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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One Response to Ugly Object of the Month—October

  1. BL says:

    Interesting. I would probably also tend to feel it might have been a ‘wodoo’ type thing, but who knows

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