From the Archives 36 — November 2018

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

The primary purpose of the Kelsey Museum archives is to document the activities of the Museum and capture history that will inform future research. Scholars visit the Kelsey archives to find information relating to excavations. When they want to know, for example, the measurements of the walls at Karanis, or the findspot for that certain vase from Seleucia, or when the excavation team was at Lahoun, they will peruse the records in the archives. Kelsey staff often use the archives to learn how older exhibitions were mounted, how certain artifacts were displayed, or what font was used in an exhibition 30 years ago. This history proves invaluable to the work that takes place at the Kelsey every day.

One of the pleasures of working in archives is finding information that was captured as a memento, but not meant to further research. These are snapshots of life — lectures and parties, events where people came together to socialize. These images will not likely be featured in any publication, nor will researchers from across the world ask to see them. But they remain an interesting view of a time long past, where friends we know, or knew, can be seen in another era.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present some random photographs found years ago in the archives. They were never included in our archival photographs database, so identification proved problematic. However, they were seen as being too valuable to the Kelsey’s history to just set aside and forget. Former Kelsey Museum director John G. Pedley (director from 1973 to 1986) sat down recently with the Registry to help identify the people and events in the photos. As a result, we were able to put faces to names, and keep the memories of these people alive. These photographs have now been accessioned into the archives database, and when people come to the Kelsey to do research, these images will be available to them.

 

photo of people in museum gallery.
Left to right: Donald White, Dick Edwards (in background), unidentified man, and Ann and Ted Buttrey. KAP00044.
photo of two men talking in a museum gallery.
Donald White (center right) chatting with an unidentified man in the exhibition gallery. KAP00054.
photo of man at podium in front of seated audience.
Donald White at the podium. Seated, left to right: Clark Hopkins, unidentified woman, Ginnie Moss. KAP00033.
man in suit handles a slide projector while seated audience members look on.
Donald White helping with the projector during a presentation. Ted Buttrey seated at right. KAP00039.
people mingling at an event.
Left to right: Clark Hopkins, Donald White, Ann Buttrey, Ted Buttrey, and James Mason at James Mason’s retirement party. KAP00097.
people mingling at an event.
Standing at right: Clark Hopkins and Donald White at James Mason’s retirement party. KAP00123.
photo of three people talking.
Foreground, left to right: James Mason, Donald White, and Ann Buttrey at James Mason’s retirement party. KAP00135.
four men in suits laughing.
Left to right: John Pedley, Phil (?) Zumetta, unidentified man, and Donald White chatting and laughing. KAP00138.

With Professor Pedley’s assistance, we now know what events are captured in these photos, and and who attended them. We see here many Kelsey stalwarts such as John Pedley, James Mason, and Ted Buttrey attending lectures and receptions, and — in several photos — the retirement party for James Mason, who was responsible for building many of the Kelsey exhibition cases in years past. But one figure, Donald White, appears in all the images, and he is the catalyst for showing these photographs at this time. On November 21, Professor White passed due to injuries sustained in a car accident. He was 83. From 1963 to 1973, White taught at the University of Michigan. He then left to embark on a 30-year career as professor of classical archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania and curator of the Mediterranean section at the Penn Museum. While at Michigan, and continuing at UPenn, White was involved with the excavations at the Libyan sites of Apollonia (1965–1967) and Cyrene (1969, 1971, 1973–1981). More can be learned about these excavations in the Kelsey Museum publication In the Field (Talalay and Alcock, 2006).

It is a sad moment when a friend of the Museum passes. However, we are better off for having had Professor White spend time at the Kelsey. He will be missed, but his work carries on. And these photographs interspersed within our archives will ensure that we at the Kelsey will continue remember him.

 

November’s News from the Conservation Lab — Cultural Heritage Management

By Suzanne Davis, Curator of Conservation

Hello! The conservation excitement of my month was attending the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) in Denver. I co-chair the Cultural Heritage Management sessions for this meeting, along with my colleague Glenn Corbett (program director at the Council of American Overseas Research Centers). This year we had a great selection of papers in two sessions.

The first session focused on ASOR’s Cultural Heritage Initiatives. The ASOR group works on cultural heritage preservation in conflict zones and receives funding from a variety of important sponsors. They focus on documenting damage due to conflict, promoting global awareness of heritage in conflict zones, and planning emergency and post-war responses. We heard from archaeologists working on projects in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. If you love a) human life, and b) archaeological and built heritage, these papers aren’t easy to hear. And yet, it was good to see the important work ASOR is doing in partnership with local communities and heritage professionals in areas suffering from prolonged conflict and instability.

ancient ruins
Jerash, Jordan. Colonnade Street. Image from the ACOR Photo Archive.

