News – The Kelsey Blog


Temporary Closure of Second-Floor Galleries

Change is afoot at the Kelsey Museum! Beginning Tuesday, May 17, our second floor will be closed as we work toward updating our Roman Empire gallery space. We expect to be able to welcome visitors to the refreshed galleries in early September. Our first-floor exhibitions will remain open during the closure.

We thank you for your patience as we move forward with these important gallery improvements.

Happy Birthday, Oleg Grabar

On this day, in 1929, Oleg Grabar was born in Strasbourg, France. Today would have been his 92nd birthday.

The son of eminent Byzantinist André Grabar, he attended the University of Paris and Harvard, earning diplomas in medieval and modern history. In 1955, he earned his doctorate from Princeton in Oriental languages and literatures. Although his interests later widened to include the Islamic world beyond the Middle East, Grabar first specialized in the art and architecture of the Umayyad dynasty (7th–8th-centuries). 

Grabar began his professional career at the University of Michigan, where he taught from 1954 to 1969. U-M was the first American institution to create a position for an Islamic art historian, and was unique in the United States at that time in its commitment to the study of the Muslim world.

in 1956, Grabar accompanied then-chairman of U-M’s History of Art Department George Forsyth (later director of the Kelsey Museum) on a trip through Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Libya, and the Sinai Peninsula. Their goal was to identify an Islamic site to excavate. They settled on Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi, also known as Qasr al-Hayr East, an Umayyad-period urban settlement located in the semiarid Syrian steppe. Between 1964 and 1971, with the support of the Kelsey Museum, Grabar directed a large-scale archaeological excavation at the site. Drawn to the remote 8th-century complex in the hopes of uncovering a princely Umayyad palace, Grabar and his team instead stumbled upon a new type of urban settlement. A rich lifeworld emerged in the midst of their discoveries, and over the course of the excavation’s six seasons, close relationships formed between the American and Syrian archaeologists, historians, and workers who labored and lived at the site.

Aerial view of Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi.

A new Kelsey Museum publication examines the six seasons of excavation at Qasr al-Hayr. Co-authored by U-M professor of art history Christiane Gruber and graduate student Michelle Al-Ferzly, City in the Desert, Revisited features previously unpublished documents and over 80 black and white and color photographs from the Qasr al-Hayr dig and recounts the personal experiences and professional endeavors that shaped the fields of Islamic archaeology, art, and architectural history during their rise in the U.S. academy. Grabar remembered his time at Qasr al-Hayr fondly, writing: 

When I visited Damascus, Palmyra, and Qasr al-Hayr in April 1964 in order to organize the expedition planned for the Fall, I did not imagine that so many individuals would become involved in the work over the course of the next fourteen years. Nor did I realize in the crowded bus taking me back, on the eve of Easter, from Homs to Damascus, that, from the black tents of the Syrian steppes to the austere rooms of Damascus officials or to the institutions as far west as San Francisco, there would be men and women whose lives, affections, and memories share a few weeks or months of unbelievably concentrated energy devoted to Qasr al-Hayr. My gratitude to them extends much beyond the ideas they had or the work they did, both work and ideas being by now processed into a frozen book. For all of them taught me something of the joys and pleasure to be had from collective work and I hope all of them feel richer for it, as I do.

— Oleg Grabar, in the official excavation monograph, City in the Desert, p. ix.

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Available for purchase through ISD.


An interactive PDF of the book is available for free download through the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology website.

New Podcast Interview and TED-Ed Animated Video from Geoff Emberling

Kelsey Associate Research Scientist Geoff Emberling has been busy! He’s featured on the October 7 episode of the podcast Tides of History, hosted by historian Patrick Wyman. In the 42-minute interview, Geoff talks about the long and fascinating history of Kush, the contentious nature of previous archaeological research in Sudan, how he came to work in the region, and his projects at El-Kurru and Jebel Barkal.

Geoff also served as the academic consultant for a TED-Ed video about Kush. Published on earlier this month, the beautifully illustrated video short outlines the rise and fall of this ancient African civilization.

Nadhira Hill Receives Public Scholarship Award from the Women’s Classical Caucus

IPCAA student Nadhira Hill has received the Public Scholarship Award from the Women’s Classical Caucus ( for her blog, Notes from the Apotheke. The citation reads as follows:

“In the few months since Nadhira Hill started her blog, Notes from the Apotheke, she has curated invaluable resources for BIPOC in Classics, ancient history, and archaeology. Her blog posts bring people of all backgrounds together by providing professional development advice in an accessible way, by engaging in dialogues on the state of the field, and by highlighting BIPOC scholars in ancient studies from different backgrounds and career stages.”

Congratulations, Nadhira!

