excavations

mudbrick house with flags

From the Archives #52 — March 2020

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

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.

house in the desert from a distance
The house as it appeared in the summer of 1932. KM photograph 0465.

mudbrick house with flags

Camp house at Kom Aushim (Karanis), with flags flying in honor of H. E. Ismail Sidy Pasha’s visit to the Fayum.

woman seated on wall.
Our hostess, Mrs. Edgar Fletcher-Allen, with our cook Ahmad Muhammed in the background. KM photograph 5.2172.
two young girls standing near a wall
Kamls Siddiq and Saiya Abd el Mula, laundry girls. KM photograph 5.2458.

From the Archives 26 — January 2018

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Collections Manager

Excavating Archaeology continues here at the Kelsey Museum. The exhibition showcases numerous, but not all, archaeological projects the University of Michigan has been involved with since 1817. With this exhibition, curators Terry Wilfong and Carla Sinopoli show how U-M has sent researchers all  around the world, highlight important discoveries made by Michigan staff, faculty, and students, and discuss what these discoveries  meant  for the future of archaeology at Michigan.

In 1931, the University of Michigan was quite busy with archaeological endeavors. There were projects at Seleucia (Iraq), Dimé (Soknapaiou Nesos), Karanis (both Egypt), and Sepphoris (Israel). By this time, teams had already been to Carthage (Tunisia) and Pisidian Antioch (Turkey), and were a few years from excavating Terenouthis (Egypt).

The excavation at Sepphoris was a short one, lasting only two months. According to Susan Alcock and Lauren Talalay in their book In the Field: The Archaeological Expeditions of the Kelsey Museum (Ann Arbor, 2006), the finds from the site were impressive, though found in so little time. They cite a water system, a theater, and a villa as some of the results of Leroy Waterman’s work at the site.

Today, 40 artifacts excavated by the University of Michigan at Sepphoris are on long-term loan to the museum at Zippori National Park, the national preserve currently found at the  site. Because of Michigan’s time there, albeit brief, researchers who study Sepphoris continue to visit the Kelsey, physically and virtually, to study our collections and archives. For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a few photographs taken during that 1931 season. These images are quite special. Glass plate negatives from early projects are often no longer with us, but the Sepphoris archive still contains all the original glass negatives. . . They  have all been printed, and some of the prints, as can be seen, were mounted into an album.

In the photographs, we see the site under excavation. We see the staff and workers. We see a site that has undergone  great changes in nearly 90 years. Our archives continue to educate all the people still working at and visiting the site, and will continue to do so for the next 200 years.

 

Photos and a photo album from the excavations at Sepphoris, 1931. Some are mounted in a photo album.

 

From the Archives 24 — October 2017

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager

This year, the University of Michigan is celebrating its bicentennial. Founded originally in Detroit in 1817, the University has enjoyed a tremendous history. In that time, the staff, faculty, and students have achieved a great deal, with much to be proud of and to showcase.

Among that storied history are all the archaeological projects the University has undertaken in the last 200 years. The University of Michigan, through its archaeological programs, has been around the world multiple times, visiting fantastic sites in far off countries. It is these projects that are now the focus of our most recent exhibition, Excavating Archaeology @ U-M: 1817-2017. The exhibition is now open to the public, here at the Kelsey Museum. Through this exhibition, we display artifacts gathered together by University of Michigan archaeologists. Some of those objects are from the Kelsey Museum collections, while others are on loan from the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology.

The University still has excavations in some of the countries exhibited in the galleries, but these days, countries like Egypt do not permit artifacts to leave the country.  Instead, researchers must visit these countries in order to study artifacts in local or national museums and storage magazines. But this was not always the case. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, when Michigan first went to places such as Karanis, these countries often permitted scholars to bring artifacts back to Michigan. This is how the Kelsey Museum formed much of its collections.

For this month’s From the Archives, we present records of how the decision was made about which objects would be kept in Egypt and which would be sent to Michigan. The Egyptian government had antiquities staff working with Michigan staff on the excavations. When artifacts were accumulated, they were brought together and arranged according to type (coins, wood objects, ceramics, papyri, etc.). They were then photographed.  Looking over the photographs, the antiquities staff member marked with red Xs which ones were to be kept in the country, leaving the rest to be sent to Michigan. Look closely at some of these photographs and you can still see a red “X” on some of the objects.

 

These black and white photographs were later bound into thick books and stored in our archives.  Recently, an intern and I carefully took these books apart and made color scans of the photographs to preserve this valuable information.  In addition to information about what objects went where, these photographs are often the only image we have of certain artifacts.

