ancient Egypt – The Kelsey Blog

ancient Egypt

Ugly Object of the Month — January 2022

By Caroline Roberts

Happy New Year, Kelsey blog fans! Can you believe it’s 2022? And that this pandemic is still happening? I cannot. But on a much brighter note, I’ll tell you what else is still happening: Ugly Objects. That’s right. They just keep on coming. And this month, to kick off the New Year, we’re featuring one of my favorite Egyptian deities: Bes.

Faience Bes figurine from Karanis. Roman Egypt, 1st–3rd c. CE. KM 25979.

Bes is an in-your-face, snake-squishing protector god whose cult took off during the New Kingdom and stayed strong through the Roman period. The Bes we have here is a rather large faience figurine from the Roman Egyptian city of Karanis. He is missing his feet and crown and a good deal of his bright turquoise surface glaze, but his characteristic beard, tummy (with glazed belly button!), and phallus remain. (By the way, if you’re wondering how this Bes got his incredible blue-green sheen, check out Carolyn Riccardelli’s awesome article on Egyptian faience.)

Terry Wilfong calls out Bes as the most commonly encountered amuletic figure at Karanis, which makes sense to me. Bes faces us full-on, ready to help us confront whatever ill life might throw at us. Now I’m starting to envision a whole line of auspicious Bes paraphernalia for the Kelsey gift shop … Maybe he can help us take on the COVID pandemic?

Ugly Object of the Month — November 2021

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

This month’s Ugly Object—a fragmented wood panel painting from Karanis—is a visual challenge. One interpretation I’ve read describes what we’re seeing as hair. But to me, this looks like a figure. Take a look at the infrared (IRR) image I captured—what do you see? I see some kind of furry (or feathery) creature with a pendant hanging around its neck. I think I see a bit of a wing and two bird legs. And I think I see a wreath-like object in front of those feet. Could this perhaps be an eagle with some imperial imagery thrown in? This is my best guess, and I’m sure there are other possibilities. What do you think, readers?

KM 23976, panel painting of a bird (eagle?). Roman Egypt (Karanis), 1st–5th centuries CE. Left: visible light image; right: infrared (IRR) image.

Join us on YouTube for a Scribal Snacks Cook-Along!

Today is International Archaeology Day and to celebrate, the Kelsey has produced an archaeology-themed cooking demonstration. Scribal Snacks offers a tasty exploration of two of the world’s oldest writing systems: Egyptian hieroglyphs and Mesopotamian cuneiform. Cook along with Kelsey Museum Community and Youth Educator Mallory Genauer as she creates sugar cookie ushabtis and cuneiform lentil tablets. Head to the Kelsey website to download and print the recipe sheet, materials list, and helpful resources about hieroglyphs and cuneiform. When you’re ready, navigate to the Kelsey YouTube channel to watch the video and cook along with Mallory. Have fun creating your scribal snacks, and be sure to share photos of your cookie creations using the tag #EatYourWords!

Hungry for more? The Digital Resources playlist on our YouTube channel has many bite-sized videos about aspects of the ancient world, including Egyptian hieroglyphs and Mesopotamian cuneiform.

Ugly Object of the Month — May 2021

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

I don’t know about you all, but I am ready to get on a train to anywhere but here. I am anxious to travel, to see loved ones … but at the same time, I am all too aware of the risks. Thankfully, we have vaccines, a range of stylish masks, and over a year of pandemic experience to lean on as we consider venturing out again. But there’s a part of me that craves something more. Something like this month’s Ugly Object.

small stone pedestal
Green schist Horus cippus, front and back. Height: 6.4 cm. Ptolemaic Egypt, 280-180 BCE; gift of David Askren, 1925. KM 3242b.

