From the Archives — July 2016

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

 

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Istanbul is a beautiful city. For the readers who have had the pleasure of visiting this majestic city, you will know the wonders to be found around each corner. The Hagia Sophia standing iconically in Sultanahmet, not far from the Blue Mosque. In between a park where people gather at all times of day, but that comes to life at night. The area of Sultanahmet, though touristy, is ripe with colours and glamorous views from atop hotels that look out over the Bosphorus.

A few minutes away one can get lost in the Grand Bazaar. Various corridors will take the visitor to shops of all kinds. If you need a souvenir, you can find it in the bazaar. Fresh fruits, fish and meats, nuts, spices, including Iranian saffron, are all there for the picking. Jewelry and household adornments. Clothing and housewares. An ornate tea set that would look great in your parent’s house. Hours later, you might still find yourself going down paths that are new to you, and keep finding new goods you cannot live without. The shopkeepers eager to encourage you to buy.

Walk long enough in the bazaar and you might come to an exit eventually. Though you entered coming from Sultanahmet, you find a new exit. This one brings you directly to the Bosphorus and the Galata Bridge. There is still much to see on the old side of the city, but you wander onto the bridge. Here, along the lower level, you can stop for lunch at one of the numerous restaurants clamoring for your patronage. Enjoy the fish coming off the boats and wash it down with the local brew, Efes.

From here, you can continue to the new side of the city, where modern shops with brand names litter Istiklal Street. You see more cafes, where artists gather to talk the hot topic. Restaurants and food vendors are found on every corner, and between. The Galata Tower towering over this area, and the steep steps leading you up to get a good view. Turn around, or climb the tower (which has a restaurant), and glance again at the Bosphorus and the old city. The minarets sprinkling the city from end to end. You see the bazaar waiting to greet you again. Maybe you continue to Taksim Square, or visit Galatasaray Lisesi, the high school on Istiklal. Or you do some shopping.

Eventually you return to Galata Bridge, but rather than head back into the old city, you take a ferry tour of the Bosphorus. A tour guide pointing out the famous buildings in landmarks, as you relax on the gentle waters. When done, you head back to Sultanahmet and you see a gathering of people. What is this, you wonder, and you come close to an outdoor theatre where whirling dervish dancers perform. They spin to the music, and you find yourself lost in the motion.

Nearby, as it is dark, you see families out playing with light toys that shoot up in the sky. Street vendors sell corn and other treats. Others, including locals and tourists, duck into hookah lounges, where they enjoy some chai and flavored shisha.

There is much to this city, and Francis Kelsey and George Swain found something quite similar when they visited. Back then, the city was still known as Constantinople, though in his photos, Swain refers to a “Stamboul.” The city has changed much since the 1920s. A comparison of photos shows the spread of buildings and new construction found everywhere. Still, locals will look over these photos and see much they recognize. And they speak to the changes to modern times. The photos Swain took are, quite literally, a snapshot of a bygone time, but one not that long ago.

Istanbul has been an important city for a long time. It is where Asia meets Europe. Much trade goes through this city, as it also controls access to the Black Sea. It is no wonder that Kelsey visited many times on his way back and forth between North Africa and Europe, with stops in Palestine and Syria. And many present-day Kelsey archaeologists go through Istanbul on their way to Notion, or Aphrodisias, or any number of sites where Michigan has a presence. Istanbul is a magical city, one highly recommended to visit. It is full of life and beautiful scenes. Nothing can detract from this.

Low-tech adhesive testing for Egyptian polychrome limestone

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

One of my favorite conservation activities is researching practical solutions to complex condition problems. Example problem: how to stabilize flaky, powdery paint on deteriorating Egyptian limestone artifacts. The solution? Some kind of adhesive. But which kind would work best in an outdoor environment on salt-laden painted stone?

To figure this out I took a look at published information on the treatment of painted Egyptian limestone sculpture and wall paintings. There’s a lot of information out there on this topic, and I wanted to see for myself how some of the adhesives tested by conservators and scientists performed on a painted, salty limestone surface. The Kelsey Conservation Lab has limited equipment for this type of research, although we often partner up with labs that do (check back with the Kelsey blog for an upcoming post on our collaboration with UM’s Aerospace Engineering Department). One thing I could do in-house was to create mockups of the problem surface to approximate how each adhesive might perform in situ.

 

Creating mockups that accurately represent the materials and conditions of an ancient paint surface required some creativity. I used travertine tiles as a base, and soaked half of them in a solution of sodium chloride, or halite. This type of salt is present in much of the soil in Egypt, and has been shown to have an impact on adhesive performance. Stone was often covered with a “preparation” layer (or layers) of plaster before paint was applied, so I applied Plaster of Paris to each tile. I then applied a layer of red ochre in gum Arabic — a plant-derived binder used in ancient Egyptian wall painting — with a high pigment-to-gum ratio representing the often diminished state of ancient binders on polychrome limestone. A section of each material — stone, plaster, and paint — was left visible on each mockup.

I applied five different adhesives to the tiles, leaving a number of them untreated as a control. I recorded their working properties, absorption, and resulting color changes, and then placed them outside to see how the adhesives fare in an exposed environment on both salty and un-salty mockups. From this low-tech experiment I hope to determine, from a practical angle, which adhesive to use on artifacts both at the Kelsey Museum and in field settings.

Ugly Object of the Month — July 2016

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator for Conservation, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

KM1698
Glazed clay lamp. Roman period. Cologne. 2nd–4th century AD. KM 1698.

It’s Halloween in July! This special Kelsey object is ugly AND spooky. It’s a ceramic lamp with the top molded to look like an actor’s mask. I don’t have much more to say about this — it’s just creepy and cool. Can you imagine how it would look with a burning wick sticking out of the mouth?

This lamp was off view for several months while we hosted the special exhibition Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero, but now you can see it again! And you should! It’s so small that it’s easy to overlook, so make a special effort to find it. It’s worth it. It’s on the second floor in the “Gaul” case, in the gallery that explores the Roman provinces. See the map below.

Last but not least — thanks to our devoted reader Kate Larson, at the Corning Museum of Glass — we discovered that Ugly Object of the Month has a cousin on the University College London Museums and Collections Blog: Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month! While you’re over there looking at the fossily fish, you can also check out some great conservation posts, many written by my grad-school pal Susi Pancaldo. Enjoy!

 

2nd floor w lamp

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.

 

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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/