The Kelsey Blog – Behind the Scenes at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Notes from the Field—Tharros Archaeological Project

By Bailey Franzoi, IPAMAA

Bailey Franzoi, a young woman with dark brown hair wearing a Brown University T-shirt, smiles widely while holding her arms out as she sits at a table covered in bone fragments sorted into piles.
A bone bonanza! Bailey with faunal finds from the Tharros Archaeological Project.

I spent the month of June in Sardinia, Italy, at the Tharros Archaeological Project run by the University of Cincinnati. Tharros was a Punic and Roman city inhabited from the 8th century BCE to the 4th century CE.

I spent most of my time at Tharros in our finds lab in the nearby town of Cabras. I was responsible for washing, processing, and recording all of the project’s faunal material for the first time since it began in 2019. Our goal for the season was to begin to understand some of the patterns of animal use visible in the excavated material and to identify which contexts were worth coming back to for a closer look in later years. 

This year, the field team excavated an 18-meter trench within a Roman house from the 3rd century CE, as well as two trenches in the temple area of Tharros. I enjoyed working with colleagues from Cincinnati, Stanford University, and Brown University. Finding equid and deer bones in areas all over Tharros was very exciting, but my favorite finds were hedgehog mandibles.

I could not have accomplished any of the work I’ve done at Tharros or elsewhere without the support of the Kelsey Museum and, in particular, Dr. Richard Redding, whom I miss very much.

Summer Interns at the Kelsey

Hello, Kelsey Blog readers! Please join us in welcoming Taylor Tyrell and Lily Zamora to the Kelsey Museum. These students have joined us for the summer of 2023 and will be working on a variety of tasks to support the projects and operations of the Education and Administrative Departments.

Headshot of Taylor Tyrell, a young woman with curly brown hair wearing a purple blazer.

Taylor Tyrell (she/her) completed the Bridge MA Program in Classical Studies in 2021 and recently finished her second year as a doctoral student in the Interdepartmental Program in Ancient History. Her academic interests focus on gender and sexuality in the Roman Empire as well as reception studies, particularly queer reception of antiquity. She is also interested in the digital humanities—an interest that was sparked by an opportunity she had as an undergraduate to help create a virtual reality site of the Asklepion at Epidaurus, Greece.  

This summer, Taylor will assist the Education Department with its DiSKO (Digital Study of Kelsey Objects) project, which intends to make Kelsey artifacts available online in an effort to increase their accessibility to professors and students. To that end, she will help create 2-D and 3-D imaging of objects using photogrammetry and lidar, edit and prepare completed scans, conduct research for the information that will accompany each object, and develop lesson plans with which professors can teach using groupings of objects. She hopes that, by the end of summer, she will be close to having an initial assemblage of items ready to be published online in the fall.  

When asked what she most looks forward to working on this summer, Taylor noted that she was excited to use the Kelsey Museum’s new lidar scanner (previously, the Education Department had been using an application on an iPad to conduct this scanning). “It is incredible how affordable that technology can be,” Taylor commented. “I think that the Kelsey will be able to get a lot of use out of it outside of this project.”

Lily Zamora (she/her) will work as an intern in the Administrative Department over the summer and beyond. As the administrative assistant, she will focus on various admin-related projects such as supporting and revamping the Kelsey social media pages, event planning, file management, and other tasks as needed to assist the work of the chief administrator and other staff members at the museum.

An undergraduate studying media and communications, Lily recently transferred to the University of Michigan from Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU). Previously, she served as the marketing and communications assistant at U-M’s Center for Cell Plasticity and Organ Design, as well as the student grant assistant in the Center for Rural Behavioral Health and Addiction Studies at SVSU. 

Lily enjoys engaging in technical writing with the goals of improving user experience and making information understandable for all. She is also interested in designing elements such as newsletters, flyers, and social media posts. In her administrative position at the Kelsey, Lily hopes to improve her skills relating to editing, social media coordination, and information design. She is very excited to help show off everything the Kelsey has to offer!

Lily Zamora, a young woman with brown hair wearing a windbreaker, against a background of water, mountains, and a city.

News from the Conservation Lab – April 2023

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

Hello, friends of the Kelsey Blog! The past six months have really flown by, haven’t they? Suzanne and I have spent quite a bit of this time traveling for work, something that we both missed during the pandemic. Here are some highlights!

