January’s News from the Conservation Lab: Let’s Destroy Stuff!

By SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

Here in the Kelsey Conservation Lab, we started the New Year right by totally destroying a few things. Don’t worry — they weren’t from an ancient artifact or building! For conservation work at the Kelsey’s excavation in El Kurru, Sudan, we wanted to know how much weight the local sandstone bedrock could bear. Enter Bob Spence, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who helped me perform compression or breaking strength tests on samples of the sandstone — by which I mean Bob graciously performed the tests, and I watched the samples be slowly pulverized. A good time was had by all, except maybe the sandstone.

January_cons post
Bob Spence, engineering technician in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, prepares to crush a sample of sandstone from El Kurru.

 

From the Archives 26 — January 2018

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Collections Manager

Excavating Archaeology continues here at the Kelsey Museum. The exhibition showcases numerous, but not all, archaeological projects the University of Michigan has been involved with since 1817. With this exhibition, curators Terry Wilfong and Carla Sinopoli show how U-M has sent researchers all  around the world, highlight important discoveries made by Michigan staff, faculty, and students, and discuss what these discoveries  meant  for the future of archaeology at Michigan.

In 1931, the University of Michigan was quite busy with archaeological endeavors. There were projects at Seleucia (Iraq), Dimé (Soknapaiou Nesos), Karanis (both Egypt), and Sepphoris (Israel). By this time, teams had already been to Carthage (Tunisia) and Pisidian Antioch (Turkey), and were a few years from excavating Terenouthis (Egypt).

The excavation at Sepphoris was a short one, lasting only two months. According to Susan Alcock and Lauren Talalay in their book In the Field: The Archaeological Expeditions of the Kelsey Museum (Ann Arbor, 2006), the finds from the site were impressive, though found in so little time. They cite a water system, a theater, and a villa as some of the results of Leroy Waterman’s work at the site.

Today, 40 artifacts excavated by the University of Michigan at Sepphoris are on long-term loan to the museum at Zippori National Park, the national preserve currently found at the  site. Because of Michigan’s time there, albeit brief, researchers who study Sepphoris continue to visit the Kelsey, physically and virtually, to study our collections and archives. For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a few photographs taken during that 1931 season. These images are quite special. Glass plate negatives from early projects are often no longer with us, but the Sepphoris archive still contains all the original glass negatives. . . They  have all been printed, and some of the prints, as can be seen, were mounted into an album.

In the photographs, we see the site under excavation. We see the staff and workers. We see a site that has undergone  great changes in nearly 90 years. Our archives continue to educate all the people still working at and visiting the site, and will continue to do so for the next 200 years.

 

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Photos and a photo album from the excavations at Sepphoris, 1931. Some are mounted in a photo album.

 

Ugly Object of the Month — January 2018

Happy New Year, Kelsey Blog readers! What better way to begin 2018’s Ugly Object series than with a seriously cute cat coffin? This creative work of bilateral symmetry once held the remains of a mummified cat. The feline shape and decorative elements are charming (just look at those eyes! and the suggestion of a mane around the face…), but what I love most about this coffin is the surprise that comes with discovering that it opens side to side instead of top to bottom. As a result, the coffin’s base is effectively the cat’s seat, and the resulting form is upright, alert, and lifelike. The coffin is displayed closed, so it’s hard to appreciate the fact that, except for a couple of attached ears, its halves are carved from a single, hollowed cut of wood. Wood was a precious commodity in Egypt, so this coffin was nothing to sneeze at. This would have been a fitting enclosure for a creature so closely linked to the divine.

You can see this coffin and other feline-themed artifacts in the Graeco-Roman Egypt gallery of the Upjohn Exhibit Wing.

Cat mummy coffin
Cat mummy coffin, Roman period, 1st–2nd c. AD, Wood, plaster, paint, glass, 36 cm high, 9.5 cm wide, said to be from Saqqara, Egypt. Department of Antiquities purchase, 1935, KM 88775. Photos by Randal Stegmeyer.