The Kelsey Museum possesses a long history of archaeological excavations, many of which have been highlighted in this blog. Now, thanks to Professors Terry Wilfong and Carla Sinopoli, these and many other excavations are now available for viewing in our latest exhibition.

From the Archives 19 — April 2017

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager

Around the world, the Kelsey Museum is known as the home for the excavations at Karanis, which the University of Michigan conducted between 1924 and 1935. The collections and archives from this expedition continue to fascinate us, and they provide a wealth of information we continue to revisit through many projects. Scholars from everywhere look to the collections, both artifacts and archives, to further research and our understanding of Egypt under Roman power. Here in Ann Arbor, the collections play an important role with classes and exhibitions.

When Francis Kelsey was finding funding for the Karanis expedition, he was actually initiating a fund to excavate at multiple locations. In 1924, U-M went to Karanis, as well as Antioch and Carthage. These latter two sites turned out to have single-season excavations, as the focus was placed on Karanis due to its rich artifact and papyrological finds. U-M stayed there through 1935, when finally excavations were completed. However, the team did not excavate only at Karanis during this time, as they ventured to other sites while in Egypt. In 1931, the team went to Soknapaiou Nesos (Dimé), and in 1935 they excavated at Terenouthis. Each of these also turned out to be a single-season excavation due to a number of reasons.

Since 1931, the Kelsey has still housed the archives and artifacts from Dimé. Not nearly as plentiful as Karanis, it still provides a wealth of information for archaeologists working at Dimé today. These archives were deposited within the papers of the Karanis Expeditions, not even separated into their own collections. Because of the tremendous attention paid to Karanis, the Dime archives are not as often studied.

Over the past academic year, Classics professor Arthur Verhoogt made an effort to focus on Dimé again. Prof. Verhoogt worked with two UROP students, Bianca Gallina and Josiah Olah, to revisit this collection, study what they could within the Kelsey as well as Bentley Historical Library. The two students scoured the letters, papers, drawings, and maps, and made note of what they found that would be useful to researchers.

For this month’s From the Archives, we present some of the items they digitized. Much like Karanis, the excavations at Dime resulted in some impressive maps. These will likely look familiar to some readers, as the style and look of these maps are similar to those from Karanis. The maps include triangulation points, cross sections, and overview of the excavation site. Having these on hand will assist us in understanding the work carried out at Dime nearly 90 years ago. This is even more important to our colleagues who continue working at the site. This Spring term, the students will continue digitizing more archival materials, including house drawings. In Autumn, the Dime excavators will visit Ann Arbor to further research the materials housed here. By then, we hope to have everything digitized to provide even greater access.

From the Archives — March 2017

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager

The archives at the Kelsey Museum are a treasure trove of valuable information, but it also acts as a memory holder. People who have contributed to the archives routinely return to find something they had forgotten long ago, only to find it within the Museum. Often it is a memory jolt, reminiscence, or a search for something to include in a report or study. The great thing about making the archives available, and fielding these requests, is not only the ability to support research on whatever level, but those requests often lead to conversations. Those conversations start revealing bits of history that are not apparent in the archives. Names of people. Stories about them. What it meant to live with a team in that time under those conditions in that place.

This month’s “From the Archives” focuses on this find from the Qasr al-Hayr archives. A simple request a few days ago paved the way to look for these memories. Often the act of searching for one item leads to the finding of so many more. Here we see a bit of that. We see team members as they were in 1964, going about their business, living their lives. There was no thought about an unknown archivist looking at these same photos 43 years later. Or that these would be shared widely. Instead, the photographs of the architecture, landscapes, and finds, are what normally make it into the public eye through publications.

One of the most humbling aspects of working in archives is this reminder of how time passes. Our own photographs may some day be viewed in the same manner. We take photographs and save documents in order to remind ourselves years from now, but these items have a longer shelf life. Though names may be lost, their presence is still with us. And so, too, will our presence live on.

 

From the Archives — March 2017

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager

The name George R. Swain is one that is familiar to many in the Kelsey community. His photographs dominate the archives, and they make the bulk of those from excavations such as Karanis. He was also instrumental in the photography of collections from overseas, and capturing people in the countries he visited. Through his lens, we see life as it was in Egypt and Turkey/Syria in the 1910s and 1920s.