In September and October, Suzanne and I returned to Abydos, Egypt, where we provide conservation for the Abydos Middle Cemetery (AMC) Project. We worked on a variety of things, including objects from the serdab of Weni the Elder, as well as newly excavated artifacts, alongside our Egyptian conservator colleagues Hamada Sadek and Ahmed Abdullah. Being back there—and being a part of the Weni project—was such a thrill. 

Single story white structure surrounded by sand and palm trees under a blue cloudless sky with rock formations in the background.
AMC dig house at Abydos, Egypt

In November, Suzanne and I gave papers at the American Society of Overseas Research’s annual meeting in Boston, where Suzanne presented her research on gender equity in museums and I participated in a workshop on Roman-Egyptian funerary portraits. It was great to see colleagues in the flesh once again after many years of virtual meetings and to be able to visit some old stomping grounds, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where I took in the newly reinstalled Greek and Roman galleries. Check out this truly inspired loom weight display (I love it so much I just had to share it with you folks)! We also enjoyed a tour of the Harvard Art Museums with recent IPCAA graduate Caitlin Clerkin, who works there as a postdoctoral fellow.

Five ceramic loom weights of various sizes and shapes attached to threads in a museum display case.
Ceramic loom weights, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Acc. #s 84.381, 84.373, 84.374, 84.370; Greek East, 6th–4th centuries BCE, from Assos (Behramkale, Turkey)

In January, Suzanne traveled to Jebel Barkal, Sudan, where she is directing site preservation with her team of conservators and conservation architects including Elmontaser Dafalla, David Flory, and Sefian Mutwakil. Check out her blog post and more news from Barkal here.

As always, there is a lot going on in the Conservation Lab! Keep tuning in.

El-Kurru Presentations and a Visit to Ann Arbor – An Interview with Anwar Mahjoub

By Bailey Franzoi, IPCAA Student

Back in January, many Kelsey Museum faculty and staff and IPCAA students traveled to New Orleans for the 2023 Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. We caught up with Anwar Mahjoub, from El-Kurru, Sudan, who visited the United States for the first time to present his work with the El-Kurru Community Heritage Center, which he and Kelsey Research Scientist Dr. Geoff Emberling have been developing since 2016. After the conference, Anwar visited Ann Arbor and the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.

How was your journey to the United States? What did it feel like to be here after so many years working with the University of Michigan?

It was a wonderful journey. The team I’ve been working with for a long time is from the University of Michigan, so I’ve heard about the Kelsey Museum and watched online lectures from that place. These helped me to imagine what the Museum would be like, but then I saw it in reality, and it was entirely different. I enjoyed my time visiting the Kelsey galleries and the bioarchaeology lab. It’s also interesting for me to see animal bones which were taken from Jebel Barkal [a U of M excavation in Sudan close to El-Kurru] to be sorted and identified in the laboratory.

Do you have a favorite object in the galleries?

Definitely the painted sarcophagus [of Djehutymose]! It’s interesting for me because I’ve been learning Egyptian hieroglyphs, and I was able to read some of the texts painted on the inside of the coffin.  

Anwar standing in the UMMA galleries.
Anwar at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA). Photo by Bailey Franzoi.

How was the experience of presenting at the AIA? How was New Orleans?

I presented in August at the International Conference for Nubian Studies in Warsaw, which was my first time traveling outside Sudan. There, the focus was on Nubian archaeology, but AIA was focused on Roman and Greek archaeology, which I don’t know much about, but enjoyed hearing and learning. I was glad to be in the first session and representing my community [of El-Kurru]. 

New Orleans was very interesting. Part of it feels like a busy city with modern skyscrapers, but the other part was lively, with people partying and playing drums and cheering! There was a spirit of fun, and it felt like more of a friendly place than anywhere else I’ve visited in Europe or the US. Our Uber driver was even telling us stories about his family in Chad. I also really liked the food—jambalaya felt like a familiar dish from home.

For those who didn’t attend your paper, could you give a brief summary of it?