This small cippus—a stone pedestal with a rounded back—is carved with a figure of Horus, the Egyptian falcon god. Significant parts of Horus are missing, but we can still see the head of the protector god Bes above him, as well as the snakes and scorpions he holds by the tails in either hand. There is also some magical text on the back of the cippus. According to our database, it says:

Oh Protector [i.e., Horus] (against) scorpions, oh great god;
the son of Re [Horus] who battles the scorpions that attack;
oh Protector (against) scorpions, the bull, the sun of Re; the bull
… oh Protector

I’m not an Egyptologist, so I can’t explain the religious significance of each threat, though I’m sure the thought of a bunch of scorpions attacking won’t be lost on anyone. But what is clear is that this cippus was designed to shield its owner from any number of foes. The object’s small size and the holes under Bes’s beard make me wonder if someone might have carried or worn it as a protective amulet—not unlike the lucky mask I put on some mornings. I figure another layer of magical defense against life’s uncertainties can’t hurt!

Ugly Object of the Month — October and November 2019

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

Greetings, Kelsey blog readers! It is officially Decorative Gourd season, and we are so excited about this that we forgot to write an Ugly Object post last month. Oops! We thank you for your patience, and hope that you will enjoy a rare Ugly Object twofer: Egyptian mummy wrappings and amulets! For this special post we wanted to celebrate both Halloween and the day after, All Saints’ Day, by featuring objects that are both spooky and holy. The mummy wrappings and amulets on display in our Egyptian galleries are a perfect fit.

October: In honor of Halloween, we’ve chosen linen mummy bandages that are inscribed with text and images from the Book of the Dead, an ancient funerary text designed to prepare and protect people on their journey after death. The fragment below shows an individual confronted with a series of gates guarded by animal-headed gods, an illustration of what the deceased might encounter as they make their way toward the afterlife.

Linen mummy wrappings depicting the deceased standing before a series of gates guarded by animal-headed gods. 35 x 10 cm. 300–200 BC. Gift of the Bay View Association. KM 71.2.278c.

November: The amulets shown here in honor of All Saints’ Day (which, okay, is Christian, and these are not, but they are magical and holy!) were discovered at Terenouthis in 1935. They would have been tucked between the mummy’s wrappings to protect the individual in the afterlife. We especially love the carnelian heart, which manages to be both creepy and cute.

Mummy amulets from Terenouthis, Egypt. Left to right: faience Isis amulet (2.3 x 0.6 cm), carnelian heart amulet (1.3 x 0.9 cm), and gold eye of Horus amulet (1.7 x 1.7 cm). Late 2nd–early 4th century AD. KM 24091, 24231, 24135.

By actually wearing these instructions and tokens of protection, the deceased person would have been ensured safe passage to the afterlife. Come see these artifacts at the Kelsey! You’ll find them in the left-hand set of drawers beneath the Terenouthis stelae display in the Egyptian galleries.

Ugly Object of the Month — July 2019

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

I stumbled across this month’s Ugly Objects while compiling a list of stone artifacts in the Kelsey collection. The Kelsey Museum has over 5,000 artifacts that are classified as stone, which include everything from marble sarcophagi to tiny carnelian beads. Among this trove of artifacts made of rock, the two toadstool-shaped objects pictured here stood out to me.

two mushroom-shaped alabaster earplugs
Alabaster earplugs (studs?) from Saqqara, Egypt. Each is about 2 cm tall. New Kingdom (1570–1070 BCE). KM 24273 and 24274

I looked them up in our database and learned that these objects are Dynastic Egyptian earplugs made of alabaster. My initial thought was, naturally, Wow … these surely must be the world’s oldest-known earplugs!! However, when I ran down to the gallery to make sure they were on display — they are — their labels describe them as ear studs. If so, these would seem to resemble the chunky variety of ear stud/plug worn by body-jewelry enthusiasts today. I’m fascinated by objects that clearly had a specific purpose at some time, and yet manage to puzzle us now. It makes me wonder what people in a thousand years will think when they discover all of our earbuds, nose rings, Fitbits, and aviator shades.

Come see if you can spot these plugs/studs for yourself! You’ll find them in the Dynastic Egyptian cases on the first floor of the Kelsey’s Upjohn Exhibit Wing.

