Happy New Year! My January has gotten off to a good start, because I spent most of December working at the beautiful site of Abydos, Egypt. Abydos is an ancient Egyptian royal cemetery site, and the Kelsey has a field research project there, directed by museum curator Janet Richards. We have a number of special conservation projects at Abydos, and the one I’m most closely involved with focuses on preservation of painted wood artifacts at the site. When they’re excavated, these objects are in truly terrible condition (rotten wood that’s chewed by termites, with bits of paint raining off into piles in the sand), and then the conservation team is responsible for putting them back together, taking care of them, and studying them along with the rest of the research team. It is interesting work, but my favorite thing about work at Abydos isn’t the work, it’s the people I work with.
Although the entire team is great, I’ll specifically call out the conservation colleagues I worked with this year (after all, this is a conservation blog post) — Hamada Sadek and Eman Zidan.
Hamada is a professor of conservation at Fayoum University. He is an incredibly thoughtful and careful conservator. He’s practical and good at bench treatment, but he also does research and publishes, AND he really likes teaching. He is a lot more patient than I am. Our in-lab dialogue is usually like this:
Me: Let’s get this thing done right now!
Hamada: GAH! Slow down! Did you even look at this, Suzanne??
Eman Zidan has worked in conservation and heritage preservation for both the Egyptian Museum and the Ministry of Antiquities in Egypt, and she’s currently taking some time off so she can finish her master’s degree in preventive conservation. This is her career mission — facilitating and improving care of archaeological collections throughout Egypt, including at places like Abydos. This is an area where I often feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by the scope of the work, but Eman is calm and able to plan for things like termite infestations and pest control (think snakes) in storage areas.
Although I appreciate Eman and Hamada for their unique contributions to the conservation program at Abydos, for me personally they have also been important peer-mentors. I’m especially grateful to the American Research Center in Egypt, whose generous funding has given me the chance to work with them. Thanks, ARCE!
The deadline to enter the 2018–2019 Jackier Prize Competition is fast approaching!
Are you a U-M undergraduate interested in archaeology, ancient history, or museum studies? Do you fancy a little extra pocket money? If you answered “yes” to both these questions, consider entering the Jackier Prize Essay Competition!
What is the Jackier Prize Competition?
Every object has a story to tell about the people who made it and those who used it or gave it value. The Jackier Prize Competition provides an opportunity for U-M undergraduates to explore and discover the stories behind the objects at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. The competition is open to any undergraduate from any discipline at U-M. The essays that best demonstrate excellence in archaeological research will be awarded a cash prize, made possible by the generous donation of U-M alumnus Lawrence Jackier and his wife Eleanor.
How can I enter the contest?
Submit a five- to ten-page essay that examines an object or objects in the Kelsey Museum. This can be a paper you have already written for a class or one written specifically for this contest. You may choose an object on display or one from collections storage. The subject matter of the essay may vary, but the essay needs to reflect careful research.
Submissions are due by 8 a.m., Monday, January 28th. Up to five winners will announced in mid-February 2019.
The Jackier Prize will be presented to the winners at a ceremony in early April 2019. Each winner will also receive a collection of Kelsey Museum publications and will have the opportunity to participate in the creation of a museum exhibit featuring the objects written about in the winning essays.
Ready to submit your essay?
Submit your essay via email to Jackier.Prize2019@umich.edu. On the first page of the essay, please provide the title of the essay, a picture(s) of the object(s) discussed in the essay, and your name and email address. You will receive an email within 48 hours confirming that the essay was successfully submitted.
Need more information? Get the full submission details here.
Over the years, U-M’s presence in Ann Arbor has expanded well beyond central campus. As the needs of the university and its students, staff, and faculty continue to expand, so too does the need for space. The Bentley Historical Library owns original maps of the university showing a very modest beginning, with a few buildings on what is now central campus, including the President’s House and a few other structures.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present this gem showing the U-M campus from 1914: the Index to University of Michigan Property Maps. The map highlights U-M property in the darker blocks, from which we can see locations we recognize from U-M campus now in 2019. We see central campus, or just “Campus.” Other blocks are also named, such as the Botanical Gardens, General Hospital, Ferry Field, and Palmer Field.
Though not named, we can also see a small block across from Campus, between State Street and Maynard, the future home of the Kelsey Museum. At this point, the property was not yet a museum.
Around this same time, in 1914, Francis Kelsey hired a photographer named George R. Swain to photograph archaeological sites and artifacts in Europe and North Africa. Swain remained with the university until his death in 1947. After his visits to places such as Karanis, Carthage, and Pisidian Antioch, Swain dedicated his time at the university working for the Library, making copy prints and slides for use by professors and students. This glass slide was likely produced by Swain well after 1914. The reason is unknown; perhaps it was presented as an interesting find from the archives, much the same way we present it today.
