Ugly Object of the Month — June 2020

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

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!

KM 107, a box of marble samples from Carthage, Tunisia, purchased by Francis W. Kelsey in 1893.
KM 107, a box of marble samples from Carthage, Tunisia, purchased by Francis W. Kelsey in 1893.

I can guess what you’re thinking, but bear with me. Let’s virtually “unpack” this box.

The box unpacked: 22 samples of architectural marble of varying type and origin.
The box unpacked: 22 samples of architectural marble of varying type and origin.

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!

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