Uncategorized – The Kelsey Blog


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 https://myumi.ch/6Nex6.

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: https://myumi.ch/Pr131.

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.

Painted Roman ceilings at the UMMNH Planetarium

Leslie Schramer, Editor

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to be invited by Professor Nicola Barham, assistant curator of ancient art at the Kelsey, to sit in on her class HISTART 689 – Special Topics in History of Art, Section 004, Ancient Roman Painting: Image and Abstraction. This was very exciting to me because A) it’s a super cool topic (who doesn’t love a good Roman fresco?); B) it gave me a reason to leave the confines of my office and look at something other than a computer screen for a while; but mostly C), this was no ordinary lecture. Nicola, in an inspired move, had arranged with the U-M Museum of Natural History to show her slides of gorgeous Roman wall and ceiling paintings … wait for it … on the Planetarium dome.

It did not disappoint.

I’m not a great photographer under the best of circumstances, and it was dark, so these images don’t do the experience any kind of justice:

We traveled to Pompeii and Herculaneum to see a variety of domestic frescoes. We spent time in Rome at the Domus Aurea, Emperor Nero’s (in)famous pleasure palace. At Ostia, we gazed at the beautiful artistry of the House of the Painted Vaults. In Turkey, we viewed the Terraced Houses at Ephesus. We visited many sites, and each one was a feast for the eyes.

Not being actually enrolled in the class, I had the luxury of sitting back (those Planetarium seats recline, you know) and just enjoying the show. It was almost as good as actually being there. Better, perhaps, in that we didn’t have to use our elbows as weapons against other tourists, nor did we get vertigo or sore necks from spinning and straining to see the paintings overhead.

I had to leave at the break, but Nicola and her students continued to travel around the Roman Empire in their comfy chairs, clicking through image after beautiful image.

Many thanks to Professor Barham for inviting me to share in this delightful experience. I hope this idea catches on and that more U-M professors will take advantage of the Planetarium as a teaching resource. It wouldn’t work for all classes, of course (I certainly wouldn’t have accepted a similar invitation from a professor in the School of Dentistry), but I can think of many subjects that could put a planetarium dome to good use.

The Kelsey Staff Carry On — From Home

In these days of quarantine, you may be asking yourself, How are museum professionals able to work from home? After all, we can’t take the objects home with us. Here’s how a few of the Kelsey staff are getting things done in the days of social distancing.

  • MalloryCommunity and Youth Educator Mallory Genauer is preparing for the Kelsey’s upcoming docent training, which may go virtual. She is researching techniques for digital learning and creating digital galleries that the new docents can use to learn their way around the museum without actually being in the galleries. All of this will also help with the digital outreach program that she is working on, some activities of which we are hoping to preview shortly on the Kelsey website.



  • Administrative Specialist Lisa Rozek finds she is able to do almost everything she needs to from laptops at home, and is pleased to report that her new office assistant, pictured here reconciling accounts, is both enthusiastic and capable.



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