Over 100 years after this map was created, the campus of U-M is vastly different, and it continues to change with each passing year. By 2114, a map of campus will undoubtedly look even more foreign to us. Students and archivists looking back on our current maps will see spots familiar to them, but still so foreign. Even a map produced today would would look very different from one produced in just a few months, given the news of Fingerle.
The archives provide for us a snapshot at a certain time period in both the Kelsey’s history as well as that of the university. Though constantly changing, we can see the progression of both, and how nothing remains static. In 100 years, a future Kelsey archivist may present this same image in the same manner we do now, showcasing the humble beginnings of the university and how much progress has been made since.
We’re kicking off the New Year with what I wager will be a top contender for the 2019 Ugly Object of the Year. This Etruscan (likely votive) bronze statuette from the late 4th–early 2nd century BCE was cast from a mold, so there were probably a number of them in circulation around that time. Can you identify the figure? Hint: what he lacks in musculature he makes up for in telltale attributes, such as the lion’s pelt draped over his left arm.
That’s right folks — this is none other than Herakles, son of Zeus, paragon of strength and masculinity. I love this particular rendering of Herakles for a number of reasons. First, it reminds me of a certain stop-motion animated character so much that I find myself wanting to call it Gumby Herakles (which I promise I won’t). Second, it flies in the face of hyper-masculine depictions we so often see of Herakles. It’s got a lithe stylization no doubt typical of the time and place it was made but which I find kind of cool and modern. Third, it makes me think about the person who purchased and offered the votive statuette in the hope of achieving some particular outcome. Did this little Herakles work his magic for this individual? I’d like to think so.
Come see Herakles and his companion statuettes in the Etruscan and Southern Italy case, on the first floor of the Kelsey Museum’s Upjohn Exhibit wing.
The past week has been incredibly busy as we try to prepare the site for the final days of data collection before I leave for Khartoum next Thursday. In next week’s post I will share some of the initial results of all of our hard work here, but this week I will focus on what my life is like in Sudan outside of work.
The International Kurru Archaeological Project stays in the village of El Kurru, near the ancient site, and we are kindly hosted by Sadiq Mohamed Saleh and his family. This month I have been staying in Kurru rather than closer to Jebel Barkal, as it is only a 15–20 minute car ride to the site. It is also where all of my friends from past field seasons live, and where I feel welcomed as a part of the community.
Part of the feeling of community comes from the fact that our meals are all communal. We share large dishes and eat with our hands, and the meals are always accompanied by bread. The main course is often fuul, a dish made of mashed beans with cheese or sardines or tomatoes or just about anything added to spice it up. We also often eat chicken, liver, a fish paste called fasikh, salad, and much more, and on special days we have fried fish! Last week, while staying the night in Karima, I even had pizza here for the first time, which I can highly recommend to the rest of the team coming next month!
In past seasons after work I have played soccer with my friends here, in the shadow of the Kurru pyramids, but this year I have had to rest my legs and often opt to either watch the others play in the sunset or cool my feet in the Nile, which is only a five-minute walk from Sadiq’s.
In past seasons we have even gone to see the Kurru soccer team play a few official matches, including big games against local rivals in the stadium at Karima. I’m in the field a bit earlier this year so the soccer season hasn’t started yet, but the first match is on Tuesday in Karima, and I’m looking forward to cheering on my friends from the stands after work!
This year I’ve felt even more closely connected with life in the village, attending a few wedding celebrations and just last night an engagement party for Salah Mohamed, one of the guys who works with me at Jebel Barkal. We danced for hours (myself only sparingly) to traditional tambour music, and it seemed as if the whole village came to celebrate with Salah!
In addition to all these larger events, I spend many of my evenings with friends talking under the stars or watching Champions League or EPL soccer while drinking tea, which is ubiquitous here. This season I’ve even picked up a new game to play, Ludo, which is kind of like Trouble and brings out an intensely competitive nature among us! It might be worth checking out the next time you’re looking for an easy game to play with a few friends!
I have less than a week left for in the field, and it is going to go by far too quickly. Check back here next week for a final #fieldworkfriday update from Sudan for 2018!
This week for #fieldworkfriday I would like to share with you a bit of where I am and what I’m doing in the field. This month I’ve come to Sudan’s Northern State, to the site of Jebel Barkal, near the Fourth Cataract of the Nile, to conduct a geophysical survey in two distinct areas of the site.
