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.
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.