar names and faces playing dress up and having fun.

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Documenting Demons in the Infrared

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

This demon bowl, which was excavated by the University of Michigan in the 1930’s, now resides in the Kelsey Museum. It comes from the ancient city of Seleucia, which is located not far from Baghdad along the Tigris River. If you look closely at the bowl, you can see that the inside is covered in rows of what looks like text, as well as four line-drawn figures. These are demons (hence the title “demon bowl”) and they reveal the function of the bowl: to trap demons.

Unfortunately, the bowl has a dark gypsum crust which obscures these super cool and creepy demons. Fortunately, we know there are ways to see though the crust, and Madeleine Neiman, who worked as a Samuel H. Kress Conservation Fellow in the Kelsey conservation lab during the 2014-15 academic year, spearheaded a project to investigate the bowl. This included looking at the bowl with infrared reflected (IRR) imaging.

IRR is a technique used by conservators to reveal difficult-to-read painted inscriptions, or drawings under paint layers. The Detroit Institute of Arts Conservation Department has its very own Goodrich SWIR infrared camera. The SWIR’s capture range surpasses that of the modified DSLR camera we use for IRR at the Kelsey, and Madeleine found that infrared light at this higher range could pass through the bowl’s darkened crust. So we packed up the bowl and drove to Detroit to see what we could see.

The Goodrich camera was able to reveal the bowl’s inscription, thanks to the IR transparency of the gypsum crust and the heavy IR absorption of the inscription. The result is a higher visual contrast between the inscription and the surrounding ceramic, making it easier to read. Okay, actually “reading” it is hard to do given that the inscription is not real script! But you get the picture.  What I found fascinating is the high level of detail revealed in the images of demons on the bowl, including flames, raised arms, and scary faces. These unique characteristics are all the more visible thanks to the power of infrared light.

I’d like to thank our DIA colleagues Aaron Steele and Aaron Burgess for taking the time to capture these images, as well as Madeleine Neiman for helping us uncover the demons who have been hiding underneath that dark (and scary) crust!


Left Image: Visible light image of demon bowl Right Image: Infrared reflected image of demon bowl Photo credit: Aaron Steele.


Detail of a demon in the infrared reflected image. Photo credit: Aaron Steele.

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Ugly Object of the Month—October

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

October’s ugly object has a nickname in the conservation lab: Scary Hair. When Scary Hair was excavated at the site of Karanis in Egypt, the excavators classified it as the head of a rag doll. But based on other similar objects from Karanis, this might not be the head; it might be the whole doll.

Rag doll, front view; wool, mud, hair; 2nd–4th century AD, KM 7512.

Rag doll, front view; wool, mud, hair; 2nd–4th century AD, KM 7512.

]Scary Hair is about 10 cm long and is made of scraps of three different wool fabrics, plus mud and hair. Is it actually a doll? It could be, but what about the SCARY HAIR? And the mud? Could this doll, maybe, be used for nefarious magic instead of play? Like a voodoo-type way to curse your mean neighbor? Curses! I don’t know.

I do know that this object looks kind of yucky, what with the hair and the mud. At the same time, the yuck factor is what makes it so special. Two-thousand-year-old hair! How cool is that? Whose hair is it? What about the mud?! What is the mud for? Is it for shaping the hair?

Rag doll, back view; wool, mud, hair; 2nd–4th century AD, KM 7512.

Rag doll, back view; wool, mud, hair; 2nd–4th century AD, KM 7512.

The little scraps of fabric are also kind of cool. Scary Hair’s blue hoodie is a type of fabric construction called sprang. Sprang fabric is like a knit, in that it’s stretchy, but it predates the invention of knitting. Sprang is made entirely with warp threads in a technique that’s sort of like braiding.

We’re especially into Scary Hair right now because we have a new graduate intern in the conservation lab, Janelle Batkin-Hall, and she has a research interest in—guess what?—hair artifacts! Janelle is working with us while she completes her graduate degree in conservation at SUNY Buffalo. We hope to feature Janelle’s work on our hairy dolls in future (yes, Scary Hair has friends). In the meantime, please come see Scary Hair for yourself. It’s located in the “toys” drawer, just like last month’s ugly object. This drawer is in the first floor case focused on Kelsey Museum excavations; if you’re standing and facing the black basalt statute of the seated dignitary, it’s the case directly behind the statue.