Just Published: The Spring 2021 Kelsey Newsletter

The Spring 2021 Kelsey Newsletter is now available. Inside this issue you will find news about Giving Blueday, U-M’s Poetry Blast, as well as a fascinating preview of research being done by Terry Wilfong on a mysterious artist with a Kelsey connection who was active in London and Cairo in the 1920s.

You can download the issue here, or pick up a printed copy at the Kelsey.

Two New Publications by Kelsey Affiliates

Associate Research Scientist Geoff Emberling is happy to announce that the Oxford Handbook of Ancient Nubia, which he co-edited with Bruce Williams of the University of Chicago, was published in December 2020 after five years of work. It has 55 chapters (over 1,100 pages) that give the most recent account of the archaeology, history, and art history of Nubia from the Epipaleolithic to early modern times, with synthetic articles on a range of subjects including gender and the body, rock art, and community engagement in archaeology.

More recently, Kelsey Museum Assistant Curator of Numismatics Irene Soto Marín is very pleased to announce the publication of Ancient Taxation: The Mechanics of Extraction in Comparative Perspective, which she co-edited with Jonathan Valk of the University of Leiden. Published by the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World and NYU Press in the series ISAW Monographs, this volume is a collection of studies that explores the extractive systems of eleven ancient states and societies from across the ancient world, ranging from Bronze Age China to Anglo-Saxon Britain. The book can be purchased through NYU Press.

Congratulations to you both!

Welcome, Mallory Bower

We are pleased to welcome Mallory Bower as the Kelsey’s new executive assistant and social media coordinator. Mallory received her BA in history and chemistry from Albion College and her BS in heritage administration and museum practice from Eastern Michigan University. She comes to us from the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, where for the past three years she has developed and evaluated programs and implemented social media policies and campaigns.

Mallory has a strong background in museums and is passionate about engaging museum audiences through a variety of traditional and innovative avenues of communication. One of Mallory’s goals at the Kelsey will be expanding our presence and outreach online, building on the excellent work that has been done by Mallory Genauer. Over the next few months, Mallory will be getting up to speed about the Kelsey’s operations and initiatives, as well as becoming acquainted with the greater U-M community through collaboration with her new colleagues.

Welcome, Mallory!

book cover

New Kelsey Museum publication hot off the press

book cover
The cover of the Kelsey’s latest publication, Graffiti as Devotion along the Nile and Beyond.

If you want a sneak peek into our upcoming exhibition Graffiti as Devotion along the Nile: El-Kurru, Sudan, which opens to the public on Friday, August 23, you can’t do better than to download the free PDF of the exhibition catalog and get reading.

Chapter one outlines the history of ancient Kush and provides some historical and archaeological context for the graffiti at El-Kurru. Then, seven richly illustrated essays by international scholars explore the phenomenon of graffiti in ancient and Christian-era Sudan, as well as an overview of Nubian rock art and a look at graffiti at Pompeii.

Some questions that are tackled in this book include:

  • What the heck, Meroitic pilgrims. Why are you eating the temple? (chapter 2)
  • Man, some people really love to carve pictures of boats. A whole lotta boats. (chapter 3)
  • Can’t we just rebury it all? Really, it’s for the best. (chapter 4)
  • Beneseg, it would have been great if in the graffito you left on the church wall in Banganarti you could have gone into a little more biographical detail and expanded on your personal ambitions and especially your trip to Nubia from France instead of just saying hi to the Archangel Rafael, thanks. (chapter 6)
  • Were “rock gong” concerts more like Chopin’s nocturnes or an Iggy Pop show? (chapter 7)
  • Graffito 1: Dude, did you see that gladiator match?! Graffito 2: OMG bro, that was off the chain!! (chapter 8)

While not exactly a fluffy summer beach read, Graffiti as Devotion is nonetheless written to engage non-specialist readers. And anyway, there are a lot of pictures. So go ahead! You’ve got nothing to lose! Download the PDF (did we mention that it’s free?) and have a look.

The book itself is a handsome paperback and will soon be available for purchase through our distributor, ISD. Better yet, come to the Kelsey and pick up a copy at our gift shop. While you’re here, stop in and take a stroll through the exhibition.

