Investigating color on a Roman-Egyptian mummy portrait

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

This week a team from the Detroit Institute of Arts conservation department traveled to the Kelsey to take a closer look at one of our Fayoum mummy portraits. The portrait is normally on display in the Dynastic Egypt gallery and is dated to the Roman period of Egypt (79 – 110 AD). The woman featured in the portrait is clearly of means, as her gold earrings and necklace, colorful gems, and purple robe indicate. We were curious to learn more about the colorants that were used to paint her portrait and to look for painting details that have become harder to see over time.

Christina Bisulca, conservation scientist at the DIA, brought along a portable spectrometer to identify pigments on the painting. She found evidence of pigment mixtures in multiple areas of the portrait, including the flesh tones, the oval gem at the center of the woman’s pendant, and the drapery of the robe. It appears that the various shades of purple in the robe were likely created by mixing and laying blue and red pigments and dyes, for example. Further analysis is needed to verify these results.

Aaron Steele, the DIA conservation department’s imaging specialist, brought along their powerful infrared camera to see if underdrawing might have been used to sketch the sitter before paint was applied. Although underdrawing was not immediately visible, details of curls along the hairline and sectioning of the woman’s hair could be seen in the infrared images. Details of paint application next to the woman’s face are also much more visible in the infrared. I also had the chance to capture ultraviolet images and produce infrared false color images which provide good information on the distribution of certain pigments (including rose madder and Egyptian blue) over the surface.

We look forward to learning more about the Fayoum portrait over the next year and to featuring the results in an upcoming Kelsey exhibition about color in the Roman world. Many thanks to our friends at the Detroit Institute of Arts for their support of this project!

 

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Ugly Object – July

BY AMARIS STURM, Visiting Graduate Student in Conservation

Were Bigfoot’s ancestors Egyptian? This heavy hunk of dirt-covered limestone might just provide the answer. July’s ugly object installment is an Egyptian foot impression, excavated in Karanis in 1928. Karanis is located in modern Kom Aushim, and was previously an agricultural town in its earliest days. Archeologists from the University of Michigan excavated the ancient site from 1924-1935. This Karanis artifact consists of a limestone block with a 58 cm long by 25 cm wide foot impressed on the surface, appearing as if someone had stepped through wet concrete.

Although I like the idea that an ancient Bigfoot made its mark in Egypt, this “impression” was more likely cut into the limestone, with chisel marks throughout the surface. Although it is not entirely clear how this literal “big foot” was used, why it was produced, or even how it may have been originally displayed, it does shed some light on ancient foot afflictions with a lovely bit of foot fungus. In actuality, this inactive biological activity is likely from the object’s time outdoors or in uncontrolled environments. Any way you look at it, this size 26 foot yields more questions than answers and proves that a simple object can evoke tall tales and thoughtful steps towards understanding our history.

Can the next clue to finding Bigfoot be found in the Kelsey galleries come October? Perhaps, but you can decide for yourself: this foot will be in the upcoming bicentennial exhibition, “Excavating Archaeology at the University of Michigan,” on view at the Kelsey Museum from October 18, 2017 through May 27, 2018.

Karanis Foot

KM 25878

 

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From the Archives #21

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

“I am very pleased to announce that Terry Wilfong has generously agreed to serve as Director of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology effective June 1, 2017 through June 30, 2020.”

With these words, LSA Dean Andrew Martin announced to the Kelsey Museum community that Professor Terry Wilfong, longtime curator of Graeco-Roman Egyptian Collections at the Kelsey Museum, would assume the responsibilities of Museum director. Terry follows a long line of distinguished directors of the Kelsey Museum. Each director furthered the mission of the Museum in their own right, making the institution stronger and a greater presence on the University of Michigan campus and around the world. Without each of these strong leaders, the Kelsey would not be the institution it is now. To each of these we owe a great deal of gratitude.

In honor of the news and Terry’s appointment, this month’s From the Archives presents this B&W image from the 1990s, though no date is associated with the image. It was found during routine cleaning in the archives. Its appeal as history of the Museum and its staff made it an easy addition to the photographic archives (KAP00007).

In the image, we see Dr. Wilfong, perhaps not long after he was hired by the University of Michigan as professor and curator. He is standing in front of the some displays we had in Newberry Hall, long before the Upjohn Exhibition Wing was even dreamed up. In those days, the Kelsey was constricted in exhibition space and possibilities.