Our second session looked at wider preservation initiatives for archaeological heritage and community-focused projects at archaeological sites. We heard about a great photo archive project at the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR), where archival photographs of Jordanian heritage are being digitized and made publicly available; this form of virtual site preservation is also a special form of time travel, since researchers can see early images of important sites. Following this presentation, a report from Tel Mozan about the ongoing site preservation and presentation work by local community members and Syrian professionals made me jealous that I don’t work there; I would happily hear multiple days of papers about this project! We also heard from two other wonderful community-engaged projects: the Madaba Regional Archaeological Museum Project, and the Umm el-Jimal Project, which is doing so much cool stuff — like water conservation — with its community, it’s hard to know what to explore here. You’ll have to check it out for yourself.

The conference was also interesting for many other reasons. In addition to lots of great archaeology papers and posters (many by current or former IPCAA students), I attended several meta sessions about ASOR itself. For example — the name, is it time to change it? The member consensus was “yes!” Other big topics were: where and how the organization should hold its annual meetings, and how the group would like to develop its research over the next fifty years. I was impressed by the commitment of the ASOR and ACOR boards to transparency and the desire to engage members in these kinds of decisions. It was an inspiring meeting, as always, and I hope you enjoyed this update about it. Check out some of the links above!

Ugly Object of the Month — November 2018

By Suzanne Davis, Curator of Conservation, with Kelsey Director Terry Wilfong

This month for the Ugly Object blog, we’re featuring an object chosen by Kelsey Museum director Terry Wilfong for the new Kelsey in Focus case in our Upjohn Exhibition Wing. To learn about this special object, I interviewed Terry, who is also the Kelsey’s curator of Graeco-Roman Egyptian Collections.

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Suzanne: Hi, Terry! The new Kelsey in Focus case features three ostraka, or pottery sherds with writing on them. Can you tell us what this is about? Why would someone have written on a potsherd?
Terry: In ancient Egypt, papyrus and parchment were relatively scarce commodities, but broken potsherds were easily available. Using a potsherd to write something, like a letter or a tax receipt, was a good way to reuse a common, inexpensive material.

Suzanne: Ostraka, in my opinion, are not the most aesthetically pleasing objects in the world (which is why they’re being featured in this blog), but some people really like them. Is it fair to say you’re one of these people? What can you tell us about the attractions of ostraka?
Terry: I am one of these people! My dissertation research focused on women’s lives in 7th–8th-century Egypt, and one of the main ways I studied this was by reading a set of excavated ostraka from a site called Medinet Habu. Unlike “official” documents, which were written on papyrus or parchment and tended to focus on the lives of elite men, the ostraka from this site were less formal and documented much more about the lives of women.
You are right that ostraka are not good-looking in the way we usually think of museum objects, but that’s what I like about them! They come in different shapes and colors, and they often show a lot of wear. They’re also usually hard to read, since you have to decipher someone’s handwriting at the same time you’re contending with the unique shape of the potsherd. Ostraka are challenging, but very cool.

white limestone with lines of Coptic written in black ink.
Coptic ostrakon written by “Severus.” Ink on limestone. 7th c. AD. 15 x 9.5 cm. KM 25120.

Suzanne: Of the three ostraka being featured in the Kelsey in Focus case, which one is your favorite and why? And can you tell us something about the text?
Terry: My favorite of these is a literary text by “Severus,” as the ostraka identifies the author. It’s interesting for many reasons — it is written on limestone, the handwriting is beautiful, the contents are unusual, and “Severus” was probably an author known locally in Egypt. To learn more about the text (and the language it’s written in), be sure to read my article in the upcoming Kelsey Newsletter (Fall 2018). I don’t want to give everything away in this post ….

Suzanne: Fair enough. We will look forward to your article! What is one thing you think everyone should know about this important class of non-art objects?
Terry: Beauty isn’t everything! Ostraka are written on throwaway pieces of pottery and stone, but if you want to know about the daily lives of ancient people, they’re wonderful — they contain lists, letters, receipts, and contracts. They’re like the email of Graeco-Roman Egypt: pure gold for anyone studying ancient lives.