Ugly Object of the Month — December 2018

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

This month’s Ugly Object is, at first glance, pretty unrecognizable. Its outline suggests a bust format, and one can start to make out a head, the folds of robe, locks of shoulder-length hair, a beard and other facial features. While I personally couldn’t make heads or tails of who this figure is, a trained eye (namely, Kelsey director Terry Wilfong) can spot specific details that reveal that this somewhat diminished bust is in fact a deity —specifically, the Graeco-Egyptian god Serapis. Serapis was worshiped in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt and elsewhere in the Roman empire as a cult deity. Like most gods, Serapis wore many hats: he was seen as an oracle, a consort to Isis, a hybridization of the bull deity Apis and Osiris, and a figure associated with the underworld.

wooden bust of Egyptian god Serapis
Wooden bust of Serapis decorated with gesso, bole, and gold leaf. H: 10.2 cm. Roman period, late 2nd to early 3rd century CE. KM 4655.

How do we know that this particular wooden bust is Serapis? A major clue is in the wooden dowel at the top of the figure’s head, which originally held a grain basket in place. The thick, shoulder-length hair is another Serapis signature. The decorative surface is pretty patchy, but the losses happen to reveal how the figure was made. A carved wood base was coated with a thick layer of gesso. A layer of red clay (called bole) was painted onto the gesso, and a final layer of gold leaf was applied on top. The bole would have allowed the gilding to be burnished and smoothed to a lustrous sheen, which would have made this Serapis super shiny. This is fitting, considering that the bust likely started out as an element of bling on a piece of furniture.

Come visit our shiny Serapis, on display in the Karanis House on the first floor of the Upjohn Exhibit wing! And see if you can spot other Graeco-Roman Egyptian deities elsewhere in the Kelsey galleries.

Ugly Object of the Month — September 2017

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

It’s back-to-school time, and town is certainly feeling lively as ~30,000 students return to campus. It’s also the harvest season here in Michigan, where it’s already starting to feel like fall. That is sort of, maybe, a decent lead-in to this month’s Ugly Object, which is … wait for it … some pieces of wheat!


Old-as-heck wheat. 1st–3rd century AD. University of Michigan excavations at Karanis, Egypt. KM 3958.

This is some bonafide archaeological grain-stuff here and, while it might not be considered a typical museum-quality artwork, I think it looks pretty amazing. According to Kelsey curator and director Terry Wilfong, wheat was the biggest and most important crop for ancient Karanis. Egypt was a major producer of grain for the Roman Empire, and Karanis had ten large granaries to store it prior to its shipment to Alexandria and then Rome. Some of this wheat’s brethren might have been eaten by emperors! But if, for some reason, it fails to impress you with its extreme ancient awesomeness, be aware that we also have garlic bulbs and a bunch of other fantastic 1,700-year-old seeds on view. Come enjoy the Kelsey’s cornucopia of ancient — if not always attractive — agricultural delights.

Ugly Object of the Month — June 2017

CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Can an object be both elegant and ugly? I believe it can. Take, for instance, this month’s Ugly Object — a broom. This broom was found in a house at Karanis, Egypt, and we can pretty easily guess what it was used for. I like the broom for its simple, effective (even elegant?) design. To me, it looks like someone gathered a bunch of palm stems and mashed up the ends to create bristles. Voila! Insta-brush. Someone then lined up the stems and secured the group by passing a palm rope over and under each stem. Two additional ropes were used to gather the stems together into a bundle that could be held in your hand or tied around a wooden handle. Pretty neat! Another thing I want to point out about the broom is that it’s got a swishy tail (so to speak). Whether this is from use or age or something else is unclear, but I like how it makes the broom look like it could glide across the floor without any human help, like something out of Fantasia.

The broom will be featured in the upcoming exhibition Jim Cogswell Cosmogonic Tattoos, opening June 2. Artist and Professor Jim Cogswell drew inspiration for his window vinyl installation from Kelsey artifacts, including this broom. See if you can spot it in the exhibition or on the windows of the Kelsey!



Staff Favorite

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 RICHARD REDDING, Research Scientist, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology; principal investigator on archaeological projects in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia; Chief Operating Officer and Chief Research Officer of Ancient Egyptian Research Associates. Redding works in Giza, Egypt, during dig season.

Djehutymose coffin
Front, inside, and back views of the Djehutymose coffin.

Favorite Artifact: The Coffin of Djehutymose. Mummiform coffin of the priest Djehutymose. Wood, plaster, and paint. Saite period (26th Dynasty, 685–525 BC).

