From the Archives — October 2016

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager

It’s October, when vampires and werewolves and mummies go out in the cold, dark nights, scaring folks for candy and treats. The Kelsey’s own mummies know a thing or two about wandering outside as well. Just earlier this month, the cat mummy, grain mummy, and one of our bird mummies made the trek to the University of Michigan Hospital to get CT scanned (see “Grain mummy goes to the hospital”).

These three are not the only mummies from our collections that have made such a journey. In 2002, curators Janet Richards and Terry Wilfong, along with student Grant Martin (who initiated this scanning endeavor), took our child mummy (KM 1971.2.179) to the hospital system to be scanned as well. This month’s “From the Archives” highlights this fun and unique adventure. The archives at the Kelsey hold not only the story as written by Terry and Janet, found in the Spring 2002 Kelsey newsletter, but also correspondence, reports, and other ephemera associated with the event.

On display this month are a scan of the 2002 newsletter, where Terry and Janet detail their middle of the night adventures driving a hearse and being welcomed by the staff of the hospital excited to see the VIP guest. Along with their tale, we present two pages from the report written by Martin Grant, where he explains some of the findings from the scanning, including some visuals of the scans themselves and the making of the resin skull (currently on exhibit in the Upjohn Exhibition Wing).

Thrown into the mix is the original outgoing receipt for this transaction (collections managers document all movement of objects leaving and arriving at the Kelsey). It is humorous, in a way, to read the simple note on why the object is leaving. “[O]ne mummy of a child from Kelsey Museum collections for scanning in UHospital after hours.” It is written so nonchalantly, as if a regular occurrence for us. This simple phrasing hides the excitement and buzz from the experience, and the depth of knowledge we acquired as a result.

This was not the first time this mummy received such attention. Many years earlier, the mummy was x-rayed, and that image is shared here as well. As much as this photograph shows us, developing technologies still offer us a greater chance to learn about our artifacts. Maybe in another 10 years, a new machine will come about that will reveal even more about our artifacts, and our mummy will go off in the night again.

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Grain mummy goes to the hospital

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

Last week our colleagues Ron Bude and Michele Sakala, who are MDs in the Radiology Department of  the University of Michigan Health System, arranged for the Kelsey’s grain mummy (and his friends cat mummy and hawk mummy) to have CT scans at the U-M Hospital.

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The grain mummy and the animal mummies positioned on the CT scanner bed.

 

These little mummies are not sick! But CT scanning — computerized tomography scanning — is a great, nondestructive way to look inside an archaeological artifact. This technique uses x-rays, but it’s more detailed than a regular x-ray. The scanner takes images from many different angles, and then special software combines these to create cross-sectional images, or slices, of what was scanned.

 

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Patient identification sign on the scanner.

 

With CT scanning, we’re hoping to see what’s actually inside these objects. For example, what kind of grain is inside the grain mummy? And, are there any little amulets in there with it? What about the cat mummy? Does it actually have cat bones inside?

We don’t have results yet, so stay tuned! We did have a great time at the hospital, which is not something one often says, and the Kelsey artifacts were quite popular with Radiology staff members. Apparently, when you use radiology every day as a diagnostic tool for humans, a cat mummy makes a nice change of pace!

 

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Dr. Ron Bude and the U-M Radiology team who assisted with the scans.

Ugly Object of the Month — October 2016

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator

It’s October, folks, and that means the season of decorative gourds and dressing up in festive costumes is upon us. This is partly why I chose this ceramic figurine of Harpocrates as October’s Ugly Object.

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Ceramic Harpocrates figurine, with intact ground and paint layers. 2nd–3rd century AD. KM 6449.

Who, you might ask, is Harpocrates? He was a deity worshipped in Ptolemaic Egypt, a child version of the sun god Horus. This ceramic figurine bears many of Harpocrates’ signature traits, such as a finger raised to his mouth, the double crown and crescent moon, and a garland. This figurine is also probably one of many identical ceramics produced for mass consumption.  But what’s really cool, to me, is what’s going on the surface: this Harpocrates is seriously decked out in a variety of well-preserved paint colors, which include black, pink, red, yellow, and blue. Equally cool is the likelihood that other ceramics like this one, many of which retain no polychromy at all, were just as colorful.

While documenting the figurine I thought it might be worth doing some technical imaging of the pigments, to get a preliminary idea of what they could be. The longwave ultraviolet luminescence (UVL) image revealed that the pink garland is likely made of rose madder pigment, and the visible-induced infrared luminescence (VIL) image showed traces of Egyptian blue pigment on the structure next to Harpocrates, as well as on his crown. The remaining colors are likely iron-based earth pigments, and the black carbon-based. Other techniques that could help us confirm these results include XRF or FTIR spectroscopies, the first of which (like imaging) is non-invasive.

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Left: UVL image showing orange autofluorescence of madder in the garland. Right: VIL image showing luminescent Egyptian blue stripes to the right of the figure, as well as in the crown.

This highly colorful Harpocrates will be on display at the Kelsey starting February 10, 2017, as part of the upcoming special exhibition The Art of Science and Healing: From Antiquity to the Renaissance, curated by Pablo Alvarez.