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Docent Favorites

BY JEAN MERVIS, Volunteer Docent, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan

Favorite Artifact. Statue of a Young Girl. Marble. End of 4th century BC. Greece. KM 1979.5.1.


Why. “It’s thought that this statue honors the goddess Artemis, who was the daughter of the all-powerful Greek god Zeus and mistress of animals. Initially, this sculpture caught my attention because I thought it was pretty, especially the dress and its draping. I liked the figure’s stance with its slightly outstretched foot, and how the dress drapes over that foot.

“But as I read more about it—in a 1982–1983 article by former Kelsey Museum Director John Pedley—I learned about the arkteia, an ancient Greek ceremony held every five years to honor Artemis.

“During the ceremony, according to Pedley, young girls holding torches danced around her altar, mimes represented Artemis in the act of hunting, and young girls between the ages of five and ten wearing characteristic crocus yellow chitons and bear masks (arktoi) also took part.

“That’s when the Statue of a Young Girl really came alive for me, as I found myself actually visualizing the young girls dancing back in 450 BC!”

About Artifact. This statue is believed to be the first example of Greek sculpture in marble brought to Ann Arbor by the University of Michigan. The best information about it comes from John Griffiths Pedley, Professor Emeritus of Classical Archaeology, in an article called “A Fourth-Century Greek Statue in Ann Arbor.”

Pedley writes: “The head, now lost, was worked separately, and set into a deep cavity. The arms are also gone, both being broken just below the shoulder, though traces of the right hand and the angle of the shoulder show that the arm was held straight down with the hand against the drapery by the right thigh, while the angle of the upper left arm and left shoulder suggest the possibility that the left arm was bent at the elbow to join a mass of drapery collected at the side of the figure.”

“The figure stands with weight on the left leg and the right, free leg placed laterally and drawn somewhat back. The left leg is invisible beneath the drapery, though the toe of the shod foot protrudes beyond the hem of the folds. The bent right knee shown frontally is detectable beneath the folds of the cloth with right foot turned somewhat outward. Neither heel is visible at the back. She wears the high-girt chiton with shoulder straps and buttoned sleeves.”

The Kelsey Museum acquired the sculpture, purchased with funds contributed by the Kelsey Museum Associates [now Members], from the Swiss market in 1979.

Background. According to Pedley, the east coast of Attica was famous in antiquity for the sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron. The sanctuary stands near a river between Marathon and Cape Sunion, directly opposite Athens to the west. Origins and details of the arkleia festival ceremony are obscure, he wrote, but seem to center on a myth that told of the killing of the bear sacred to Artemis. This sacrilege was to be atoned for, or made right, at the festival by daughters of leading Athenians playing the bear, or arktos. The arkleia ceremony was part of the great Brauronia festival, which included chariot races and musical contests.

Find It. On the first floor of the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing, find the Greek exhibit case, which faces the windows. To the right of the case, Statue of a Young Girl stands in a trio of sculptures out in the open. She also faces the windows.

Learn More. John Griffiths Pedley, “A Fourth-Century Greek Statue in Ann Arbor,” Bulletin of the University of Michigan Museums of Art and Archaeology 5 (1982–1983): 6–11. Read the article here.

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From the Archives

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museums Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Welcome to the inaugural blog post for the series “From the Archives,” where we will present special finds from the Kelsey Museum archives. Besides the magnificent collection of art and artifacts held by the Museum, we also have a rich archival collection that is full of surprises. The archives help support the collections and the mission of the Museum by documenting the institution’s past and activities. The archives house a vast collection of photographs, maps from excavations, correspondence and journals, the papers of individual collectors, even 16-mm silent film. Several lifetime’s worth of research and work occupy this space.

