From the Archives #17

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

The name George R. Swain is one that is familiar to many in the Kelsey community. His photographs dominate the archives, and they make the bulk of those from excavations such as Karanis. He was also instrumental in the photography of collections from overseas, and capturing people in the countries he visited. Through his lens, we see life as it was in Egypt and Turkey/Syria in the 1910s and 1920s.

Swain’s is not the only name that played an important role in the history of Kelsey photography, though. Starting in the 1950s, Fred Anderegg worked with the Museum on a number of excavations, including the project at St. Catherine’s on the Sinai Peninsula. In the following years, Mr. Anderegg spent time photographing the Kelsey artifacts in order to document them. What ensued was thousands of photographs, all done in black-and-white on 35mm rolls. Thanks to Fred, the Kelsey now has thousands upon thousands of these 35mm images cut up into strips, organized by year they were photographed, the roll number within that year, and frame within roll. Each 35mm strips envelope includes a key for which artifact was photographed, and which frame it can be found in.

Many of these photographs were then contact printed, where a similar size print was made in the positive. These were adhered to the accession cards that acted as the database before computers became such an integral part of our daily work.

Over the years, the Registry has worked to digitize some of these when we needed good, quality photographs of our collections. However, with 10s of thousands of these strips waiting to be digitized, it has been a daunting task, to say the least. A few have been digitized as needed, but only a handful and quite sporadically.

Recently, the Kelsey Museum partnered with the History of Art’s Visual Resources Collection (VRC) to pilot test a project where these photographs will be digitized en masse, with the proper metadata and filenames attached to each file. This will save the Kelsey many person-hours, and will allow for a greater inclusion of photographs in our database and for other uses. Though they are still in black-and-white, they provide great photographs where we can easily distinguish each item from another. These are used for publications, but also serve as record shots of our collection.

The entire process will take some time to complete, if it does go forward (we started with about 100 rolls to test out and see if we can continue it). However, it is a much quicker process than what we could do internally, and will result in higher quality scans. In due time, these will be available to Kelsey staff, as well as researchers and students looking to get a glimpse of items often kept hidden out of view.

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Ugly Object of the Month – March

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Are any of you readers out there a Girl Scout? I was a Girl Scout, and I’ve still got my sash hanging in a closet somewhere, covered with a pretty decent number of badges. For those who are unaware, a Girl Scout earns a badge when they learn a new skill or visit a cool place (like a museum). The most memorable badge experience I had was learning how to safely use a pocket knife. Although not quite as compact as today’s modern, Scout-wielded pocket knives, this month’s ugly object reminds me of all that is good about a micro tool kit. You’ve got your rings (in this case iron and two smaller bronze rings), attached to which are various picks and what looks like a pair of tweezers. I mean, what self-respecting Scout (or ancient person) would ever journey into the splinter-infested wilderness without tweezers? We’re pretty sure that this set was used for medical purposes, and I can just picture something like this hanging from someone’s belt alongside keys and a wallet chain (ok, maybe not the wallet chain). Whoever it was who possessed this handy tool kit had the right idea: always be prepared.

You can catch a glimpse of this ugly but handy artifact in The Art and Science of Healing: From Antiquity to the Renaissance until April 30, and after that you can find it in the healing and beauty case in the 2nd floor galleries.



KM 1485a-g

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And the winner is…

Thanks to everyone who submitted their vote for their favorite “Ugly Object” of 2016.

The winner this year is… wait for it…. the spooky love spell figurine!!!

Stay tuned for more Ugly Objects from the Kelsey.



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Ugly Object of the Month – February

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

This month’s ugly object is one of ancient Egypt’s niftiest, most all-purpose and off-the-chain gods: the god of war, but also of childbirth, fertility, sexuality, and humor, he was also known as a protector of the household. He’s never the tallest or best-looking guy in the room, but he’s one of our very favorites – he’s Bes.