Since this photograph was taken, there have been many changes. The Museum has a new building, our staff has grown in numbers, and our reach has expanded with more exhibitions and outreach and excavations. Terry has earned tenure, reached the level of full professor, and now is director. Both have grown together, and much of the Kelsey’s success during that time can be attributed to Terry’s efforts.  With Terry’s directorship, we are excited about the upcoming years.

 

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Professor Terry Wilfong presenting some early Kelsey Museum exhibitions in Newberry Hall.

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Student Research on University Excavations at Dimé, Egypt 1931-1932

Bianca Gallina and Josiah Olah, UM students

Through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) we each joined professor Arthur Verhoogt’s research project in the fall of 2016. We were interested in the documentation of an excavation at Dimé, Egypt that lasted only a single field season from 1931-1932. Because current archaeologists are revisiting this site, our goal has been to digitize the Dimé material such as field notes, triangulation points, and maps both hand drawn and printed. After we exhausted materials at the Bentley Historical Library we contacted the Kelsey Museum for assistance. With immense help from Museum Collections Manager, Sebastian Encina, we began continuing our research with the Kelsey’s archives. Since then our project has continually been aided by the Kelsey Museum from both their staff and the materials made available to us. The materials we have been digitizing from the Kelsey will be shared with and examined by the archaeologists who have been excavating Dimé recently and will be used as a tool to further their research as well.

Sebastian Encina has assisted us repeatedly in our research with the Kelsey archives. He assisted us in not only the digitization of these maps and documents, but has also helped us obtain valuable experience in how to research efficiently and effectively. Through our research at the Kelsey each of us now has a far greater understanding in scanning documents to TIF files for dense pixel quality, the process of adding and amending metadata to digitized documents, using Photoshop, moving material into a database format, and improving the methods we used in researching these documents.

Aside from the many new archival research skills we acquired, we also were introduced to much of the Kelsey museum staff as well as the Clark Library staff after visiting the map library to scan the largest maps we found. The museum resources we have been able to utilize, including people and technology, have allowed for complete student engagement and a unique opportunity to further our research in this area. With the help of the Kelsey’s resources we created a poster presentation for the UROP symposium and also presented our research during the Department of Classical Studies Research Symposium. The work we have done so far at the Kelsey has been a wonderful opportunity to further our academic experiences on a professional level.

We are extremely thankful for all that the Kelsey has provided to us and added in our research project. We strongly recommend future students to contact the Kelsey and if possible utilize its vast resources to improve their own research and to gain truly unique and valuable experience in the museum’s fields of study. Each of our first years at the University of Michigan have been fantastic academic experience made in a large part by the Kelsey Museum.

 

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Here we are presenting our work at the UROP Symposium

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Ugly Object of the Month – June

CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Can an object be both elegant and ugly? I believe it can. Take this month’s ugly object, a broom,  for instance. This broom was found in a house at Karanis, Egypt, and we can pretty easily guess what it was used for. I like the broom for its simple, effective (even elegant?) design. To me, it looks like someone gathered a bunch of palm stems and mashed up the ends to create bristles. Voila! Insta-brush. Someone then lined up the stems and secured the group by passing a palm rope over and under each stem. Two additional ropes were used to gather the stems together into a bundle that could be held in your hand or tied around a wooden handle. Pretty neat! Another thing I want to point out about the broom is that it’s got a swishy tail (so to speak). Whether this is from use or age or something else is unclear, but I like how it makes the broom look like it could glide across the floor without any human help, like something out of Fantasia.

The broom will be featured in the upcoming exhibition Jim Cogswell Cosmogonic Tattoos, opening June 2. Artist and Professor Jim Cogswell drew inspiration for his window vinyl installation from Kelsey artifacts, including this broom. See if you can spot it in the exhibition or on the windows of the Kelsey!

 

Ugly_June

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From the Archives #20

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

Summer is upon us, and with it come a number of summer blockbusters at the movie theatres. Movie companies put out some of the biggest draws of the year during summer, in order to appeal to children and families not in school, and too hot to be outside. But people haven’t had movies to distract them for very long, only since the end of the 19th Century and beginning of the 20th Century. Only then did films become a normal part of culture.

