The Kelsey gallery cases are filled with ancient artifacts from the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions, with more artifacts available to the public in drawers below the cases. A visitor might be overwhelmed if their goal is to experience every object on display! The objects in the gallery, however, represent a small portion of the collections at the Kelsey due to the limitations of display space. The remainder of our over 100,000 object collection resides in collections storage.
There are numerous reasons why certain objects remain in storage, but their potential for research and adding to our knowledge of the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East is not one of them. Researchers from all over the world travel to Ann Arbor to study the collection, each researcher approaching the objects with unique questions about the people who created, owned, and used the objects. In July 2022, researcher Dr. Francois Blondel from the University of Geneva spent several weeks at the Kelsey collecting tree-ring data from wooden objects excavated in Egypt that date to the Roman period (1st century BCE–5th century CE).
Using a binocular microscope and measuring table, Dr. Blondel measured the distance between tree rings observed on the wooden objects (including KM 88723, featured in June’s Ugly Object blog). With each press of a button to record the measurement, software, connected to the measuring table, creates (or draws) the growth curve of the wood (or its growth pattern) as it goes along. The resulting curve characterizes all the variations of ring widths in these ancient artifacts crafted from ancient trees. Dr. Blondel repeated this process at least three times with each object to obtain the most complete sequence possible and also to compensate for possible measurement errors due to the lack of ring legibility on some complex objects. This data will then be compared to a database of tree-ring measurements and interpreted by Dr. Blondel in a future academic paper to help date the objects. This process of using the growth rings of trees to date objects is called dendrochronology.
We look forward to what his research uncovers about the ancient world and its people, and how the objects in our collections contribute to his findings!
The Kelsey’s new assistant curator of numismatics, Irene Soto Marín, has launched a weekly blog called The Social Lives of Coins: Archaeology and Numismatics at the Kelsey. In it, she will highlight interesting discoveries she makes as she studies the 40,000+ coins in the Kelsey’s collection. Join Irene on an exciting journey into history as she explores the ancient world through the Kelsey’s one-of-a-kind numismatic collection. And don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss a post!
Julia Triezenberg is a junior majoring in American culture and minoring in museum studies. She has looked for ways to be involved in the museum world, so she spent this past summer interning for the Registry Department at the Kelsey. During her time with us, Julia assisted with exhibitions, worked with researchers using the collections, and worked independently on a ceramics rehousing project. Her internship offered her diverse ways to explore a museum career.
Over the course of my summer interning at the Kelsey, one thing is for certain: I spent a lot of time around pots. “Pots?” you ask. “What kind of pots?” “Do they keep better company than other kitchenware?”
Why yes, they do. I wasn’t surrounded only by pots, either — the project I worked on for over a month dealt with finding new homes for a variety of ceramics from excavation sites in Seleucia, Iraq. An extension of previous interns’ work, I reorganized and housed the ceramics from three of the Kelsey’s cabinets. While that might sound simple at first, it was no small task. Depending on the shape and size of the artifacts, there could be hundreds of artifacts in each drawer that had to be moved individually for their safekeeping. It was especially confusing for me in the beginning because the objects were quite mixed up by shape and size when I began.
With this in mind, I decided to move the ceramics between the three cabinets based on their size and function to see how I could improve future organization. I was able to condense space in quite a few of the drawers, which proved especially helpful as the Kelsey prepares to officially accession some ceramic objects from the Toledo Museum of Art. Final steps included editing the Kelsey’s new database to reflect my changes and leaving behind my procedure and advice to future interns’ work with the collection.
Rehousing these ceramics was one of many things I did while at the Kelsey, but it was a project that gave me specific opportunities to formulate my own plan about the reorganization and work independently to get it done. Other college students spent their summer lifeguarding poolside or backpacking through the Rocky Mountains. This is what I spent my summer doing — and I couldn’t have been happier about it.
BY PAIGE DE RUE, Kelsey Registry Intern and Major in Classical Archaeology and Anthropology
This past fall semester has been truly an exciting experience since I was provided with the awesome opportunity to work as an intern for the Kelsey Registry. Having experience working with a paleontological museum collection, I was familiar with some basic collections etiquette, but nothing could have prepared me for how thrilled I was to be working with archaeological material- my field of interest and study. My first day as an intern, I was a little intimidated to be working in such a pristine and restricted environment. However, I adjusted to this new environment just fine and focused my attention more on working with the collections, which was the best part of the internship of course! Working hands-on with the artifacts, I was often responsible for pulling objects needed for research or class use and returning them to their permanent location once they were no longer needed. I did an inventory of a couple cabinets and assisted with condition reports for a portion of loaned artifacts. Sometimes my help was needed for class visits to assist in watching the objects and ensuring their proper handling by students. This internship also taught me how vital a database system is to such a large collection. The database is essential for finding any artifact in the collection. It keeps track of temporary and permanent locations, gives you a history of where the artifacts have been in the past, and so much more.