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Come see this ostrakon for yourself! The Kelsey in Focus case is located on the first floor of the Kelsey Museum, on your right as you enter the galleries from the gift shop.

Interested in learning more about Coptic writings? Check out Written Culture of Christian Egypt: Coptic Manuscripts from the University of Michigan Collection in the Audubon Room of U-M’s Hatcher Graduate Library. This exhibition is curated by visiting scholars Alin Suciu and Frank Feder and is on view November 12th through February 17th, 2019.

From the Archives 35 — October 2018

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

Every year at this time, children and adults start dressing up as goblins and ghouls and monsters of all kinds, scaring their neighbors and friends, and decorating their homes with skulls and witches and other Halloween trends. There is a focus on the deathly, the afterlife, the things that go bump in the dark. We look to be frightened, calling upon the wicked and evil to come give us a spark.

This is not a new phenomenon. A fascination with death has a very long history. Communication and connection with the afterlife, with demons and spirits, has been known for thousands of years. Looking back at ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians, there was a great amount of focus on the afterlife, for example. And the famous Greek and Roman stories are littered with cathartic moments of visiting the afterlife.

Even in the United States, death has been a popular topic since the arrival of the Europeans to the New World. Tombstones from the New England area show iconography that appears frightening to the modern viewer. Over time, skull and crossbones on tombstones changed to cherubim, appearing more welcoming and less scary.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present some rather macabre photographs. Again, we see people flirting with the dead, this time literally. Here we see several familiar names, though perhaps not as familiar faces, posing for the camera. We see Easton Kelsey, son of Francis Kelsey, posing with a skull. We see Leslie Askren, daughter of Dr. David Askren, a colleague of Kelsey’s who was a great resource and ally while working in Egypt. Finally, we see Mr. Brunton posing in a mummy case. Mr. Brunton is Guy Brunton, student of William Flinders Petrie, colleague of Joseph Starkey (the original dig director of Karanis), and archaeologist from the British School of Archaeology in Egypt. Mr. Brunton worked at Lahun, Egypt, and it appears some of the Michigan crew had a chance to visit for at least this one day, 26 February 1920 (the Karanis excavations did not commence until 1924).

2018-10-23-Archives-KK052-53
Easton Kelsey (left) and Leslie Askren (right) posing with skulls at Abu Gurab, near Lahun, Egypt, 26 February 1920. KK052 and KK053.
2018-10-23-Archives-KK057
Mr. Brunton in a mummy case at Abu Gurab, Egypt, 26 February 1920. KK057.

Though a fascination with the dead may still be ongoing, there are a number of differences between people working at excavations in the 1920s and our current excavators working in the field today. Though the skulls seen here may be unnamed people, they are still people. We cannot judge the people of the 1920s using today’s standards, but we can make a concerted effort to pay better respect to the people we encounter during excavations. Nameless to us, but these people had names, had families. It is on us to pay them proper respect, not to treat them as props for a photo op.

People will continue to be fascinated with death and the dead. Skulls and mummies will be party decorations for years to come. This interest is not new, but is something we share with many generations that have come before us. And likely something we will continue to share for a long time.

pile of skulls in barren landscape
Skulls and other bones from the mastaba at Abu Gurab, Egypt. KK051.

 

October’s News from the Conservation Lab — Multispectral Candy Corn

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

Happy fall from the Kelsey Conservation Lab! In celebration of my favorite season, Suzanne and I bring you this gem from our conservation image archive: multispectral CANDY CORN! Here in the Conservation Lab we use multispectral imaging (MSI) primarily for research. MSI involves illuminating artifacts with ultraviolet, visible, and infrared light, and then capturing the results in an image. Some ancient pigments and dyes reflect and emit light in characteristic ways, and MSI can be used to identify them. We also occasionally deploy MSI for the sheer fun of it — because who wouldn’t want to see what their favorite corn syrup-infused Halloween candy looks like under ultraviolet light?

mosaic of four images of candy corn under different wavelengths of light
Multispectral images of candy corn, courtesy of Janelle Batkin-Hall.