For our initial post, we dig far back, to 1893. Everyone begins somewhere, including our namesake, Professor Francis Willey Kelsey. Though our exhibition A Man of Many Parts showcased Kelsey’s early years in upstate New York and at the University of Rochester, the Kelsey archives only go as far back as 1893, when a newly hired young professor at the University of Michigan traveled to Italy to further his research. Kelsey worked with Pompeii scholar and specialist August Mau, a German art historian who wrote several renowned books on the site.

In 1893, Kelsey began collecting artifacts that would find their way back to Michigan and eventually be deposited at the Kelsey Museum. It was then that he visited Carthage and picked up a lamp fragment that would become Kelsey accession number 1, currently on display in the permanent galleries. That seed would usher in an era of collecting for Michigan that carried on over a century, forming the core of the Museum’s art and artifacts. As we look back on the numerous names that have formed the Kelsey collections, it is important to remember the young man who helped foster that collecting culture at Michigan.

Francis Kelsey and his circle at Pompeii, 1893. Kelsey is circled in the red.

Francis Kelsey and his circle at Pompeii, 1893. Kelsey is circled in red.

This photograph was “discovered” recently in the archives, as it had not been previously catalogued. Though we do not know who the photographer was, we do know this photo and others in the same series belonged, in some way, to Kelsey. His unique handwriting is found on the envelope holding this photo, and on many other photographs in the series. For this reason, these photos are called the Kelsey series and use the numbers he assigned. This particular picture is numbered Kelsey 132 II. Kelsey captioned it and two others like it “Pompeii. Dr. Mau and the ‘Giro’.”

The remaining photos in the Kelsey series show Mau and Mau’s wife, views of Pompeii, and other sites around the Mediterranean during Kelsey’s 1893 sojourn. They are all glass, quite fragile, as photography at that time, before the introduction of the original Kodak, was all accomplished using large cameras with glass plate negatives.

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Ugly Object of the Month—September

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

Miniature toy animal, clay, 2nd–4th century AD, KM 26395.

Miniature toy animal, clay, 2nd–4th century AD, KM 26395.

This month’s ugly object is one of my absolute favorites in the collection. To be clear—it’s not one of my favorite ugly objects, it’s one of my favorite Kelsey objects, period. What is it? What a great question. I think it’s a pig? I’m not 100% sure what it depicts, to be honest, but it’s a small toy animal made from unfired clay. It was excavated at Karanis, which was a Roman farming village in Egypt.

I like this object for so many reasons. First, I like what it says about the University of Michigan and its devotion to detail in archaeological investigation. Karanis was excavated in the 1920s and ’30s, and at that time it was unusual for most excavators to save this kind of evidence. Most archaeologists at the time, especially in Egypt, were primarily interested in beautiful and impressive items. The Kelsey Museum team, however, saved everything. Even tiny, seemingly unimportant bits, like this little toy. It’s described in the excavation’s records as “Toy, small mud animal.”

I also like this small mud animal because it connects me to the past. When I look at it, I can imagine a child playing outside, 2,000 years ago. Funny-looking toys made by kids seem to be a universal thing. Most of us have made them at some point, and those of us who are now grownups are often on the receiving end of such things. Little everyday items like this clay pig (or cow, or whatever) make me think about how—despite all our fancy technology—a lot hasn’t changed in the past few millennia. Toys help me imagine life long ago, and points of entry into the past are important for everyone. How do you know where you want to go, or what you want to do as a society, if you don’t know where you’ve been?

Looking at this toy helps me on a personal level as well. It says to me, “Many civilizations have risen and fallen since I was made. Your life is short. Live it well.” Finally, this small mud animal reminds me of one of my favorite people, my brother Matthew, with whom I made toys just like this with mud from the creek that ran behind our house.

The toy doesn’t show to best advantage in the photo, so I encourage you to come in and see it for yourself. It’s on view in the first-floor permanent gallery, inside one of the drawers. If you are standing and facing the front of the black statue of a seated dignitary, it’ll be in the case directly behind the statute. Ask a Kelsey staff member if you can’t find it!