Jebel Barkal is a small mountain not far from the Nile that was considered by the Egyptians and later the Kushites to be the home of the god Amun. Various temples, palaces, and pyramids were constructed at the site from the Egyptian New Kingdom (about 1500 BCE) to the end of the empire of Kush (about 300 CE), and these have been the targets of extensive excavation in modern times. Jebel Barkal and the nearby sites of El Kurru, Sanam, and Zuma are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Geophysical survey is one of the most efficient ways to explore a large landscape like that of Jebel Barkal in search of specific features that will help us understand how people lived in the past. The results of this month of survey will help our projects better understand and interpret the built environment of the site, shedding light on how the community at Jebel Barkal lived and how it relates to other sites and their architectural traditions from the region.
This past week we finished up our work for the first project, on the south side of the mountain, where we were working in the desert landscape near the pyramids at the site. We were invited to survey this area by Murtada Bushara Mohamed of Sudan’s National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM) as part of the Qatari Mission for the Pyramids of Sudan (QMPS) project. This project is focused on research, preservation, and presentation of the pyramids at Jebel Barkal, Kurru, Meroe, and Nuri and our contribution will help us better understand the landscape context of these monuments by identifying the location of other structures in this region of Jebel Barkal.
Tomorrow we will begin our work on the east side of the jebel, between the mountain and the Nile River, in an area we call the “East Mound.” This project is an offshoot of Geoff Emberling’s research at El Kurru and the surrounding region, and during preliminary research conducted in 2016 we identified this mound as being a likely location for the settlement associated with the temples and palaces of the monumental core of the site. We were able to identify buried structures here during a very short period of survey that year, just a couple of days, so we have returned to survey the entire mound and the surrounding area to better define the extent of this settlement.
The type of prospection that I’m conducting can be done with many different instruments, each with its own unique method of collecting magnetic data. In the case of this project I am using a device that must be carried across the landscape and takes readings at consistent intervals.
The most efficient way to use this device is to set up a grid in the area that we wish to cover. Using a total station we establish a 30 x 30 m grid, and within that grid we lay down guidelines that are marked at every meter. Then, wearing the scientific device, I walk up and down along the guidelines, which are there to ensure that I walk straight and at a consistent pace.
By telling the instrument and the processing software the parameters of the survey, the data can be plotted quite quickly to create a map of the magnetic readings at the surface, giving us insight into what may lie buried below. With this particular machine we are limited only by how fast I can walk while maintaining a consistent pace and holding the machine relatively steady, which depends on the surface conditions — sand slows me down quite a lot! — and how well we have established the grid and the guidelines. Below is a short video that gives a first-person perspective of what walking one of these lines is like. (In a typical day I can walk approximately 540 lines!)
Of course, there is slightly more to it than just that, but the bulk of my time here is spent walking along these lines and listening to the machine chirp at me, 30 meters at a time.
I realize that I did not check the comments on my last post to see if there were any questions, but I will be better about that this week, so please comment with any questions you may have or email me at email@example.com. I would love to hear from you! And please check in next week for another update from Sudan!
One of the best parts of being a conservator, in my view, is the opportunity to do research. Here at the Kelsey, we do a lot of research in support of the conservation and care of the Museum’s collections as well as Kelsey-sponsored archaeological field projects. In our efforts, we accumulate a lot of books. Sure, plenty of information we use comes to us in PDF or other non-print format. Yet somehow, even in this digital age, books of all shapes, sizes, and subjects have taken up residence in our lab at a starling rate, to the point where things start to go missing among the piles. From time to time — often at the behest of a lending library or a fellow researcher — we let go of a few of them. A recent “return” pile made me laugh. The stack contained books on trade routes, conservation materials, geochemistry, Egyptian painting, and at least three other seemingly unrelated topics. The only thing these books had in common was the fact that they are bound blocks of text with chapters, references, and page numbers. They were otherwise complete strangers, hailing from disparate corners of the bibliographic universe.
Why so many books? One reason is that Suzanne and I have made a big push recently to publish some of the research we’re doing. This means checking sources, conducting literature reviews, and verifying information left and right. The research itself has been pretty wide-ranging, from computational imaging of ancient graffiti to chemical analysis of pigments on artifacts. This is where the diverse subject matter of the books in our lab starts to make sense. Conservators often find themselves needing to answer many different types of research questions. Sometimes these focus on figuring out how cultural materials were made and used. But more often than that, they’re about developing ways to characterize and slow artifact deterioration. Cultural heritage preservation is our primary goal, after all! Conservators have always been active in presenting their work at conferences, and an increasing number are publishing their practical experiences in books and journals. This means more peer review, and even more helpful references to fill our lab with. All good things, in my book!