A project I completed by the end of the semester involved reorganizing a portion of the collection in permanent storage. This project required extensive planning before any physical movement could take place in order to ensure a manageable project and safe handling of artifacts in drawers. I helped the collection become more consolidated and easily accessible by combining worked bone artifacts into one cabinet. I feel very proud to know that I have helped the future of the collection and that I was able to reorganize some artifacts in such a way that makes them better accessible for researchers, class use, and the conservators.
Without this internship experience, I do not think my long-term career goals would be the same as of today. The Kelsey Registry has shown me that I thoroughly enjoy working with archaeological collections in the museum setting versus working with archaeological material in the field. In my future, I hope to be working with museums collections and I know I will forever be thankful for my great experience as an intern here at the Kelsey!
BY JEAN MERVIS, Volunteer Docent, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan
Favorite Artifact. Statue of a young girl. Marble. End of 4th century BC. Greece. KM 1979.5.1.
Why. “It’s thought that this statue honors the goddess Artemis, who was the daughter of the all-powerful Greek god Zeus and mistress of animals. Initially, this sculpture caught my attention because I thought it was pretty, especially the dress and its draping. I liked the figure’s stance with its slightly outstretched foot, and how the dress drapes over that foot.
“But as I read more about it — in a 1982 article by former Kelsey Museum director John Pedley — I learned about the arkteia, an ancient Greek ceremony held every five years to honor Artemis.
“During the ceremony, according to Pedley, young girls holding torches danced around her altar, mimes represented Artemis in the act of hunting, and young girls between the ages of five and ten wearing characteristic crocus yellow chitons and bear masks (arktoi) also took part.
“That’s when this statue of a young girl really came alive for me, as I found myself actually visualizing the young girls dancing back in 450 BC!”
About Artifact. This statue is believed to be the first example of Greek sculpture in marble brought to Ann Arbor by the University of Michigan. The best information about it comes from John Griffiths Pedley, Professor Emeritus of Classical Archaeology, in his article, “A Fourth-Century Greek Statue in Ann Arbor.”
The head, now lost, was worked separately, and set into a deep cavity. The arms are also gone, both being broken just below the shoulder, though traces of the right hand and the angle of the shoulder show that the arm was held straight down with the hand against the drapery by the right thigh, while the angle of the upper left arm and left shoulder suggest the possibility that the left arm was bent at the elbow to join a mass of drapery collected at the side of the figure. … The figure stands with weight on the left leg and the right, free leg, placed laterally and drawn somewhat back. The left leg is invisible beneath the drapery, though the toe of the shod foot protrudes beyond the hem of the folds. The bent right knee shown frontally is detectable beneath the folds of the cloth, with right foot turned somewhat outward. Neither heel is visible at the back. She wears the high-girt chiton with shoulder straps and buttoned sleeves ….
The Kelsey Museum acquired the sculpture, purchased with funds contributed by the Kelsey Museum Associates (now Members), from the Swiss market in 1979.
Background. According to Pedley, the east coast of Attica was famous in antiquity for the sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron. The sanctuary stands near a river between Marathon and Cape Sunion, directly opposite Athens to the west. Origins and details of the arkteia festival ceremony are obscure, he wrote, but seem to center on a myth that told of the killing of the bear sacred to Artemis. This sacrilege was to be atoned for, or made right, at the festival by daughters of leading Athenians playing the bear, or arktos. The arkteia ceremony was part of the great Brauronia festival, which included chariot races and musical contests.
Find It. On the first floor of the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing, find the Greek exhibit case, which faces the windows. To the right of the case, the statue of a young girl stands in a trio of sculptures out in the open. She also faces the windows.
BY CARL ABREGO, Department Manager, Residential College (former Kelsey Administrative Specialist) and Member, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan
Favorite Artifact: Description de l’Égypte. Paper, pigment, leather binding. Deluxe first edition. Published 1809–1822 in Paris. Bound by Rowfant Bindery in Cleveland, Ohio, 1912–1914. KM 2003.4.1a–w.
Why: “One of my co-workers described the Description de l’Égypte volumes as ‘coffee table books on steroids!’ I love books so when Sebastián Encina, Museum Collections Manager, first showed them to me, I had to agree! Their size is very impressive, as is the sheer vibrant color of many of the illustrations. Plus, the Kelsey’s set is a deluxe first edition.