The image above presents candy corn four ways. Starting at the upper left, the first is in visible light (VIS), or how you’d expect your candy corn to look in a glass dish on your coffee table. Below that we have longwave ultraviolet light (UVL), which causes the candies’ ingredients — possibly the food dyes — to fluoresce different colors. (Cool! And slightly disturbing?) The black-and-white image at the upper right (IRR) shows the candy in infrared light, revealing that candy corn is pretty darn good at reflecting infrared radiation. (Who knew?) And finally we have an infrared false color image (IRR-FC), which transforms the infrared reflectance into distinct colors. This is a post-photo capture process that can help ID pigments, and could tell us something about the food dyes if only we had a multispectral database of such things. (A girl can dream ….)

I for one will continue to consume candy corn in spite of all this information, because nostalgia is a powerful thing, my friends. Thanks for tuning in to our blogroll, and many thanks to former graduate intern Janelle Batkin-Hall for capturing these inspired multispectral candy corn images.

The New Faces of IPCAA — 2018 edition

There are four new faces in the corridors of Newberry Hall these days. These are the incoming grad students, hailing from places as far away as New Zealand. Since they’re likely to be our friends and colleagues for quite some time, we thought we’d dive right in and get to know them a little better.

Between orientation, classes, homework, and extracurricular activities, as well as the million other things new students deal with when they arrive at U-M, they’ve hardly had time to breathe, but they have very kindly taken a few moments to answer the pesky questions of a curious editor.

So, without further ado, let us introduce Theo Nash and Alex Moskowitz.


Man standing on large rock.A lifelong fascination with ancient ruins led Theo Nash to study Classics, earning First Class Honours for his Bachelor’s degree and a Master of Arts with Distinction at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. His research so far has been focussed on the Mycenaeans and their broader contexts, starting with his Honours thesis where he explored the creation of identity during the early Mycenaean period. In his MA he argued that the Mycenaean presence at Knossos during Late Minoan II was a precipitating factor in the emergence of palatial culture on the mainland, with a special focus on the contemporary development of Linear B and the contexts in which new scripts are created. He hopes to ask further questions of how scripts develop and spread, both at the palaeographic level and in their broader societal contexts. His other interests include the development of early Greek hexameter poetry and Attic vase painting.

How did you get interested in studying the ancient world?
Living in Germany as a child, I became fascinated with ruins; the rest is history (or, perhaps, archaeology).

What is your favorite thing about studying the ancient world?
That there were people, just like us, who lived what is really an incomprehensibly long time ago. Seeing traces of their life, like a thumbprint impressed on a vase before it was fired, bridges that gap with an immediacy and force that I find incredible.

What is something you think everyone should know about the ancient world?
There seems to be impression among a lot of the people outside academia that Classics is somehow a “solved” field — that because it’s been studied for so long there’s nothing meaningful left to say. But that’s not the case at all. Not only are we frequently making new discoveries, but we continuously find new and better questions to ask of the existing evidence. Far from being antiquated and fusty, it’s an incredibly dynamic and engaging discipline.

What are your career aspirations?
I hope to find myself in a position where I can continue to think about and engage with the Classical world and its relics, whatever that might look like in practical terms.

Who’s your favorite person from history?
The written records of the Mycenaean Greeks unfortunately yield very few personal narratives, but we do know from Hittite records about one Mycenaean named Attarissiya, a military adventurer in what is now Turkey. He appears to have had a personal vendetta against a local potentate, Madduwatta, whom he twice tried to kill for reasons quite unclear. When not distracted by such personal matters, he enjoyed raiding Cyprus. Not the most pleasant fellow, perhaps, but his fragmented CV is a poignant reminder not just of the narratives but also the personalities lost to the ages.

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Man in blue shirt among ancient ruins.Alex Moskowitz earned a BA in Ancient History with High Honors from Swarthmore College in 2015. His research there focused on modeling processes of cultural contact at the Greek site of Sybaris. In 2017, Alex received his MA in Classical Languages (Greek and Latin emphases) at the University of Georgia. His master’s thesis considered Herodotus’s Histories and focused on the role of colonial narratives in blurring distinctions between Greek and non-Greek identities. Alex has also participated in the Azoria Project in Crete and the Western Argolid Regional Project. Since 2016, he has excavated at Morgantina with the Contrada Agnese Project, most recently serving as an assistant supervisor. Alex’s research investigates economic exchange, migration, and transitions in cultural identity at the periphery of the Iron Age Greek world.

How did you get interested in studying the ancient world?
My interests in the ancient world started when I was a child! I stumbled upon some “Asterix” comics in my cousin’s basement and fell in love with the stories. I spent many hours flipping through the pages and reading about the adventures of this tiny Gaul having adventures in the ancient Mediterranean. While an undergraduate, taking ancient Greek and participating in my first field project in Crete revived those interests from a more academic perspective.