Prior to that time period, people would find entertainment in other manners. Theatre, music, reading, newspapers, and so on. However, there was still another form of entertainment available, now known as pre-cinema. This genre was an attempt by many inventors and entertainers to use technology to trick the eye into seeing something that was not there.

Some used effects, such as mirrors to create illusions. While others knew the eyes sees in stereo. The stereoscope was an early 1800s invention that showed two images side-by-side, but both at ever so slightly different angles. Using mirrors, or a barrier between the eyes, the devices would trick the eye to think it was looking at the same image from different angles. The eyes would see this as a three dimensional image, and the contents of the photographs would pop. It was an early form of 3D.

For this month’s From the Archives, we present a stereoscope and stereoscopic views found in the archives. The details on how we acquired this item and views is unknown, though collecting such materials in the early 1900s was quite common. Much like other photographs from the era, they were sold to people wanting to see Europe and northern Africa and Palestine. This was before tourism took off and people began traveling to those destinations themselves. This particular stereoscope, a Holmes stereoscope, was perhaps purchased by Francis Kelsey himself.

The stereoscope is here shown with various views of daily life from Palestine. These were created by Underwood & Underwood, a popular photographs distributor from the era. Aside from the views, the cards come packed in a box that looks like two books, simply titled “Palestine.” These views could have been used to educate students on what Palestine looked like at the time, maybe as they learned about ancient Roman life in the area, or the times of Jesus Christ. Whatever the original intention, the views and device remain at the Kelsey Museum. Though broken, they remind us what entertainment people had, and they remain educational for us, but in different ways.

 

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IPCAA Conservation Workshop

CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Suzanne and I had a great time hosting our third annual IPCAA Conservation Workshop series.  We’ve designed the workshops to give graduate students of classical archaeology hands-on experience with field conservation tools and techniques. This spring we covered ceramics conservation and preventive conservation. Students learned about agents of deterioration, ceramic lifting and reconstruction, artifact storage best practices, and much more. We hope that the students will find these preservation strategies useful as they document, excavate and analyze artifacts and structures in the field this summer!

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Suzanne Davis shows students how to prepare Paraloid B-72

 

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IPCAA students Drew Cabaniss and Zoe Jenkins reconstruct their pots using Coband strips and B-72

 

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Suzanne Davis shows students how to pour a structural plaster fill

 

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Ugly Object of the Month – May

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

Are you ready for swimsuit season? No? Me neither, which is just as well because it’s SHARK MONTH at the Kelsey. This is one of the all-time cutest, weirdest, made by the most-amazingly-skilled craftsperson Ugly Objects ever: a mosaic glass fish head.

 

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Fish head inlay fragment. Mosaic glass. 1st c BCE – 1st ACE. Egypt. Gift of Alexander G. Ruthven. KM 1965.3.135.

 

What do we know about this tiny bit of a scary-looking fish? Not much, because it’s got zero excavation provenance. One, I do know that whoever made it had enviable motor control. Mosaic glass is made of small pieces of colored glass rods, or canes, which have been sliced up, placed close together, and then fused with heat. Two, inlays like this one would have decorated Roman Egyptian walls or furniture.

Three, former UM graduate student Lindsay Ambridge wrote an article about this object, in which she discusses the meanings of fish in ancient Egypt. Bottom line: fish were important for many reasons, chief of which was as a food source.

To me, this fish looks more like predator than prey – check out the pink gums and very, very pointy teeth. See it in all its splendor in the Upjohn Exhibit Wing – look in the glass case on the south side of the back hall.

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From the Archives #19

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

Around the world, the Kelsey Museum is known as the home for the excavations at Karanis, which the University of Michigan conducted between 1924 and 1935. The collections and archives from this expedition continue to fascinate us, and they provide a wealth of information we continue to revisit through many projects. Scholars from everywhere look to the collections, both artifacts and archives, to further research and our understanding of Egypt under Roman power. Here in Ann Arbor, the collections play an important role with classes and exhibitions.

When Francis Kelsey was finding funding for the Karanis expedition, he was actually initiating a fund to excavate at multiple locations. In 1924, UM went to Karanis, as well as Antioch and Carthage. These latter two sites turned out to have single season excavations, as the focus was placed on Karanis due to its rich artifact and papyrological finds. UM stayed there through 1935, when finally excavations were completed. However, the team did not excavate only at Karanis during this time, as they ventured to other sites while in Egypt. In 1931, the team went to Soknapaiou Nesos (Dime), and in 1935 they excavated at Terenouthis. Each of these also turned out to be a single season excavation due to a number of reasons.

