I spent the month of June in Sardinia, Italy, at the Tharros Archaeological Project run by the University of Cincinnati. Tharros was a Punic and Roman city inhabited from the 8th century BCE to the 4th century CE.
I spent most of my time at Tharros in our finds lab in the nearby town of Cabras. I was responsible for washing, processing, and recording all of the project’s faunal material for the first time since it began in 2019. Our goal for the season was to begin to understand some of the patterns of animal use visible in the excavated material and to identify which contexts were worth coming back to for a closer look in later years.
This year, the field team excavated an 18-meter trench within a Roman house from the 3rd century CE, as well as two trenches in the temple area of Tharros. I enjoyed working with colleagues from Cincinnati, Stanford University, and Brown University. Finding equid and deer bones in areas all over Tharros was very exciting, but my favorite finds were hedgehog mandibles.
I could not have accomplished any of the work I’ve done at Tharros or elsewhere without the support of the Kelsey Museum and, in particular, Dr. Richard Redding, whom I miss very much.
Did you know that Kelsey Museum researchers and students participate in a broad array of archaeological field projects throughout the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and North African region? These excavations continue to enrich our understanding of the ancient world and give us a fuller view of the past. Archaeology uncovers, both figuratively and literally, new pieces of information that add to or alter our modern knowledge of ancient people and places.
To bring more attention to the Kelsey’s active field projects, we want to answer your questions! Between Tuesday, August 9, and Wednesday, August 31, specialists at the Kelsey will answer all your questions about archaeology and fieldwork. Participating is easy. Search @KelseyMuseum on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, find one of our #TrenchTalkTuesday posts, and type your question in the comments field. Kelsey archaeologists and specialists will respond before the end of August. Your question might even be featured at the Kelsey Museum!
What would you like to know about archaeology? What ancient materials or objects would you like more information about? What about some of the field sites, like Gabii in Italy, Notion in Turkey, Abydos in Egypt, or Jebel Barkal in Sudan? Explore the Kelsey’s Current Field Projects web pages to get you started.
We look forward to your questions!
Not on social media? We still want to hear your questions! Email your archaeology-based questions to KelseyMuse@umich.edu before August 23, 2022.
This Wednesday, Kelsey Museum Associate Research Scientist Geoff Emberling will give a lecture about current archaeological work at the site of Jebel Barkal (ancient Napata) in northern Sudan. The site is being investigated as a joint project of the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums of Sudan and the University of Michigan.
The lecture, “Collaborative Archaeology of Kush in Northern Sudan: Recent Work around Jebel Barkal,” will present the results of the project’s first seasons of work on Meroitic levels of settlement at the site, contemporary with the Roman occupation of Egypt (1st century BCE–1st century CE). Dr. Emberling will also discuss how the long histories of colonialism and structural racism have distorted our understanding of the ancient cultures of Africa and diminished their contributions to world history.
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.
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 andrecounts 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.
Hey, history nerds! For those of you who are within driving distance of Pittsburg and are itching to take a road trip, the Carnegie Science Center has an exhibition currently on view about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.
With over 180 objects on loan from the Naples National Archaeological Museum and an “immersive 4D eruption theater” that uses CGI imagery, surround sound, vibrations, and special effects to bring Mount Vesuvius to life “with startling reality,” Pompeii: The Exhibition seems like it might be worth the price of admission.
Or, for a less bombastic experience, you could come to the Kelsey and sit in the calming quiet of our Villa of the Mysteries room.
If you decide to make the trip, let us know what you think about the exhibit!
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 TED.com earlier this month, the beautifully illustrated video short outlines the rise and fall of this ancient African civilization.
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.
Friends of the Kelsey Museum are quite familiar with the excavations of Karanis and how that project makes up a significant portion of our artifacts and archival collections. The Kelsey has published numerous books and articles about Karanis and the artifacts found there, and we have mounted various exhibitions related to the site and its interpretation.
Even now, almost 100 years since the start of the University of Michigan excavations at the site, materials from Karanis continue to draw researchers who are posing new questions. The existing literature is of course still useful, but new pairs of eyes are looking at the excavation data in different ways and asking new questions. This is exciting for us; new scholarship enlivens the collection.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we highlight the work of one of those new sets of eyes. This year, the Kelsey is honored to welcome a new assistant curator of numismatics, Irene Soto Marín. Many of you may already have read some posts on her new blog, The Social Lives of Coins. Since she arrived in September, Soto Marín has been working through the Kelsey’s numismatic collection, paying specific attention to the nearly 30,000 coins from Karanis (about three-quarters of the entire coin collection).
