Materials from House C137 by Caitlin Clerkin

In my work within the Karanis Collaboratory, I’ve focused on material from house C137. I’ve been working to unite information from object autopsy, object records, archival photographs, and plans, with the goals of (a) better understanding the finds (and their contexts) from this house and (b) creating more complete records of C137 and its contents, in order to better bridge the diverse sources of information a future researcher might need in order to study C137 (and ultimately, daily life in Graeco-Roman Egypt).

March 11, 1930. KM Archival Photograph 5.3476.
March 11, 1930. KM Archival Photograph 5.3476.

I’ve spent part of this week looking at material from one of C137’s storage areas, Bin A1. As is the case throughout House C137, many items in Bin A1 were found in situ (in their original place). Fellow collaborator (and archaeobotanist) Laura Motta and I inspected a series of photographs taken during excavation, whose captions stated that the photos, taken on March 11, 1930, showed objects from C137A (room A). We determined that these photographs actually showed us Bin A1.

The excavation Record of Objects tells us objects came from Bin A1, but the excavation records do not indicate which objects were found in situ (sitting on the floor of this storage space) versus in the objects contained within the sandy fill that fell into this space after it went out of use. To remedy this, I’ve been working to identify the objects in these archival photographs, in order to determine which objects were in situ and thus can be usefully interpreted as a primary deposit assemblage.

Cooking pots KM 2.0426 and KM 2.0427 and line drawing #361 of the “deep jar type” cooking pot (on the computer screen).
Cooking pots KM 2.0426 and KM 2.0427 and line drawing #361 of the “deep jar type” cooking pot (on the computer screen).

With the aid of Emily Lime and Mollie Fox, I’ve begun inspecting objects whose records place them in Bin A1 and comparing them to the archival photographs and drawings indicated in the object records. For example, it turns out that two cooking pots (KM 2.0426 and KM 2.0427), which we looked at in the Kelsey Museum Collections Room, are visible in the archival photograph. Knowing this, we can confidently assign these pots to this abandonment assemblage.

Furthermore, looking at a variety of records for these pots (as well as the pots themselves) has helped me “clean up” some of the records for our database, which will become the core information repository of our planned Karanis Research Portal. The notes in the records for KM 2.0427 (29-C137A1-b) listed the wrong vessel shape, probably due to a simple mistake in transcription in the past. Looking at the vessel in person allowed me to confirm that this object was indeed a cooking pot rather than a bowl: I confirmed this not only by looking at it and comparing it to the listed excavation drawings of this shape, but also because someone (presumably around 1930, when this object was excavated) wrote the number of the appropriate drawing (390) and the proper letter designation for the shape (XXI) on the vessel itself (Kids, don’t try this at home! Writing directly on your pottery is no longer best object-handling practice!). This was a fun surprise, one that reminded continued to remind me that we are not only dealing with artifacts of antiquity but also of our 1920s-1930s colleagues. Moreover, this kind of “cleaning” work will also help future researchers avoid confusion when using the Karanis Research Portal.

Close-up of cooking pot KM 2.0427 (29-C137A1-b). If you look closely, you can see “390” and “XXI” written on the pot.
Close-up of cooking pot KM 2.0427 (29-C137A1-b). If you look closely, you can see “390” and “XXI” written on the pot.