Since 1931, the Kelsey has still housed the archives and artifacts from Dime. Not nearly as plentiful as Karanis, it still provides a wealth of information for archaeologists working at Dime today. These archives were deposited within the papers of the Karanis Expeditions, not even separated into their own collections. Because of the tremendous attention paid to Karanis, the Dime archives are not as often studied.

Over the past academic year, Classics professor Arthur Verhoogt made an effort to focus on Dime again. Prof. Verhoogt worked with two UROP students, Bianca Gallina and Josiah Olah, to revisit this collection, study what they could within the Kelsey as well as Bentley Historical Library. The two students scoured the letters, papers, drawings, and maps, and made note of what they found that would be useful to researchers.

For this month’s From the Archives, we present some of the items they digitized. Much like Karanis, the excavations at Dime resulted in some impressive maps. These will likely look familiar to some readers, as the style and look of these maps are similar to those from Karanis. The maps include triangulation points, cross-sections, and overview of the excavation site. Having these on hand will assist us in understanding the work carried out at Dime nearly 90 years ago. This is even more important to our colleagues who continue working at the site. This Spring term, the students will continue digitizing more archival materials, including house drawings. In Autumn, the Dime excavators will visit Ann Arbor to further research the materials housed here. By then, we hope to have everything digitized to provide even greater access.

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The El Kurru Heritage Project

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

For the past several years, I’ve spent part of the winter in the small Sudanese village of El Kurru, and every year I fall a little bit more in love with it. I work there with Kelsey Research Scientist (and Kurru dig director) Geoff Emberling on the excavation and preservation of an ancient, royal cemetery.  Two years ago, the Kurru project team began to deliberately focus on community engagement as a way to forge stronger links between the local community and the ancient site.

This work has evolved slowly, beginning from plans to present the site to tourists (of which there are a surprisingly large number). El Kurru is an interesting site, with a big pyramid, two beautifully-painted subterranean tombs, and a large rock-cut temple. But the site is only a small part of what I love about El Kurru. I love the Sudanese friends and colleagues we have there, the beauty of the Nile, and the family we live with. Tourists to the site, sadly, enter from a desert road and never have a reason to visit the town. As we planned the site itinerary for tourists, we kept saying to ourselves – wouldn’t it be great if visitors could keep walking and go into town, down through the date palm groves, and see the Nile? What if they could drink some Sudanese coffee, hear some music, and eat Sudanese food?

Over the past two years, we’ve worked with University of Michigan colleagues to assemble focus-groups in El Kurru to explore this idea. Not only did village residents think it was good idea – an exciting idea, even – to showcase local culture, they had a clear vision for what visitors should learn about their village and what experiences make El Kurru special. Here are photos of a few.

 

Mohammed Ahmed Al-Makee, who is in his nineties, is one of El Kurru’s last traditional weavers. His wife dyes and spins cotton into yarn, and from this he weaves scarves, shawls, and bed coverings on a pit-loom in the courtyard of his house. He allowed my colleague Jack Cheng and I to talk with him about his work and to record the sights and sounds of his loom, which he inherited from his grandfather.

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Once or twice a during the field season, we are treated to a riverside concert of traditional music. There is singing and dancing, and the primary instrument is the tambour, a stringed guitar-like instrument. These instruments are made in the village and are often decorated by the town’s henna artist. In this group, the musician I know best is Abdel Bakee, the drummer.

3_Baker

Bread is the backbone of every meal in El Kurru. There are several popular kinds of bread in Sudan, but the one shown here is a pita-type bread made from wheat flour. It is baked fresh every day in multiple village bakeries and is especially delicious right out of the oven. The baker pictured here is Ahmed Ibrahim.

4_Palm groves

El Kurru is an agricultural village focused on date farming. The date palms grow in beautiful gardens along the Nile. Families own a plot of land and work together to irrigate it, care for the trees, and harvest the dates, of which there are many kinds. From the house where we live, we can walk across the street and through this section of trees to get to the Nile. It is about a five minute walk to the river.

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