Swain’s is not the only name that played an important role in the history of Kelsey photography, though. Starting in the 1950s, Fred Anderegg worked with the Museum on a number of excavations, including the project at St. Catherine’s on the Sinai Peninsula. In the following years, Mr. Anderegg spent time photographing the Kelsey artifacts in order to document them. What ensued was thousands of photographs, all done in black-and-white on 35mm rolls. Thanks to Fred, the Kelsey now has thousands upon thousands of these 35mm images cut up into strips, organized by year they were photographed, the roll number within that year, and frame within roll. Each 35mm strip envelope includes a key for which artifact was photographed, and which frame it can be found in.

Many of these photographs were then contact printed, where a similar size print was made in the positive. These were adhered to the accession cards that acted as the database before computers became such an integral part of our daily work.

Over the years, the Registry has worked to digitize some of these when we needed good, quality photographs of our collections. However, with tens of thousands of these strips waiting to be digitized, it has been a daunting task, to say the least. A few have been digitized as needed, but only a handful and quite sporadically.

Recently, the Kelsey Museum partnered with the History of Art’s Visual Resources Collection (VRC) to pilot test a project where these photographs will be digitized en masse, with the proper metadata and filenames attached to each file. This will save the Kelsey many person-hours, and will allow for a greater inclusion of photographs in our database and for other uses. Though they are still in black-and-white, they provide great photographs where we can easily distinguish each item from another. These are used for publications, but also serve as record shots of our collection.

The entire process will take some time to complete, if it does go forward (we started with about 100 rolls to test out and see if we can continue it). However, it is a much quicker process than what we could do internally, and will result in higher-quality scans. In due time, these will be available to Kelsey staff, as well as researchers and students looking to get a glimpse of items often kept hidden out of view.

From the Archives — December 2016

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager

When December comes around, faculty, staff, and students often scurry away from Ann Arbor in order to spend time with their friends and family for the holidays. Campus becomes a bit quieter, the lines at the cafes are short and manageable. People relax for a bit before beginning all over again in January.

The excavations at Karanis in the 1920s and 1930s functioned a bit differently. Excavations in Egypt are best when scheduled for non-summer months, in order to better deal with the climate (summer months in north Africa can be brutally hot!). For example, our current project at Abydos often goes in early spring. The Karanis team members were aware of this factor, and prepared for the situation. Excavations took place in late Autumn and early Winter, meaning the crew would be there over the holiday break and New Year’s. Though some family accompanied them overseas, the extended family was not there.

The staff of the Karanis project tried to make the camp as close to “home” as possible. This would include having some extra family along with them. A part of many families is the inclusion of furry children, the dogs and cats that help round out a home. For this month’s “From the Archives,” we are presenting a selection of some of these furry friends, the mascots that kept staff company during the long days and months in Egypt.

The Kelsey Museum has often showcased Plupy, a dog named after a popular series of dog stories. But there were other animals there as well. There were the cats that were allowed to roam around catching mice, including Topsy. There was also the water donkey. Plupy and Gyp were the primary dogs of camp.

The publication Karanis Revealed showcased some of these animals, even featuring the picture of Gyp chasing Topsy up a flag pole.

This holiday, as you try to keep warm, the Kelsey Registry extends the warmest holiday wishes to you and your pets. The need and desire to keep furry friends by our sides is one we have witnessed for a long time. Even in a temporary living space like the camp at Karanis, there was this need for having an extended family nearby.

 

 

 

From the Archives — June 2016

Apologies for the tardiness of this post …

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Though the summer months see a drop in university class visits to the Kelsey, the museum is by no means less busy when classes are not in session. Researchers who are students and professors here at Michigan, or at other universities around the world, take a break from their teaching responsibilities and make their way to the field and museums to continue their research. The Kelsey hosts a fair number of these scholars. Projects we did not have time for during the academic year are saved for the slower summer months.

As to be expected, the site of Karanis garners much attention from researchers. Every year we have numerous people come to study our collections on this Graeco-Roman site, or the archives that still contain a depth of information waiting to be revealed. This summer is no different, as Karanis has been the focus of an ongoing trial investigation by a group of Michigan scholars. Headed by Dr. Arthur Verhoogt (Classics) and Dr. David Stone (Kelsey Museum), a team has been assembled to determine what it would take to finally digitize, in a controlled and consistent manner, the entirety of Karanis holdings. This includes all the artifacts excavated at Karanis and brought to Michigan, but also all the maps, and archives, and photographs. Over the years, we’ve digitized some of the items, but only specific ones and only as requested.

