From the Archives #46 — September 2019

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

This September, researchers from the University of Lecce (Italy) working at the site of Dimé (Soknopaiou Nesos) in Egypt visited the Kelsey Museum. Professor Paola Davoli and team (Bruno Bazzani, Stefania Alfarano, Clementina Caputo) returned to work with the collections from Michigan’s excavations at Dimé in 1931. On this visit, the researchers spent two weeks measuring, drawing, photographing, and studying artifacts from the site. They looked at furniture, beads, sandals, lithics, sculpture, figurines, and a number of other artifact types.

This was the team’s second time in Ann Arbor to work with materials from Dimé. In 2017, Davoli and team visited the Kelsey to look through the archival materials from the excavation. This includes maps, drawings, photographs, and other files that help the current Dimé project better understand work undertaken at the site previously. At that time, Professor Arthur Verhoogt hired two Michigan undergraduates, Bianca Gallina and Josiah Olah, to digitize the Dimé archives to assist the Lecce team’s work. Bianca and Josiah helped the Kelsey organize, identify, catalog, and digitize a great number of items from the archives, which will prove to be beneficial for years to come.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a taste of the work Bianca and Josiah accomplished. Like in Karanis, the Dimé excavation team took detailed notes of the architecture at the site, noting topographic measurements. While there were many drawings made, we present those of an oven found at the site, in house I 107. Ovens were not rare at the sites, but not every home had one. With these drawings, we learn the basic construction of a Roman-era Egyptian oven, its size, and potential uses. We also see the handiwork of the person who, in 1931, drew this for their own research and also for those who followed. 

Though Michigan’s excavation at Dimé occurred back in 1931, the work still has plenty to inform research today. The Dimé team from Lecce continues to mine the Kelsey archives for information, and plenty of other researchers will use this material for other projects. We don’t know yet what those requests will look like, so we do our best to protect this collection and make it accessible to all who want to use it.

Below: Drawings of features from House I 107 in Dimé (Soknapaiou Nesos), Egypt.


Ugly Object of the Month — January 2018

Happy New Year, Kelsey Blog readers! What better way to begin 2018’s Ugly Object series than with a seriously cute cat coffin? This creative work of bilateral symmetry once held the remains of a mummified cat. The feline shape and decorative elements are charming (just look at those eyes! and the suggestion of a mane around the face…), but what I love most about this coffin is the surprise that comes with discovering that it opens side to side instead of top to bottom. As a result, the coffin’s base is effectively the cat’s seat, and the resulting form is upright, alert, and lifelike. The coffin is displayed closed, so it’s hard to appreciate the fact that, except for a couple of attached ears, its halves are carved from a single, hollowed cut of wood. Wood was a precious commodity in Egypt, so this coffin was nothing to sneeze at. This would have been a fitting enclosure for a creature so closely linked to the divine.

You can see this coffin and other feline-themed artifacts in the Graeco-Roman Egypt gallery of the Upjohn Exhibit Wing.

Cat mummy coffin
Cat mummy coffin, Roman period, 1st–2nd c. AD, Wood, plaster, paint, glass, 36 cm high, 9.5 cm wide, said to be from Saqqara, Egypt. Department of Antiquities purchase, 1935, KM 88775. Photos by Randal Stegmeyer.





We Call It the Silo Building Complex

BY RICHARD REDDING, Research Scientist, Kelsey Museum, blogging from Giza, Egypt

We discovered an Old Kingdom mud-brick building two years ago while clearing sand. It is located just south of the Khafre Valley Temple and separated from the tombs and pyramids by a large stone wall. As we cleared away the sand from the tops of the walls, one of the first things we found was a series of five silos — hence, the Silo Building Complex (SBC). Due to lack of time in 2012 we did not get to really excavate into the building except in two rooms on the eastern edge. We filled the area with clean sand and left it for the future.

This season (2014) we decided to explore this building. We had several questions:

  1. How old was it? Did it go back to the reign of Khafre? We did have one seal impression from Niuserre, a 5th Dynasty pharaoh.
  2. What was the building used for, and who occupied it?
  3. Is the depression to the west really a harbor?
  4. Could the SBC access the area to the north?

To answer these questions we excavated in four areas of the SBC. The first was two of the silos, which we knew would contain information on diet.

The SBC on Saturday, 19 April. The large silos are very visible, and two have been excavated. To the right (east) are two rooms excavated in 2011. To the left (west) is a room excavated this season (photo R. Redding).
Two photos of the silos. Note how high the walls still stand. The small semicircular cut in one is the remnant of the access door (photos R. Redding).

We also excavated a room on the western edge of the building. We wanted good floor deposits and to check on a blocked doorway that led to the west from the SBC.

Excavated room. Note the Meidum bowl set in the floor (photo R. Redding).

The third excavation was a trench from the western room down into the depression we thought might be a harbor. The excavation revealed three terraces that stepped down to an elevation of about 14.5 meters above sea level (m asl). Coring in the west of the water-filled trench revealed a layer of black clayey silt at about 13 m asl. In the Old Kingdom the Nile flood plain at Giza was about 12 m asl, and the flood would have reached about 14 m asl. We have a harbor.

Excavation into harbor from western room. Terraces marked (photo R. Redding).

The last area we have excavated is around the stone wall forming a border between the SBC and the area to the north. We found a doorway that was plastered that led through the wall from the SBC.

Finally, we excavated an area of the stone wall to establish the relationship between the SBC and the northern boundary wall. Which was built first?

The stone boundary wall. Note doorway in lower left that allowed access from the SBC to the area to the north. The doorway is nicely plastered, and you can see the plaster line (photo R. Redding).

We are finishing the excavations, and we will begin the laboratory analyses soon. A team of ceramicists, a faunal analyst, a lithics analyst, botanist, and objects team will soon start work. In a few weeks I will send out another blog describing what they found.