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 ANN VAN ROSEVELT, Adjunct Research Scientist Emeritus, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Her learned background includes a BA in classical studies in English from Vassar College and three MA degrees in classical studies, museum procedures, and classical archaeology from the University of Michigan. Associated with the Kelsey for nearly 50 years, currently as a volunteer docent.
Favorite Artifact: Sculpture of a lion. Limestone. Roman period (1st–4th century AD). Karanis, Egypt. KM 25785. U-M Excavations, 1924–1935.
Why. “This lion’s rather human profile reminds me of movie director Alfred Hitchcock! It looks a little like a cartoon character. It’s a comfortably sized lion and not frightening. There probably weren’t free-ranging lions in Egypt during the Coptic period, so I can’t help but wonder if the sculptor was using a sphinx for a model?”
About Artifact: One of many sculptures that University of Michigan archaeologists uncovered at Karanis during its 1924–1935 excavations, this sculpture of a lion appeared in Curator Elaine Gazda’s 1978 Kelsey exhibition Guardians of the Nile: Sculptures from Karanis in the Fayum (c. 250 BC–AD 450).
Background. According to Kelsey curator T. G. Wilfong, Karanis was a town in Egypt’s Fayum region, founded around 250 BC to house a population meant to work newly reclaimed agricultural land. It was a farming community with a diverse population and a complex material culture that lasted for hundreds of years after its foundation. Ultimately abandoned by its inhabitants and partly covered by the encroaching desert, Karanis eventually proved to be an extraordinarily rich archaeological site, yielding thousands of artifacts and texts on papyrus that provide a wealth of information about daily life in the Roman-period Egyptian town.
The University of Michigan excavated at Karanis from 1924 to 1935, and during these seasons the Egyptian government granted nearly 45,000 of the artifacts discovered to the University of Michigan. Along with extensive archival records and photographs of the excavation, the Karanis material forms one of the major components of the collection of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.
Find It. On the first floor of the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing, look for the statue of the seated priest near the stairway to the second floor. You’ll find the sculpture of a lion in the exhibit case right behind the seated priest on the left.
Learn More. A number of books about U-M’s Karanis excavations are available in our Gift Shop, or online from ISD, including: Karanis: An Egyptian Town in Roman Times; Discoveries of the University of Michigan Excavation to Egypt (1924-1935), edited by Elaine K. Gazda with new preface and updated bibliography by T. G. Wilfong.