This team, which also included graduate students Alexandra Creola (IPCAA), Caitlin Clerkin (IPCAA), and Lizzie Nabney (Classics), undergraduate students Emily Lime (Classics) and Mollie Fox (History of Art), professors Brendan Haug (Classics) and Laura Motta (Kelsey Museum), staff Sebastián Encina (Kelsey Museum) and Monica Tsuneishi (Papyrology), has decided to approach the site in a new manner. Previous research and publications have focused on material types. We have publications on the coins of Karanis, or the pottery, or papyrus. Instead, Drs. Stone and Verhoogt want to look at the context of the finds. How did the papyrus relate to coins found within the same space? What does a figurine found alongside a spindle whorl tell us about the inhabitants of house C56?

Over the past two months, students Mollie and Emily have been busy finding, cataloguing, and digitizing items from two contexts, C65 and C137. The team decided to focus on these two structures as they seemed of great interest due to their contents, and also because for a two-month trial project, looking at anything more would have been impossible. Mollie and Emily spent time going through the archives and identifying materials that related to these two structures (one house and one granary). They were then pulled, entered into a project-specific database, and eventually scanned or photographed. Among these was a 32-foot-long map that showed a cross section of Karanis which we are excited to finally have scanned!

The project was generously supported by the Michigan Humanities Collaboratory, an endeavor funded by the Office of the Provost that seeks to bring together people from separate departments to work together towards a single goal. Several projects were funded for this summer term, including this Kelsey-Classic-Papyrology project. We hope to turn this trial period into a much bigger one, where the entirety of Karanis materials are digitized and made available to researchers freely. By doing so, researchers can approach the materials in their own way, without hindrance. At the conclusion of the two year project, we will have a better understanding on what we have here in Ann Arbor, a web portal will be in place for ease of research, and there may be publications and an exhibition. While students continue to digitize and catalogue, graduate students and faculty will analyze the materials to make better sense of the spaces and what is possible with what we have on hand.

While it is easy to get excited about what the future will hold, there is equal buzz about what has been found already. Mollie and Emily have scanned the 32-foot map, which is amazing, but they have also found photographs and archival materials we have not seen since the 1930s. There has been closer inspection into the artifacts, what they tell us about the citizens of Karanis, and the decorations found on objects and on walls. A sample of these is shared here, so that we can look anew at a place we members of the Kelsey community know so well, yet we continue to find new ways to see it.

 

 

This summer has proven to be busy in the Kelsey Registry. This project has meant a steady stream of people in the office every day. Every computer is occupied, every free space taken up by archives or artifacts. But this busy-ness has generated an energy and excitement about what we can do with Karanis. There are endless possibilities, and we will keep busy this summer thinking about those and working to make them a reality.

Check out the Karanis Collaboratory website for more information about the project: http://sites.lsa.umich.edu/karanis-collaboratory/

Welcome to Karanis: December 2012

imageimageBY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan

A month has passed since I arrived at Karanis, and work has been progressing well. Several areas are open at the moment, encompassing different sections of the site. The team is working mostly in areas not excavated by the Michigan team in the 1920s, outside the original Michigan boundaries. So far they have been excavating at a granary to the east of the North Temple, a kiln south of the South Temple, and a bathhouse north of the North Temple.

The finds from all sections have been interesting. Plenty of pottery has been found throughout the site, which is not at all surprising. Most of it consists of body sherds, but on occasion the team has found more unusual pieces, including filtered rims and whole vessels.

Glass and terracotta are still appearing. Fragments of a mask, possibly, and fragments of a shrine, potentially, have been excavated at the granary. This trench has also yielded a leather sandal, two large stone basins, and a mortar.

The site of Karanis has been a blessing for scholars for the amounts and types of materials discovered. This includes organics, which are still present: seeds, charcoal, textiles, and animal remains have come up in great numbers. Most interesting of all, though, are the large baskets and rope/cordage found. The weaving patterns used and shapes are reminiscent of those in the Kelsey collections.

There have been a few surprises thus far. The granary team found a pen that could have held animals, but its construction is puzzling. Walls were added that appear to serve no purpose. There is a hole in the wall, but its placement is right behind the newly built wall. Room 1 in the granary has a low-wall bin that seems quite small to have held much.

Unfortunately, one trench, the kiln, lies in the area destroyed by the sebakhim (farmers who dug up mudbricks for reuse). The levels here are disturbed, though they are still yielding plenty of finds. The room has two kilns, one small and one large. Though one glass fragment was found, it is likely this kiln was used for ceramics, as plenty of pottery and slag are found in the trench.

Due to ongoing work at Karanis, I will not be posting pictures of finds, as the team will likely want to publish their materials. However, I can show personal pictures of the site to give the reader a sense of the state of the town. Much has changed since Michigan left in 1935. Buildings that once stood prominently are covered by sand. Walls that towered over workers no longer exist. Wall paintings, decorated niches, dovecotes, arches are no longer visible. Some have been covered by backfill. Some have been claimed by the desert sands. Some have been destroyed by human hands.