“I couldn’t ever imagine being one of the people who drew the illustrations or wrote the descriptions. It’s impressive in itself how much time and energy went into the development of the content to provide a real record of Egypt at that time.”
About Artifact:Description de l’Égypte is an amazingly detailed description of Egypt’s past and then-present. Editor François Jomard based the content on material collected by a scientific commission of approximately 175 scholars, appointed by Napoleon to accompany his 1798 expedition to Egypt. There, he directed the scholars to study all of Egypt.
The Kelsey’s set includes 23 volumes: 10 with text and 13 with illustrations (including 3 elephant folios), many in color. Published from 1809 to 1829, Description pages were sold individually, mainly to financially well-off people. Owners later arranged to have their pages bound into books. The Kelsey’s pages were published 1809 through 1822.
The scientific commission included engineers, mechanics, surveyors, cartographers, interpreters, printers, architects, surgeons, pharmacists, physicists, chemists, mathematicians, astronomers, geologists, zoologists, archaeologists, economists, artists, musicians, and poets, according to historian J. Christopher Herold in The Age of Napoleon.
Once in Cairo, the scientific commission established the Institute of Egypt and a headquarters on the edge of the city. Before them lay a massive undertaking. They set up a library, laboratories, workshops, observatory, museum, zoological and botanical collections, aviary, agricultural-experiment station, artists’ studios, printing plant, living quarters, and a meeting hall, all to support and process their research findings.
“Freed from the social distractions of Paris,” writes Herold, “the scholars gave themselves over with adventurous zeal to their various pursuits … . to the study of the fish of the Nile, of mummified cats and birds, of desert insects, of Oriental music. Field teams were assigned to such tasks as surveying the Isthmus of Suez, compiling detailed topographical maps of Egypt, and exploring the ruins and antiquities.”
Worldwide Impact: “This work, a unique event in archaeological history, at one stroke impressed on the modern world’s attention a culture hitherto unknown but to a few travelers, a culture as remote and mysterious, if not completely hidden from view, as that of Troy,” said C. W. Ceram in Gods, Graves, and Scholars. “They saw in it things never seen before, they read of absolute novelties, they became aware of a mode of life the existence of which had previously not even been suspected. Having more capacity for reverence than ourselves, they must have experienced a shuddering sensation as they were carried back thousands of years.”
And Egyptology was born.
Artifact Source: In 1953, Dr. Otto O. Fisher gave the Kelsey a complete deluxe first edition of Description de l’Égypte. Fisher was a surgeon who interned at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital in 1922–23 and then practiced in Detroit. According to Kelsey Curator Emerita Lauren Talalay, Fisher was an avid bibliophile, whose collection of rare books and documents at one time numbered more than 20,000.
Talalay said he gave Description to the Kelsey in exchange for his recall of the Fisher Papyrus (an impressive copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead), which he had lent to the museum on a long-term basis but eventually wished to sell.
Background: Napoleon I left Toulon, France, in 1798 with a fleet of 328 vessels, carrying 38,000 men headed for Egypt. He intended a world-conquering expedition (such as Alexander the Great’s), which he initially expected to push as far east as India. Napoleon did capture Egypt for about a year. But, in the end, he was defeated and fled Egypt in 1799. Many of his soldiers and scholars, however, remained for another year.
One of Napoleon’s soldiers found a stela of polished black basalt with inscriptions in three different forms of writing. This was the famous Rosetta Stone, now housed in the British Museum (the British having defeated the French in Egypt). Although many of the artifacts found by the French eventually had to be turned over to Britain, the French retained all the drawings and descriptions of Egypt that they had completed, taking them back to France and eventually producing the Description.
Find It: Currently, none of the Kelsey’s Description de l’Égypte volumes are on exhibit, but at least one volume will be part of a special exhibition — “Passionate Curiosities: Collecting in Egypt and the Near East, 1880s–1950s” (August 28–November 29, 2015) — to be curated by Margaret Cool Root. Scholars may inquire about the books from Museum Collections Manager Sebastián Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn More: Currently scheduled for publication in late 2015: Passionate Curiosities: Tales of Collectors & Collections from the Kelsey Museum by Lauren E. Talalay and Margaret Cool Root. To be available for purchase in the Kelsey Gift Shop and online from ISD.
View an online edition of Description de l’Égyptehere.
When it comes to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s collections, not all artifacts are created equal. Some call out to us intellectually, others emotionally.
BY DAWN JOHNSON, Associate Director, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan.
Favorite Artifact: Hawk mummy. Ptolemaic period (332 BC–AD 100). Egypt (Bayview Collection). KM 1971.2.182
Why. “I saw this hawk mummy on my first tour of the museum’s collections in storage. A different hawk mummy is on display in our permanent collections that I also like. But I’m a very visual person, so this hawk mummy’s distinctive beak profile and vigilant turn of head formed a beautiful line that caught my eye immediately. The linen bandages seem to wrap around its head like a cloak.