I co-presented a paper titled “Decolonizing Archaeological Practice at Kushite Sites in Sudan.” Basically, the main point was that local communities ought to be full participants in archaeological projects in almost all stages of the project. Not only should archaeological projects hire local workers at a fair wage, but they should also include the local community in the discussion of what they want to know and learn about the archaeological site. The local community members need to be able to draw their own conclusions, not just academics who have perspectives based on readings of scholarly texts. Communities should also be able to benefit financially from archaeology. For example, in our case, the El-Kurru Community Heritage Center’s revenues will go back to the community in order to best serve it and help out in emergencies. This is all based on the experiences my community and I had working with the International El-Kurru Archaeological Project starting in 2013.

Anwar and Bailey Franzoi stand at podium co-presenting at the AIA conference.
Anwar and Bailey Franzoi co-presenting at AIA. Photo by Kelsey Affiliate Faculty David Stone.

Thank you so much, Anwar, and we hope to see you back in Michigan soon!

Presenting the Ugliest Object of 2022!

The results are in! It was a tight race, but 30 percent of voters chose “Bread” (but not really) as 2022’s Ugliest (and most beloved by our readers) Object.

These artifacts from Karanis, Egypt had everyone believing they were piles of bread until the mid-1990s when it was determined they were actually crushed pits and skins of olives. Re-visit this blog post for the whole story at

Keep tuning in to the Kelsey Blog for more news and stories from the Kelsey Museum community.

Voting Now Open for Ugliest Object of 2022!

Before we can get any further in 2023, the Kelsey blog must resolve a question from last year….which object can claim the title of the “ugliest” object from 2022! We present to you the official ballot for the Kelsey Museum Ugliest Object of 2022.

Readers have until February 3, 2023 at midnight to make your decision and cast your vote. Votes will be tallied, and the lucky winner will be announced the week of February 6th.

Go on, click that link, and cast a vote for your favorite!

Hyperlink to the official ballot:

Ugly Object of the Month – December 2022

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

Hey, hey, Ugly fans! It’s the end of the year, which means it is time to celebrate with bubbly beverages and twinkling lights. What better way to wrap things up than with a light-bringing Ugly Object? This ceramic lamp came into the Kelsey collection in 1899, making it one of (if not the) first artifact to be acquired by the museum. Its object record indicates its origins to be somewhere in Asia Minor and that it was formerly part of a collection held by a Professor Rhoussopoulos from the University of Athens. The lamp was made in a two-part mold with the handle and nozzle attached separately, and the impressed figure on the discus is none other than Herakles, lion pelt and club in hand. This lamp makes me smile—the simple image of young Herk reminds me of 6th grade, when I was obsessed with Greek myths and committed D’Aulaire’s book on the subject to memory. I love that this object is frequently used in classes and gets students thinking about the ancient world in a direct, tangible way. And I love that it’s burned, like an oil lamp should be! It is a quintessential Ugly Object—ordinary, imperfect, and meaningful.

View from the top facing down on a reddish clay lamp with red to black glaze. The handle is broken off with the nozzle darkened from use. In the center of the discus, Herakles stands facing forward, but moving towards the left with his club raised above his head and carrying a lion skin in his right hand.
Ceramic lamp with image of Herakles at center, KM 792; Asia Minor, no date given; acquired in 1899 by Stuart.

Ugly Object of the Month – November 2022

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

Greetings Earthlings! We have another feature from our NEH-sponsored Color research project this month—another Isis Aphrodite! This time she has taken the form of a small-but-mighty polychrome figurine from Karanis. Our graduate assistant Laurel Fricker did some sleuthing and discovered that this may be an Isis Aphrodite Anasyromene, or Aphrodite lifting up her skirt. Hers isn’t exactly a skirt—more like a robe—and it is painted purple. Purple paint is a source of intrigue to scientists. You could produce it in a lot of different ways, by combining a variety of red, pink, blue, and black pigments. Sorting these mixtures out can present a challenge when investigating purple on artifacts. The purple on this Aphrodite is one of only two instances of this color we’ve found on a painted object from Karanis. It’s a mixture of rose madder and another unidentified pigment—we’re still working on figuring this out.

Having studied over 100 objects from Karanis and Terenouthis, it’s interesting that we’ve found such a small number of purple-painted pieces (only three total!). Not sure what this means yet, but stay tuned!

