From the Archives — January 2017

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager

Upon entering the Kelsey Museum, visitors are greeted by an imposing and daunting figure. King Darius the Great of the Persian Empire stands before them with a warning for those who cast gaze upon him. The reproduction on display is made from a negative impression taken at the site of the original monumental relief at Bisitun (Behistun), Iran. There, about 100 meters up on the side of a mountain, we see Darius and his soldiers as they conquered would-be usurpers. Darius, in his grandiosity, displays his power in a manner befitting his reign.

The cast on display at the Kelsey was made from a latex squeeze formed by U-M professor George Cameron in 1948 on his visit to Iran (and other locations). Some photographs of the squeeze-making are on display with the cast, but recently a collection of more Cameron photographs have found their way to the Kelsey via History of Art. These remained uncatalogued for years, until they were re-discovered and entered into the Kelsey photographs database.

The images show Cameron’s visit to Iran, and the process of squeeze-making. We also get a glimpse of the local village from high atop the mountain. We see the people working with him, including a young unnamed boy that may be related somehow to Cameron. But what is most impressive is the sheer placement of the relief, high on this mountain, dangerous to get to. At this height, it would be a daunting task to place anything, but Darius had his own image, his soldiers, and his captives here as well (with one underfoot). Above them is the god Ahura Mazda who bestowed upon Darius this victory.

Surrounding the entire scene is the text of Darius’ proclamation and details of his accomplishments. He speaks of the evils, the lies, and how some would take what is rightfully his. As seen in the photographs (and more easily determined from the drawing), the text reaches high above and below the figures. It stretches far to the right and all the way to the left. Darius had plenty to say, but the real reason for so much text is that Darius, great as he was, was aware that this location was along a major trade route. Though he could have written the inscription in Persian only, he knew people along the road spoke various languages. Thus, the text is found in Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian. Thanks to this, researchers were able to take what they knew of Persian and use the rest to translate and understand the cuneiform script employed.

The use of multiple languages is not new. We have seen that elsewhere, such as Romans speaking Greek about the Mediterranean, or the Rosetta Stone of Egypt, and how it allowed us to understand Egyptian hieroglyphics. It is an awareness that multiculturalism exists, and by taking note of this, the message can be disseminated more broadly.

 

Ugly Object of the Month — January 2017

By SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

We’re getting off to a rather late start with the Ugly Object this month — I was so excited about voting for 2016’s Ugly of Object the Year* that I almost forgot to pick an inaugural object for 2017!

Well, better late than never, folks, because this one is a winner. It’s a slingshot pellet and man, is it ugly. No need to elaborate on how ugly, because I think it’s pretty obvious. You can see it on view at the Kelsey starting next month as part of the exhibition The Art and Science of Healing: From Antiquity to the Renaissance.

jan
Lead slingshot pellet. Roman period. Rome. Gift of Esther van Deman, 1938. KM 6677d.

This little beauty is featured in a part of the exhibition that discusses medicine for the Roman army. Back in the day, this is the kind of thing that might end up embedded in your body after combat (and then have to be extracted by a surgeon). Ugh!

* Vote for 2016’s Ugly Object of the Year HERE!

Ugly Object of the Month – January

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

We’re getting off to a rather late start with Ugly Object this month – I was so excited about voting for 2016’s Ugly of Object the Year* that I almost forgot to pick an inaugural object for 2017!

Well, better late than never, folks, because this one is a winner. It’s a sling shot pellet and man is it ugly. No need to elaborate on how ugly, because I think it’s pretty obvious. You can see it on view at the Kelsey starting next month as part of the exhibition “The Art and Science of Healing: from Antiquity to the Renaissance.”

jan
Sling Shot Pellet. Lead. Roman Period. Rome. Gift of Esther van Deman, 1938. 6677d.

This little beauty is featured in a part of the exhibition that discusses medicine for the Roman army. Back in the day, this is the kind of thing that might end up embedded in your body after combat (and then have to be extracted by a surgeon). Ugh!

*Vote for 2016’s Ugly Object of the Year HERE!

A student’s perspective

BY PAIGE DE RUE, Kelsey Registry Intern and Major in Classical Archaeology and Anthropology

This past fall semester has been truly an exciting experience since I was provided with the awesome opportunity to work as an intern for the Kelsey Registry. Having experience working with a paleontological museum collection, I was familiar with some basic collections etiquette, but nothing could have prepared me for how thrilled I was to be working with archaeological material- my field of interest and study. My first day as an intern, I was a little intimidated to be working in such a pristine and restricted environment. However, I adjusted to this new environment just fine and focused my attention more on working with the collections, which was the best part of the internship of course! Working hands-on with the artifacts, I was often responsible for pulling objects needed for research or class use and returning them to their permanent location once they were no longer needed. I did an inventory of a couple cabinets and assisted with condition reports for a portion of loaned artifacts. Sometimes my help was needed for class visits to assist in watching the objects and ensuring their proper handling by students. This internship also taught me how vital a database system is to such a large collection. The database is essential for finding any artifact in the collection. It keeps track of temporary and permanent locations, gives you a history of where the artifacts have been in the past, and so much more.

A project I completed by the end of the semester involved reorganizing a portion of the collection in permanent storage. This project required extensive planning before any physical movement could take place in order to ensure a manageable project and safe handling of artifacts in drawers. I helped the collection become more consolidated and easily accessible by combining worked bone artifacts into one cabinet. I feel very proud to know that I have helped the future of the collection and that I was able to reorganize some artifacts in such a way that makes them better accessible for researchers, class use, and the conservators.

Without this internship experience, I do not think my long-term career goals would be the same as of today. The Kelsey Registry has shown me that I thoroughly enjoy working with archaeological collections in the museum setting versus working with archaeological material in the field. In my future, I hope to be working with museums collections and I know I will forever be thankful for my great experience as an intern here at the Kelsey!

 

 

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.