Greetings, Kelsey blog fans! You are in for a treat. This month’s Ugly Object is another rarely-before-seen feature from our vaults. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you (drumroll please …) a box full of rocks!
I can guess what you’re thinking, but bear with me. Let’s virtually “unpack” this box.
What we’ve got here is a collection of high-quality marble samples. I can see some white and gray marbles and what could be a yellow giallo antico marble, among others. The samples are weathered so it’s hard to classify their exact marble type. But it’s safe to say they are the sort of decorative stones you’d find on the interior and exterior surfaces of buildings in ancient Rome.
These particular samples come from Carthage, Tunisia, and were purchased in 1893 by none other than Francis Kelsey himself from the Jesuit priest and archaeologist Père Delattre. Kelsey acquired construction materials like these to support his teaching, and they remain important access points to understanding ancient materials and technology. They also provide evidence of trade and connectivity in the Roman world. Marbles with specific colors and inclusions were highly sought after, and many of the rocks in this box probably traveled from another place in the empire before being cut and mortared onto a building at Carthage. For the geology enthusiasts in our audience, a number of Kelsey’s marble samples were part of a recent archaeometric study to identify where they were quarried. I for one can’t wait to read more about this!
Keep tuning in to the Kelsey Blog for more Ugly Objects as we continue to reveal more unseen highlights of the collection!
Happy decorative gourd season, folks! In celebration of fall, my favorite time of year, I’d like to feature an object made of my favorite material: stone. Some conservators like glass and ceramics, others like basketry and plant materials. For me, it’s all about stuff made from those vast mineral aggregates of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rock.
Marble floor fragment from St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. KM 29651.
This month’s Ugly Object looks, to me, like a fragment of calcareous stone, probably marble. Its label suggests that it was once part of the floor of St. Peters’ Basilica in Rome. (Imagine that!) If true, how did this chunk of marble get from there to here? The first clue is in the label. It’s a red-and-white hand-written dealer sticker with a cute dotted border. When I spotted it I immediately thought of a label I had seen on another architectural fragment in the collection, the latter one supposedly found at the Theater of Ephesus. It turns out that these two chunks of stone are related. Both were acquired by a wealthy businessman, J.D. Candler of Livonia, sometime in the late 19th century. Candler acquired a number of stone, fresco, and other architectural fragments during his overseas travels, and his son D.W. Candler later gave them to the Kelsey. Separated as they are from their original contexts (by way, no doubt, of some questionable early antiquities dealing), Candler’s fragments and others like them provide useful physical evidence of ancient building materials and technology.
You can learn more about the floor fragment from St. Peters’ in Excavating Archaeology at the University of Michigan, 1817–2017 starting October 18th at the Kelsey. And if you’re a stone nut like me, be sure to check out the drawers beneath the Roman Construction case on the second floor for some impressive stone architectural fragments.
BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator for Conservation, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
The Kelsey Museum’s current special exhibit Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero is full of insanely gorgeous objects from the villas of Oplontis near Pompeii. But guess what? The Kelsey has a few objects on view in this exhibit, too, and you probably won’t be surprised to learn that some of them are, you know, not insanely gorgeous.
This month’s Ugly Object is a marble sample — basically, a polished rock — and it’s on view in a section of the exhibit that demonstrates how the villas’ surfaces were adorned with decorative stones. You see the object here before conservation treatment to remove the collector’s label. The label — which we saved, of course — says: “From the Great Theater at Ephesus, Sept 6th 1867.”
It was collected and given to the Kelsey by James D. Candler, a businessman, builder, and traveler who was based in Detroit in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
This stone sample and others like it have been the focus of recent research at the Kelsey. IPCAA alumnae Leah Long and Lynley McAlpine, U-M professor and Kelsey curator Elaine Gazda, and University of Akron emeritus professor Clayton Fant have been studying the Kelsey’s stone samples, in part to see if analytical techniques like stable isotope analysis can connect samples like this one to their sources and buildings of origin.