Painted terracotta figurine of Isis Aphrodite under visible light on a light gray background.
KM 6488, painted terracotta figurine of Isis Aphrodite; Roman Egyptian,
1st – 3rd century CE; discovered at Karanis in 1928

Painted terracotta figurine of Isis Aphrodite under ultraviolet-induced visible luminescence (UVL). Thin lines of fluorescent colors on the crown and robe show areas of madder pigment.
Ultraviolet-induced visible luminescence (UVL) image of the figurine showing orange-pink fluorescent madder pigment in the crown and robe.

Ugly Object of the Month – October 2022

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

Welcome, dear readers, to Ugly Object of the Month Halloween edition (cue the spooky organ music)! I’ve been sharing a lot of ancient panel paintings with you folks lately, and I hope you’re ready for more…

because this month’s object is, indeed, a painted wood panel from Karanis, Egypt (cue the maniacal laughter)!

KM 28807, wood panel fragment painted with an image of Aphrodite; Karanis, Egypt, 2nd – 4th century CE
KM 28807, wood panel fragment painted with an image of Aphrodite; Karanis, Egypt, 2nd – 4th century CE

Can you make out the (dare I say?) spooky lady emerging from this panel’s aged, discolored paint layer? You may be wondering… who is this mysterious figure? If you can’t tell looking at the object under visible light, take a look at the infrared reflectance image below. The woman is clad in a diaphanous robe, jewels, and a conical crown, all of which suggest that she is a goddess—probably Aphrodite. In Roman Egypt, Aphrodite and Isis were often worshipped as a single deity, and her potency took on aspects of both goddesses: fertility, childbirth, but also rebirth. Which makes this lady more magical than mysterious.

(IRR) image of KM 28807
Infrared reflectance (IRR) image of KM 28807

Ugly Object of the Month – September 22

By Suzanne Davis

Discerning readers, are you worried about getting a regular, reliable dose of Kelsey Museum Uglies each month? We feel you, and we promise to do better. Things have just been extra exciting around here with the start of the fall term, which is the first, real, full-on, in-person, students-everywhere, what-the-heck-happened-to-Ann Arbor, and is-it-a-home-football-weekend-again? kind of term in three years. We used to do this every year, but thanks to COVID we’re out of practice, and it’s been nuts. Thankfully, you can relax and enjoy a belated Ugly right now! 

This month, my top pick is more of a historical than archaeological object, and actually it’s more of a building than an object, and you might disagree that it was ugly (I do – I liked it). But look–if it wasn’t ugly before, it sure is now. It is the Fleming Administration Building, once a cool modernist gem, now a giant hole in the ground.

Partially deconstructed Fleming Administration Building.
The Fleming Administration Building in the process of deconstruction.

The Fleming Administration Building was designed by the famous modernist architect Alden B. Dow, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Dow, who was based in Midland, Michigan, also designed 18 other buildings in Ann Arbor (five on the U-M campus). The Fleming building was built in 1964, before the civil rights demonstrations at U-M, but a myth arose that the fortress-like building had been purpose-built to foil protestors. In truth, Dow’s arrangement of vertical and horizontal bands of limestone, with windows of varying sizes arranged in a grid, were meant to make the otherwise blocky brick façade more interesting. Fans of the Dutch modernist painter Piet Mondrian will note the similarities to Mondrian’s work. 

Yet while I enjoyed looking at this building, it was reportedly miserable to work in, and it was also falling apart, with bits of the brick veneers popping off and creating hazards for passersby. So this September, the building was deconstructed. Not demolished, but deconstructed; pulled apart bit by bit, very carefully, because it is located near a dormitory, a plaza, the student union, the parking garage where I park, and a bunch of frequently trafficked sidewalks. The deconstruction was fascinating, gripping the entire central campus community. So even though I didn’t want the building to be torn down, morbid fascination glued me to the spectacle. Please enjoy my amateur snapshots, and you can see official U-M photography here and read more about the building’s history here and here.

R.I.P. Fleming Administration Building.

The inside structure of the Fleming Administration Building visible with an entire exterior wall removed.
The inside structure of the Fleming Administration Building visible with an entire exterior wall removed.

A crane pulling down pieces of the Fleming Administration Building upper floors with the interior structure exposed.
Cranes pulled down pieces of the building bit by bit, leaving the interior structure exposed to curious passersby.


Heavy machinery lifting and moving debris left behind from a building deconstruction.
The remains of the Fleming Administration Building following deconstruction.

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