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.

 

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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.

Ugly Object of the Month — October 2017

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator

Happy decorative gourd season, folks! In celebration of fall, my favorite time of year, I’d like to feature an object made of my favorite material: stone. Some conservators like glass and ceramics, others like basketry and plant materials. For me, it’s all about stuff made from those vast mineral aggregates of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rock.

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Marble floor fragment from St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. KM 29651.

 

This month’s Ugly Object looks, to me, like a fragment of calcareous stone, probably marble. Its label suggests that it was once part of the floor of St. Peters’ Basilica in Rome. (Imagine that!) If true, how did this chunk of marble get from there to here? The first clue is in the label. It’s a red-and-white hand-written dealer sticker with a cute dotted border. When I spotted it I immediately thought of a label I had seen on another architectural fragment in the collection, the latter one supposedly found at the Theater of Ephesus. It turns out that these two chunks of stone are related. Both were acquired by a wealthy businessman, J.D. Candler of Livonia, sometime in the late 19th century. Candler acquired a number of stone, fresco, and other architectural fragments during his overseas travels, and his son D.W. Candler later gave them to the Kelsey. Separated as they are from their original contexts (by way, no doubt, of some questionable early antiquities dealing), Candler’s fragments and others like them provide useful physical evidence of ancient building materials and technology.

You can learn more about the floor fragment from St. Peters’ in Excavating Archaeology at the University of Michigan, 1817–2017 starting October 18th at the Kelsey. And if you’re a stone nut like me, be sure to check out the drawers beneath the Roman Construction case on the second floor for some impressive stone architectural fragments.