When I return to Ann Arbor, I will present additional photographs to show the difference between 1920s Karanis and 2012 Karanis. Most has changed as detailed above. But the images shown here give a glimpse of how some structures remain unchanged.

A month has passed since I arrived at Karanis, and work has been progressing well. Several areas are open at the moment, encompassing different sections of the site. The team is working mostly in areas not excavated by the Michigan team in the 1920s, outside the original Michigan boundaries. So far they have been excavating at a granary to the east of the North Temple, a kiln south of the South Temple, and a bathhouse north of the North Temple.

The finds from all sections have been interesting. Plenty of pottery has been found throughout the site, which is not at all surprising. Most of it consists of body sherds, but on occasion the team has found more unusual pieces, including filtered rims and whole vessels.

Glass and terracotta are still appearing. Fragments of a mask, possibly, and fragments of a shrine, potentially, have been excavated at the granary. This trench has also yielded a leather sandal, two large stone basins, and a mortar.

The site of Karanis has been a blessing for scholars for the amounts and types of materials discovered. This includes organics, which are still present: seeds, charcoal, textiles, and animal remains have come up in great numbers. Most interesting of all, though, are the large baskets and rope/cordage found. The weaving patterns used and shapes are reminiscent of those in the Kelsey collections.

There have been a few surprises thus far. The granary team found a pen that could have held animals, but its construction is puzzling. Walls were added that appear to serve no purpose. There is a hole in the wall, but its placement is right behind the newly built wall. Room 1 in the granary has a low-wall bin that seems quite small to have held much.

Unfortunately, one trench, the kiln, lies in the area destroyed by the sebakhim (farmers who dug up mudbricks for reuse). The levels here are disturbed, though they are still yielding plenty of finds. The room has two kilns, one small and one large. Though one glass fragment was found, it is likely this kiln was used for ceramics, as plenty of pottery and slag are found in the trench.

Due to ongoing work at Karanis, I will not be posting pictures of finds, as the team will likely want to publish their materials. However, I can show personal pictures of the site to give the reader a sense of the state of the town. Much has changed since Michigan left in 1935. Buildings that once stood prominently are covered by sand. Walls that towered over workers no longer exist. Wall paintings, decorated niches, dovecotes, arches are no longer visible. Some have been covered by backfill. Some have been claimed by the desert sands. Some have been destroyed by human hands.

When I return to Ann Arbor, I will present additional photographs to show the difference between 1920s Karanis and 2012 Karanis. Most has changed as detailed above. But the images shown here give a glimpse of how some structures remain unchanged.

Welcome to Karanis: November 2012

imageBY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan

The University of Michigan’s Karanis excavations in the 1920s/1930s profoundly affected numerous departments at the University. Led by Francis Kelsey, the Karanis team collected artifacts that form the core of the collections housed in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. The nearly 50,000 pieces remain a focus of research, exhibition, and outreach despite the fact that Michigan left the site in 1935.

In 2005, Prof. Willeke Wendrich of UCLA procured a permit to excavate at Karanis. Since then, Dr. Wendrich’s teams have continued research at the site to expand our knowledge of Graeco-Roman Egypt, particularly in the provincial areas.

This season, Fall 2012, Dr. Wendrich has been kind enough to extend me an invitation to join the Karanis team in the familiar position of registrar. During my stay here, I will be seeing the freshly excavated materials currently being found at the site and have a chance to compare them to what Kelsey and Enoch Peterson dug up in the 1920s and 1930s. At the same time, when I can, I will be writing a blog for the Kelsey Museum to share my experiences and thoughts about the current state of Karanis.

I’ve already spent two days at the site and have marveled at its sheer size and condition. Though the Kelsey Museum holds the original plans and maps, the chance to see it in person has given me the proper perspective on how vast the site is and how small the rooms actually are. Unfortunately, Karanis no longer stands as it once did. The views of Karanis captured by George Swain and his team of photographers (including Peterson and Easton Kelsey) are not what the visitor will find today. Many walls have collapsed, many structures no longer stand.

In the coming months, I will update this blog with new findings from the field. As register, I will see all finds come across my desk. I will speak with all the specialists and gather information about those items, and how they compare to the Kelsey’s holdings. I will photograph the site and try to do so from the same angles as Swain. All this I will share with you.

This wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of Dr. Willeke Wendrick and Kelsey Director Dr. Sharon Herbert. To both of them I owe a great deal of gratitude.

Until next time, back out into the field.