What is your favorite thing about studying the ancient world?
It’s the challenges associated with studying the ancient world that excite me most. Reconstructing an image of what daily life or cultural identity was like over 2,000 years ago with limited evidence is no simple task! But developing new methods to understand that evidence and perceiving patterns that may have been overlooked can be very rewarding.

What is something you think everyone should know about the ancient world?
Something I’ve always thought people should know about both ancient Greece and Rome is that both cultures were, by modern standards, really weird! They were obsessed with auguries, and oracles, and sacrifices. They believed in all sorts of magics and had some really peculiar theories for how human bodies work. We like to think of the Greeks especially as these incredibly wise people, but the reality is much stranger. They made some incredible insights in a lot of disciplines, but their world view was so different from our own and it is easy to forget that.

What are your career aspirations?
After I get my PhD, I would love to continue as an academic. In particular, I would like to find a position at a liberal arts college where I could really focus on teaching in a small-classroom setting.

Who’s your favorite person from history?
From ancient history, specifically, my favorite person is probably Herodotus. He is generally considered to be the founder of “history” as a discipline and I am constantly fascinated by the way he perceives connections and differences between different cultures. His book is a wonderful combination of history, ethnography, and pure fairy tale that is a joy to read not only for its many insights into the ancient world but also because it is remarkably entertaining when you give it a chance.


Thank you, Theo and Alex! Welcome to U-M!

We’ll meet the other two IPCAA newcomers, Lauren Oberlin and James Prosser, in a later blog post.

Ugly Object of the Month — October 2018

By Suzanne Davis, Curator of Conservation

Well, folks, it’s officially fall. The calendar says so, and Ann Arbor actually feels autumnal, too! So what better choice for October’s Ugly Object of the Month than one that celebrates our favorite spooky fall holiday — Halloween.

We’ve previously written about artifacts called “demon bowls” or “incantation bowls” like the one below. Have a look at that, and then …

Interior view of buff colored bowl with pseudo script and two human-like figures.
Ceramic incantation bowl. 17 cm diameter. Seleucia, 4th–7th century CE. KM 33756.

… cast your mind back to the Ghostbusters movies. Do you remember how the Ghostbusters would use energy to suck ghosts into their traps? Incantation bowls were, essentially, ancient ghost traps. If you were troubled by a ghost or demon in your house, you’d place the bowl in an area where the demon was likely to be. (Here’s a tip: they like to hang out in corners.) Or perhaps — if your motives were less pure — you might want to recruit a demon to do something for you. In this case you could use one of these bowls to trawl for a ghost elsewhere, like in a cemetery. The ghost/demon would be lured into the bowl, following the magical, spiraling inscription, and then be trapped, as you see in this example, where the evils spirit is in chains and surrounded by a ring of fire. Pretty. Nifty.

I’m hazy on both the physics of the Ghostbusters’ trap and how the magic of the incantation bowls would actually work, but I can tell you this — the demon bowls sometimes had ghost bait, and we’ve got some here at the Kelsey.

2018-10-02-Ugly_Oct_19050-web
Eggshell ghost bait from Seleucia. 4th–7th century CE. KM 19050.

It’s an inscribed eggshell. It might not look like much, but it was found in a larger ghost-trap assemblage at the site of Seleucia, Iraq. In the corner of a house, one demon bowl was placed right side up, the inscribed eggshell was placed inside, and another demon bowl was placed upside down on top of the first bowl and slightly offset (to leave room for the ghost to get inside). This set-up was designed to work like a triple containment system. Theoretically, the ghost or demon would go all the way into the shell, where it would be bound by the inscription on the shell’s exterior. Meanwhile, the two inscribed incantation bowls provided extra magical entrapment power and security (for the peace of mind a ghost-troubled homeowner needs!). Once the ghost was trapped, the eggshell could be ritually smashed to destroy the evil spirit. Ghost busted!

Ghostbusting is a cross-cultural phenomenon as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago. Happy Halloween!

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Can’t get enough of that ancient magic? Check out Traditions of Magic in Late Antiquity, Gideon Bohak’s 1995 online exhibition that features many of the Kelsey’s magical artifacts. There you will find more about demon bowls, magic amulets, and — for the hands-on among you — ancient recipe-books for casting your own spells.