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Graffiti as Devotion along the Nile and Beyond

Table of Contents

List of Contributors
Overview Map
Timeline of Kush and Nubia
List of Abbreviations
Foreword. “Graffiti in Ancient Kush and Medieval Nubia: An Introduction,” by Geoff Emberling and Suzanne Davis

  1. “A Cultural History of Kush: Politics, Economy, and Ritual Practice,” by Geoff Emberling
  2. “Graffiti at El-Kurru: The Funerary Temple,” by Suzanne Davis and Geoff Emberling
  3. “Boat Graffiti on the El-Kurru Pyramid,” by Bruce Beyer Williams
  4. “Conservation and Documentation of Graffiti at El-Kurru,” by Suzanne Davis
  5. “Figural Graffiti from the Meroitic Era on Philae Island,” by Jeremy Pope
  6. “Discourses with the Holy: Text and Image Graffiti from the Pilgrimage Churches of Saint Raphael the Archangel in Banganarti, Sudan,” by Bogdan Żurawski
  7. “An Overview of Nubian Rock Art in the Region of the 4th and 5th Cataracts,” by Fawzi Hassan Bakhiet
  8. “Graffiti at Pompeii, Italy,” by Rebecca Benefiel

Epilogue. “Hajj Paintings in El-Araba and El-Ghabat, Egypt: A Photo Essay,” by Ayman Damarany
Catalog of Selected Graffiti from El-Kurru, by Suzanne Davis, Geoff Emberling, and Bruce Beyer Williams

From the Archives 23 — August 2017

By SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Collections Manager

In the coming months, the Kelsey Museum is going to be seeing some changes to our neighborhood. The new Trotter Multicultural building as well as the expansion of LSA for their Opportunity Hub will both be commencing shortly. Normally, any construction is nerve-wracking for museums, as vibrations can cause deterioration to artifacts. With this activity being so close to the Kelsey, we will be seeing even more potential movement in the galleries and storage. Throw on top of all this the fact that there will be construction on two fronts, so vibrations will be steady and ongoing for a long period of time.

Small and big vibrations will cause artifacts to move, but the shaking can cause flaking and other breaking to occur. If you wander the galleries and see something amiss, please inform security or notify museum staff if they are in the galleries at the time.  Fortunately, the Kelsey is staffed by high caliber professionals who are already on top of this, and have a plan to mitigate the situation. Thanks to them, we expect to see no damage during this construction period.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we look back when the opposite situation was taking place. Back in 2007, the Kelsey was undergoing its own construction. This project affected our neighbors, the students living in Newberry and Barbour Residences, as well as our colleagues in LSA. For the Kelsey, this was a long time coming, as calls for a new building for the collections had been written decades before. Finally, in 2009, the doors at the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing opened to the public, the culmination of several years’ worth of work.

Those who have been with the Kelsey Museum for a long time will remember that the space where Upjohn is now was a parking lot. About 20–25 cars could fit here, often for staff of the residences and the Kelsey. Much to the chagrin of several people who enjoyed parking close to work, the lot was removed and the new wing went up instead.

Images shared here show the construction at different phases. While construction was underway, Collections Manager Sebastián Encina went around photographing the progress from various angles, including the roof of LSA, the Student Activities Building, the former Kelsey archives room, even street views. We are now fortunate to have this collection of images that encapsulate a portion of our own history. It reminds us how much work goes into the planning and actualization of a construction project. At the time, it was difficult to imagine what the end result was going to look like. Now, ten years later, we have a whole history in this building already, many stories shared, many names and voices passing through.


From the Archives 21 — June 2017

SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager

“I am very pleased to announce that Terry Wilfong has generously agreed to serve as Director of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology effective June 1, 2017 through June 30, 2020.”

With these words, LSA Dean Andrew Martin announced to the Kelsey Museum community that Professor Terry Wilfong, longtime curator of Graeco-Roman Egyptian Collections at the Kelsey Museum, would assume the responsibilities of Museum director. Terry follows a long line of distinguished directors of the Kelsey Museum. Each director furthered the mission of the Museum in their own right, making the institution stronger and a greater presence on the University of Michigan campus and around the world. Without each of these strong leaders, the Kelsey would not be the institution it is now. To each of these we owe a great deal of gratitude.

In honor of the news and Terry’s appointment, this month’s “From the Archives” presents this black-and-white image from the 1990s, though no date is associated with the image. It was found during routine cleaning in the archives. Its appeal as history of the Museum and its staff made it an easy addition to the photographic archives (KAP00007).

In the image, we see Dr. Wilfong, perhaps not long after he was hired by the University of Michigan as professor and curator. He is standing in front of the some displays we had in Newberry Hall, long before the Upjohn Exhibition Wing was even dreamed up. In those days, the Kelsey was constricted in exhibition space and possibilities.

Since this photograph was taken, there have been many changes. The Museum has a new building, our staff has grown in numbers, and our reach has expanded with more exhibitions and outreach and excavations. Terry has earned tenure, reached the level of full professor, and now is director. Both have grown together, and much of the Kelsey’s success during that time can be attributed to Terry’s efforts.  With Terry’s directorship, we are excited about the upcoming years.


Professor Terry Wilfong presenting some early Kelsey Museum exhibitions in Newberry Hall.

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