Why: “This coffin is both elegant and beautiful and offers human solutions to natural events such as the sun rising each day after the darkness of night. For example, see the goddess Nut painted on the interior of the coffin lid with a red sun disk on her mouth, which she swallows every night and to which she gives birth (the red disk at her feet) every morning.”

About Artifact: It dates to the Saite period, an era of great artistic revival in ancient Egypt. Texts on the coffin identify its owner as a man named Djehutymose, a priest of the falcon god Horus and the “Golden Goddess” Hathor, and give the names of his parents, Nespakhered (also a priest) and Taro (“The Lady of the House.”)

The coffin, carved to represent the mummy of Djehutymose, is covered with magical spells from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead and images of protective gods and goddesses. In this way, the identification of Djehutymose with Osiris is reinforced, and he is provided with multiple levels of protection against the perils of the afterlife as well as appropriate spells for the successful continuation of life in the world of the dead. The coffin represents a microcosm of the afterworld and the eternity that Djehutymose expects to enjoy.

Lid Exterior: Djehutymose’s face is green in imitation of the god of the dead, Osiris; the color symbolizes regeneration and rebirth. His false beard is characteristic of Osiris; his collar with falcon-headed terminals is another symbol of rebirth. His name reinforces his personal identity throughout the texts on the coffin. The goddess Isis, wife of Osiris, spreads her wings protectively over Djehutymose’s feet. A snake encircles the entire coffin lid, its tail and head meeting above Djehutymose’s feet. This circled snake symbolizes protection and eternity.

Lid Interior: The sky goddess Nut spreads her wings protectively over Djehutymose’s chest. Nut’s crown is a sun disk containing her name, and she holds powerful ankh (life) symbols in her outstretched hands. The two eyes of Horus (wedjat) symbolizing protection and rejuvenation are confronted on either side of her head.

Base Exterior: Protective texts from the Book of the Dead and processions of gods and goddesses line the sides of the coffin.

Base Interior: The goddess Imentet magically embraced Djehutymose’s mummy as it lay in the coffin.

Background: For much of Egyptian history, the bodies of the dead were placed in coffins, which often bore texts giving the names, titles, and parentage of the deceased, as well as religious texts for provisioning, protection, and regeneration in the afterlife.

Djehutymose lies on a funerary bed, where he is being embalmed by the jackal-headed god Anubis. His soul (ba) in the form of a human-headed bird, hovers overhead. Beneath the bed are four canopic jars containing Djehutymose’s internal organs, removed during the mummification process.

“Fashioned nearly 2,600 years ago, the Djehutymose coffin has made a complicated journey into the present. In the intervening centuries, the coffin was separated from Djehutymose’s mummy, now lost. Within the last hundred years, Djehutymose’s coffin traveled far beyond the imaginings of the ancient Egyptians: from Egypt to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Donated to the University of Michigan in 1906, the coffin was long on display at the Kalamazoo Public Museum before it returned to Ann Arbor in 1989,” according to the Kelsey publication, Life, Death, and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt: The Djehutymose Coffin.

Although the mummy of Djehutymose is long lost, the coffin has a large modern-day following on Facebook’s Mummy Djehutymose, with 3,892 followers to date, and on Twitter’s @Djehutymose with 3,650 followers). Through Twitter, Djehutymose converses regularly with three ancient Egyptian mummies:

  • @KVMMUMMY from Kalamazoo Valley Museum in Michigan;
  • @LASMummy from Louisiana Arts & Science Museum in Baton Rouge, Louisiana;
  • @MummyDjedi at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, and
  • @RockaroundCroc, a crocodile mummy at the British Museum in London, UK.

AUGUST 2022 UPDATE: The social media accounts for the Djehutymose coffin are no longer active.

 Find: Look for the coffin of Djehutymose in a prominent exhibit case in the middle of the first floor of the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. The coffin stands tall and open, with the interiors of the lid and base facing visitors. Exteriors of the lid and base can also be viewed from the back of the exhibit.

Learn More: Life, Death, and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt: The Djehutymose Coffin in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, by T. G. Wilfong, available in our gift shop or online.

Find out more about Richard Redding’s work in Giza, Egypt, at

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