A Student’s Perspective

BY PAIGE DE RUE, Kelsey Registry Intern and Major in Classical Archaeology and Anthropology

This past fall semester has been truly an exciting experience since I was provided with the awesome opportunity to work as an intern for the Kelsey Registry. Having experience working with a paleontological museum collection, I was familiar with some basic collections etiquette, but nothing could have prepared me for how thrilled I was to be working with archaeological material- my field of interest and study. My first day as an intern, I was a little intimidated to be working in such a pristine and restricted environment. However, I adjusted to this new environment just fine and focused my attention more on working with the collections, which was the best part of the internship of course! Working hands-on with the artifacts, I was often responsible for pulling objects needed for research or class use and returning them to their permanent location once they were no longer needed. I did an inventory of a couple cabinets and assisted with condition reports for a portion of loaned artifacts. Sometimes my help was needed for class visits to assist in watching the objects and ensuring their proper handling by students. This internship also taught me how vital a database system is to such a large collection. The database is essential for finding any artifact in the collection. It keeps track of temporary and permanent locations, gives you a history of where the artifacts have been in the past, and so much more.

A project I completed by the end of the semester involved reorganizing a portion of the collection in permanent storage. This project required extensive planning before any physical movement could take place in order to ensure a manageable project and safe handling of artifacts in drawers. I helped the collection become more consolidated and easily accessible by combining worked bone artifacts into one cabinet. I feel very proud to know that I have helped the future of the collection and that I was able to reorganize some artifacts in such a way that makes them better accessible for researchers, class use, and the conservators.

Without this internship experience, I do not think my long-term career goals would be the same as of today. The Kelsey Registry has shown me that I thoroughly enjoy working with archaeological collections in the museum setting versus working with archaeological material in the field. In my future, I hope to be working with museums collections and I know I will forever be thankful for my great experience as an intern here at the Kelsey!

 

 

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From the Archives #15

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

When December comes around, faculty, staff, and students often scurry away from Ann Arbor in order to spend time with their friends and family for the holidays. Campus becomes a bit quieter, the lines at the cafes are short and manageable. People relax for a bit before beginning all over again in January.

The excavations at Karanis in the 1920s and 1930s functioned a bit differently. Excavations in Egypt are best when scheduled for non-summer months, in order to better deal with the climate (summer months in north Africa can be brutally hot!). For example, our current project at Abydos often goes in early spring. The Karanis team members were aware of this factor, and prepared for the situation. Excavations took place in late Autumn and early Winter, meaning the crew would be there over the holiday break and New Year’s. Though some family accompanied them overseas, the extended family was not there.

The staff of the Karanis project tried to make the camp as close to “home” as possible. This would include having some extra family along with them. A part of many families is the inclusion of furry children, the dogs and cats that help round out a home. For this month’s From the Archives, we are presenting a selection of some of these furry friends, the mascots that kept staff company during the long days and months in Egypt.

The Kelsey Museum has often showcased Plupy, a dog named after a popular series of dog stories. But there were other animals there as well. There were the cats that were allowed to roam around catching mice, including Topsy. There was also the water donkey. Plupy and Gyp were the primary dogs of camp.

The publication Karanis Revealed showcased some of these animals, even featuring the picture of Gyp chasing Topsy up a flag pole.

This holiday, as you try to keep warm, the Kelsey Registry extends the warmest holiday wishes to you and your pets. The need and desire to keep furry friends by our sides is one we have witnessed for a long time. Even in a temporary living space like the camp at Karanis, there was this need for having an extended family nearby.

 

 

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Ugly Object of the Month – December

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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İyi günler! Thrust faults are fun!

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

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

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

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

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

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

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Ugly Object of the Month – November

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

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

 

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KM 6461

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

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

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From the Archives #14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Grain Mummy Goes To the Hospital

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

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

 

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

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

 

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Patient identification sign on the scanner.

 

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

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

 

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

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Ugly Object of the Month – October

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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From the Archives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bug Busters

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

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

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

 

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

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

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