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Identifying Pottery in the Field: Sad Handle Ware at Omrit

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

Pottery reading in the Omrit registry

Pottery reading in the Omrit registry

One step in studying pottery involves identifying what archaeologists call wares. The term “ware” refers to a particular way of preparing the fabric (the material that makes up the vessel: clay, natural mineral inclusions, added temper) to create a specific range of shapes or forms. This kind of grouping is defined by a combination of characteristics of production process, material, and shape/appearance. (See here for another definition of ware, and other terms associated with studying ceramics.)

I spent the first three weeks of June studying excavated pottery at the Omrit Settlement Excavation Project. Omrit is a site in northern Israel’s Upper Galilee, set at the foothills of the Hermon Range; it is the location of a Roman temple and a late Roman settlement (on which the current excavation focuses). I work with one of the project directors, Dr. Jennifer Gates-Foster (UM/IPCAA alumna!), of UNC-Chapel Hill, on the excavated pottery: as part of our work, we sort, identify, and record the different wares we find in each excavated unit (as well as a range of other data about the pottery). This means both identifying known wares and keeping an eye out for shared characteristics amongst sherds of unknown fabric or wares. Sometimes, with enough reoccurrence, these groups of unidentified sherds become identifiable as a new ware; sometimes, we add to what we know about previously identified wares when we spot new shapes or characteristics.

At Omrit, we aim for total recovery of cultural materials. To this end, the excavators sift all excavated dirt (pouring it through 1/4-inch mesh screens). The resulting volume of pottery is large (I don’t yet have final tally for 2015, but, in the 2014 season, we “read”—sorted, analyzed, and recorded—48,678 sherds, and 848.33 kg of pottery, plus part of a backlog from 2013), which is absolutely wonderful for the data set but can sometimes lead to what I call “sherd shock.” While in the midst of a sherd shock fit this season, I came across this diagnostic sherd:

Sad Handle Ware?

Sad Handle Ware?

“Diagnostics” are what we call rims, bases, and handles of ceramic vessels: examination of these pieces can usually help us identify what the larger vessel shape or type was. Given a reasonably sized piece of a rim, ceramics specialists can usually identify the sherd as coming from a bowl rather than a jar. Additionally, rim shape can tell us what kind of a bowl a given sherd once belonged to. For example, the photo below shows, from a single context, 32 rims of a single type of bowl (with a very distinctive rim) called a “Banias bowl,” named for a nearby site where the bowl type was first identified. (I call this quantity a Banias Bowl Bonanza.) Having a small portion of each rim (as seen in the photo) is enough to identify the type of bowl.


A Banias Bowl Bonanza!

Anyway, back to that funny diagnostic sherd (in the photo with the pink 5-cm scale): that sherd is a vessel handle. But what kind was it? It seemed very strange, and it was not a handle shape that was familiar to me from published literature on the region.

Through consultation with other archaeologists at Omrit, such as field director Dr. Ben Rubin of Williams College (also a UM/IPCAA alumnus!), we determined that, while the handle looked oddly like a finger, a more appropriate name for the group to which this strange, unknown handle belonged would be “Sad Handle Ware” (because it was the saddest looking handle we had ever seen).

Not Sad Handle Ware→ Hawarit Ware! (Thanks to the Kelsey’s Lorene Sterner for the 5-cm scale stamp featured in the photographs.)

Not Sad Handle Ware→ Hawarit Ware!

Closer examination of the handle’s fabric and surface treatment ultimately allowed me to identify it as Hawarit Ware, a cooking ware produced at a kiln (at modern Khirbat el-Hawarit) just up the slopes of Mt. Hermon from Omrit. Hawarit Ware is our main cooking ware at late Roman Omrit and is the group to which most of our cooking pots, casserole pots, and many other vessels belong. This shape was unfamiliar, but everything else about it matched Hawarit Ware. So much for a new ware! (Alas, I will never be famous for identifying Sad Handle Ware…because it is not a Thing.) This funny little handle, however, was a reminder that we sometimes come across new vessel shapes in known wares—and that our examination of pottery at Omrit will do more than just tell us about activity, consumption, and chronology at Omrit; it will also feed back into the pool of knowledge about ceramics in the region, adding to what is known about local and regional ceramics for ceramic specialists after us.

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