Bes figurine. Faience. 1st – 3rd c AD. University of Michigan excavations at Karanis, Egypt. 25979.


This particular Bes figurine looks (take your pick) like a gremlin or an ewok, or one of many other creatures one might find in the Nordic fairy-tale woods. The way he’s manufactured also makes him look kind of like a gummy bear. No matter, folks! Beauty isn’t everything, and Bes is up to the job. See him yourself – he’s on view at the Kelsey starting February 10, as part of the special exhibition, “The Art and Science of Healing: From Antiquity to the Renaissance.”

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From the Archives #16

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

Upon entering the Kelsey Museum, visitors are greeted by an imposing and daunting figure. King Darius the Great of the Persian Empire stands before them with a warning for those who cast gaze upon him. The reproduction on display is made from a negative impression taken at the site of the original monumental relief at Bisitun (Behistun), Iran. There, about 100 metres up on the side of a mountain, we see Darius and his soldiers as they conquered would be usurpers. Darius, in his grandiosity, displays his power in a manner befitting his reign.

The cast on display at the Kelsey was made from a latex squeeze formed by UM professor George Cameron in 1948 on his visit to Iran (and other locations). Some photographs of the squeeze-making are on display with the cast, but recently a collection of more Cameron photographs have found their way to the Kelsey via History of Art. These remained uncatalogued for years, until they were re-discovered and entered into the Kelsey photographs database.

The images show Cameron’s visit to Iran, and the process of squeeze-making. We also get a glimpse of the local village from high atop the mountain. We see the people working with him, including a young unnamed boy that may be related somehow to Cameron. But what is most impressive is the sheer placement of the relief, high on this mountain, dangerous to get to. At this height, it would be a daunting task to place anything, but Darius had his own image, his soldiers, and his captives here as well (with one underfoot). Above them is the god Ahura Mazda who bestowed upon Darius this victory.

Surrounding the entire scene is the text of Darius’ proclamation and details of his accomplishments. He speaks of the evils, the lies, and how some would take what is rightfully his. As seen in the photographs (and more easily determined from the drawing), the text reaches high above and below the figures. It stretches far to the right and all the way to the left. Darius had plenty to say, but the real reason for so much text is that Darius, great as he was, was aware that this location was along a major trade route. Though he could have written the inscription in Persian only, he knew people along the road spoke various languages. Thus, the text is found in Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian. Thanks to this, researchers were able to take what they knew of Persian and use the rest to translate and understand the cuneiform script employed.

The use of multiple languages is not new. We have seen that elsewhere, such as Romans speaking Greek about the Mediterranean, or the Rosetta Stone of Egypt, and how it allowed us to understand Egyptian hieroglyphics. It is an awareness that multiculturalism exists, and by taking note of this, the message can be disseminated more broadly.


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Ugly Object of the Month – January

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

We’re getting off to a rather late start with Ugly Object this month – I was so excited about voting for 2016’s Ugly of Object the Year* that I almost forgot to pick an inaugural object for 2017!

Well, better late than never, folks, because this one is a winner. It’s a sling shot pellet and man is it ugly. No need to elaborate on how ugly, because I think it’s pretty obvious. You can see it on view at the Kelsey starting next month as part of the exhibition “The Art and Science of Healing: from Antiquity to the Renaissance.”


Sling Shot Pellet. Lead. Roman Period. Rome. Gift of Esther van Deman, 1938. 6677d.

This little beauty is featured in a part of the exhibition that discusses medicine for the Roman army. Back in the day, this is the kind of thing that might end up embedded in your body after combat (and then have to be extracted by a surgeon). Ugh!

*Vote for 2016’s Ugly Object of the Year HERE!

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Vote for 2016’s Ugly Object of the Year!

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

Happy New Year, readers! I’m pleased to announce an election you’ll want to be part of: voting is now open for the Kelsey Museum’s 2016 Ugly Object of the Year. Vote here!

Voting will close on Jan. 31, 2017, so vote now!

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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.



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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