The hawk’s intelligence and keen visual ability equip it to be a kind of ‘avian foodie!’ As a ‘foodie’ myself, I admire its skillful and intelligent approach to hunting at night for exactly the perfect meal, not settling for just any sustenance. Really, I think of them as the sophisticated diners of the avian world.”
Background. One distinctive feature of Egyptian religion is the association of gods with animals. Temples often featured animal cults, in which an animal was revered as a symbol of a particular god. Animal cult centers, such as the temples of crocodile gods at Karanis and Soknopaiou Nesos, became pilgrimage and tourist destinations, with cemeteries where cult animals would be mummified and buried as offerings. Greek and Roman visitors were baffled by what they saw as animal worship in Egypt but failed to understand the complex relationship between god and animal in Egyptian thought. Animal cults had roots in Egyptian prehistory and survived well after the introduction of Christianity into Egypt; the last known animal cult in Egypt was active up to AD 340, and others may have persisted longer.
Find It. Currently, this particular hawk mummy is not on public exhibit. Scholars may inquire for more information from Museum Collections Coordinator Sebastián Encina at email@example.com.
However, another hawk mummy is on exhibit on the first floor of the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing. To find it, look for the statue of the seated priest near the stairway to the second floor. From there, go left one exhibit case. Then turn right to face the case. It’s in the lower third of the exhibit.
BY MARCELLO MOGETTA, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan
As college teachers we are often encouraged to enhance pedagogy by engaging students in materially different ways. We are also reminded that University of Michigan museum collections represent an invaluable resource for teaching and learning. During my postdoc year based at the Kelsey Museum, I taught an undergraduate course on “Roman Imperial Architecture” for the Department of Classical Studies, so I had the unique opportunity to put these principles into practice. It worked!
At the beginning of the semester I decided to create a course assignment using Kelsey objects. Each student was asked to select an architectural ornament from the Kelsey collection (whether capital fragments, stone moldings, or stucco decorations), take pictures of it, produce a 3D model from photogrammetry (with the expert assistance of IPCAA’s Matt Naglak), and write a short catalog entry that should include an analytical description and interpretation of the piece. All the class participants signed up for this project, responding enthusiastically to the idea.
Perhaps what made the photomodeling assignment particularly exciting to the students was that they would be granted privileged access to areas of the museum that are otherwise restricted to normal visitors. Or that they had the chance to physically interact with archaeological materials from up close (by the way, thanks to Sebastián Encina and Michelle Fontenot for making this possible!), while at the same time experimenting with cutting-edge digital visualization methods. Whatever the reason, the results proved very rewarding. Using the Kelsey Museum database, the students extracted some basic information about provenance and dating, and in some cases were able to compare their objects with similar ones displayed in the galleries. Most importantly, they all tried to relate the artifacts to the lecture material seen in the conventional class.
When it comes to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s collections, not all artifacts are created equal. Some call out to us intellectually, others emotionally. To that end, we asked our curators to name their favorite Kelsey artifact or object. Here is the second in a series of seven.
BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Associate Curator and Head of Conservation, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan
Favorite Artifact. “Statuette of a Young Man (kouros).” Bronze, solid cast with engraved details, Archaeic Period (6th century BC), Rome, Italy. E.B. Van Deman bequest 1938, KM 6708. (Above top photo: front view; above bottom: back view).
Why. “I like this little guy because he is the perfect pocket-sized man. If you visit him in person, you can see how the figurine is curved due to his funny posture. As a conservator, I’ve never been particularly attracted to the metal objects I’ve worked on, with the exception of this one. He is the cutest copper alloy ever!”
About Artifact. This statuette of a young man most likely was made in the sanctuary of an Etruscan god and purchased there by a worshiper to dedicate to the deity. It may have represented the worshipper symbolically and, when left at the sanctuary, reminded the deity of his continual devotion.
The kouros type originated in the Greek world, but this Etruscan statuette differs from its Greek models. The tautness of the youth’s pose, the strongly arched back, and the large head with its lively facial expression lends the figure an aura of energy characteristic of the art of Archaic Etruria.
Background. From the Villanovan Iron Age, the Archaic Period (ca. 900-480 BC), the Etruscans developed a distinctive visual culture that drew upon indigenous traditions and contemporary artistic trends represented by imported objects, especially in those from the ancient Near East, Egypt, and Greece.
Find It. On the first floor in an exhibit case that backs up to the window, opposite the ancient Greek case, in the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.