As artifacts were excavated at the site, the Karanis team would work with officials from the Egyptian Department of Antiquities to decide which items could return to Ann Arbor and which were to stay in Egypt. This system of partage was common throughout foreign excavations in the early part of the 20th century; most of the objects in the Kelsey Museum are here as a result of partage. We also hold the Division Albums from Karanis—photographs of similar items of all kinds (wood, stone, pottery, textiles, etc.) that the Antiquities officials would consult to decide how to divide the finds. The album pages showing the excavated coins are what we present here. These photographs were taken in February 1935.
The Karanis coins were published by Rolfe Haatvedt and E.E. Peterson in 1964, yet they still offer much to discover and learn. Soto Marín and other researchers will continue to study them and produce new publications that will give us greater glimpses into life in Roman Egypt. The Kelsey Museum holds only a portion of the coins that were excavated at Karanis; the photographs from the Division Albums show us those that remain in Egypt. From these photographs and the coins in Ann Arbor, Soto Marín can teach us so much about the site, the times, and the people of Karanis.
We are excited to work with new researchers, and even more excited that one is now at the Kelsey Museum. There is still so much to learn about Karanis. As we make the collections more accessible, we will be able to get more voices, eyes, and minds on the materials and generate new scholarship. Photographs like these are just one way we can ensure such research continues.
By Suzanne Davis, Curator of Conservation, and Carrie Roberts, Conservator
The inability to travel to the Kelsey’s field sites due to the COVID-19 pandemic has made us, well, crazy to travel to the Kelsey’s field sites. If you, too, are experiencing serious wanderlust, we invite you to take a quick photographic mini-break with us. Here’s a beautiful photo and something we love about each of the four sites we currently support.
Suzanne loves the incredibly good-looking site of Notion, Turkey. It’s got everything a conservator could want — the romantic ruins of an entire ancient city, lots of conservation work to be done, and a beautiful seaside location.
This spectacular photo of the ancient temple, cemetery, and city site of Jebel Barkal, Sudan, makes Suzanne miss the desert sunshine and all her fellow Jebel Barkal and El-Kurru teammates.
Carrie is inspired by the ancient landscape of Abydos. It’s great to drink a cup of coffee with the team at sunrise and know that the Seti I temple is only a 10-minute walk from the dig house, while the early dynastic tombs below the desert cliffs can be reached in 20 minutes.
At El-Kurru, Carrie loves village life — walking from the house where we live to the temple site and saying hello and how are you to neighbors on the way, then grabbing a snack at the corner store at the end of the day. She also misses the family we live with, especially the kids.
We are living in interesting times. COVID-19 has changed our daily routines and lifestyles. We are no longer socializing as we normally do. Museums, galleries, and businesses remain closed in order to stymie the spread of the coronavirus. Instead, we work from home as we can, making adjustments to the database, writing policies, connecting with colleagues. We try to carry on as normal — as normal as we can make it.
For Kelsey Museum staff, working from home is difficult, as so much of what we do revolves around art and artifacts. We cannot bring these objects home with us. During this time, our kitchen tables become our offices, our couches our desks. Meetings become virtual, and colleagues get to show off their homes and their pets to their coworkers.
The Kelsey archives also represent the sense of home. For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present several photographs of the Karanis dig house, which was constructed specifically for the staff who worked at the site in the 1920s and 1930s. Viewing these photos gives us a chance to view both the living and working spaces for the likes of E. E. Peterson, Harold Falconer, Frederick Joslin, Joy Fletcher-Allen, George Swain, and so many more. While they were in Egypt, life centered around this house. Work happened here. Laundry happened here. Cooking happened here. Pets lived here. And the residents of the house documented their surroundings and home life.
In these pictures, we see just that. We see the house as it stood in the 1920s and early 1930s (much has changed since its original construction), the staff helping with laundry, with cooking, Mrs. Joy Fletcher-Allen serving as hostess. Less than 100 years ago, the Karanis staff was operating in ways similar to our current experience, albeit under very different circumstances. Eventually, the Karanis staff returned to their normal routines, and in time, so will we.
Camp house at Kom Aushim (Karanis), with flags flying in honor of H. E. Ismail Sidy Pasha’s visit to the Fayum.