BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum
Walking through the galleries of the Kelsey, one will encounter many fantastical creatures. These are spoken about in ancient myths, and read about in stories or seen on film. They litter the displays, appearing on stelae, as figurines, on coins, and in paintings. The sphinx in the Egyptian galleries, the sea creatures in the Roman bath. Satyrs, centaurs, nymphs, cupids, gorgons, griffins, and all the Egyptian half-animal half-human deities, greet our visitors as they peer into each case.
These depictions are coupled with real animals as well. We see camels, dogs and cats, falcons, crocodiles, snakes, bulls, sheeps and goats. There is a nice mix of animals, both friendly and not friendly, meant to protect, guide, or attack. There are enough animals on display that the Kelsey had its own exhibition “Animals in the Kelsey: An Undergraduate Exhibit of Animals in the Ancient World” in 2000/2001. Clearly, animals, both real and imaginary, played an important role in the ancient world.
Recently, SMU professor Dr. Stephanie Langin Hooper visited the Kelsey Museum to conduct some research on the Museum’s holdings on artifacts from Seleucia. Many will remember Dr. Langin Hooper as the curator of the exhibition “Life In Miniature” (2014). That exhibition showcased a number of figurines from Seleucia, held by the Kelsey Museum and Toledo Museum of Art.
Along with the artifacts, Dr. Langin Hooper also spent some time looking through the archives from Seleucia. In the end, she selected a number of artifact cards created by the excavators as a means to document the finds with images. These were scanned by the Kelsey Registry in order to share.
During the scanning process, a few of these cards stood out. It is these that are this month’s choice for From the Archives. Animals were a popular motif in Seleucia, but even these caught our attention. We present to you the Seleucia unicorn. Cast in bronze, the distinguishing horn is prominent even on these small black-and-white photographs. The cards give us more information, such as find spot, field number, and additional notes (“Note: bridle!”). These three show the same statuette from two angles, one depicted twice.
Not much else is known about this artifact. We do know it was left at the Baghdad Museum. It was discovered in 1936.