Ugly Object of the Month — July 2015

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator for Conservation, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

figurine mold
Left: Plaster mold for a figurine of Aphrodite. 2nd–3rd century AD. KM 9938; right: detail of face.

This month’s ugly object is a mold for the front half of an Aphrodite figurine. The mold is made of plaster, and ancient craftsmen used it by pressing damp clay into the carved depression. Molds like this one were an easy way to mass-produce many versions of the same figurine. This utilitarian object was never intended to be decorative, and time and burial have not been kind to it. Broken at the knees, chipped on the top of the head, stained all over with splotchy black fungus, and discolored from years of use, this moldy mold is not a thing of beauty.

And yet it has a certain fascination because it gives us a physical connection to the ancient craftsmen who used it again and again. Along the sides of the mold, we can see the depressions that allowed the artist to easily separate the front and back halves of the mold after the clay had been pressed into shape. The reddish-orange stains come from the clay that was used to make the figurines, and those figurines must have been quite fine. The female figure is carved precisely, from her elaborately curled and ornamented hair to her tiny navel. At first glance this object might be ugly, but look again and you’ll see that it conveys an ideal of female beauty that is both voluptuous and delicate. This humble, sexy-ugly object is on view until July 26 in the special exhibition Rocks, Paper, Memory: Wendy Artin’s Watercolor Paintings of Ancient Sculptures.

My Favorite Artifact

When it comes to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s collections, not all artifacts are created equal. Some call out to us intellectually, others emotionally.

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Encina earned a BA degree in anthropology/history from St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY; an MA in anthropology from George Washington University, Washington DC; and an MSI from the University of Michigan.

1981_04_0018P02

Favorite Artifact. An artist’s sketch slab. Limestone with red and black ink. Dynasty 19–20 (ca. 1303–1085 BCE). Bequest, Mrs. Irene Goudsmit. KM 1981.4.18.

Why. “Sketch slabs remind us that not all ancient art is a finished product. Even the greatest artists had to practice or sketch their ideas before they executed and finalized a piece of art. This particular slab shows the hand of an artist who may have gone on to create wonderful art in a tomb, but this particular object was never intended to be on display or viewed as a work of art. It was mere practice to hone the artist’s talent or vision prior to creating the actual final piece of art.

“Some of the finest art of the ancient and modern world greets visitors to many museums, such as the treasures of Tutankhamun, the majesty of Versailles, or the genius of Picasso. Most often, the artifacts and objects came from the elite classes of the time. But the Kelsey, instead, focuses on the objects of ancient daily living. Sketch slabs were part of the daily life of ancient artists.”

About Artifact. This sketch slab preserves a royal Ramesside profile, with two beautiful studies of females superimposed. Vestiges of a lion’s head and a human arm are visible in the lower left, while traces of a hieratic notation appear very near the top.

Background. Different artists had different roles: one would draw, one would outline, and another would add color.

Find It. This artist’s sketch slab is not on display in the museum’s permanent exhibition, but it is scheduled to be exhibited in the Kelsey’s special exhibition Passionate Curiosities: Collecting in Egypt and the Near East, 1880s–1950s, open August 28 through November 29, 2015.

Learn More. The exhibition catalog, Passionate Curiosities: Tales of Collectors and Collections from the Kelsey Museum, by Lauren E. Talalay and Margaret Cool Root — will be available for purchase in the Kelsey gift shop and online from ISD.

Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project study season

BY DAN DIFFENDALE, PhD student, Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, University of Michigan

Mt. Mainalon
Mt. Mainalon above the village of Kardara.

I spent the first three weeks of June in Greece, working with the Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project. Although the project last conducted fieldwork at the Sanctuary of Zeus Lykaios on Mt. Lykaion in western Arcadia in 2010, we have been busy every summer since then studying the excavated materials. In excavation years, we rent private houses in a village close to the site; during study seasons, we stay in an off-season ski resort in eastern Arcadia, in order to be close to Tripoli, where the artifacts are housed. From Kardara it’s a thirty-minute van ride to our apotheke, or storeroom, where we study the materials almost every day (but never on Sunday). The study seasons witness a wide range of scholars and specialists coming and going as their schedules permit; among others, we have experts in animal bones, roof tiles, coins, and numerous varieties of ancient pottery, including Neolithic, Early, Middle and Late Bronze Age, Iron Age, Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman. Of course, this study could not proceed without the heroic efforts of our registrar, who is responsible for the organization of the apotheke and all procedural matters relating to the artifacts, along with her team of assistants, who do whatever assisting needs to be done.

apotheke
At work in the apotheke.

This season I have been assisting one of the project’s directors in the study of the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age pottery, as well as preparing a final report on the stratigraphy of one of the project’s trenches on the peak of Mt. Lykaion. One of my goals this season has been looking for matches or “joins” between the tens of thousands of broken pieces of pottery from the trench. Although it is inherently satisfying to find such joins, a successful outcome is by no means guaranteed; it’s like playing a puzzle without a box-top picture to compare to, and with most, if not all, of the pieces missing. Despite the frequent frustration, it’s an important activity; knowing if there are pieces of the same pot scattered in different parts of the trench helps us to understand the formation processes of the site. If ancient people deposited a whole pot on the mountaintop, but we find broken pieces of it in different areas of our excavation, we deduce that it must have been broken and had its pieces scattered by one or more subsequent events. These events might be later human activity, animal disturbance, natural phenomena like earthquakes or frost heaves, or some combination of these. Given that the altar where we excavated has evidence for human activity spanning some three thousand years or more, from the Neolithic to the Hellenistic period, or from before 3000 BCE down to the 1st century BCE, followed by the two thousand years from then to now, it’s not surprising that things got so mixed around!

Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project website:
http://lykaionexcavation.org/

Mt. Lykaion preliminary reports:
http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2972/hesperia.83.4.0569
http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2972/hesperia.84.2.0207

Ugly Object of the Month — June 2015

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator for Conservation, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Beauty isn’t everything at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology; we value all evidence of life in the ancient world, even when the object is, erm, ugly. This month’s ugly object is an Aphrodite figurine made from copper alloy (aka bronze).

Image 1
Figurine of Aphrodite. Bronze. Late 3rd century AD? KMA 10888. Before treatment.

I would never argue that Aphrodite herself is unattractive, but this figurine has seen better days. It was severely corroded when excavated at Karanis, Egypt, in the 1930s, and the legs were in pieces. Sometime after excavation, the corrosion patina was stripped with an electrochemical treatment that was once popular for archaeological metals. This resulted in a dull, brown, pitted surface with multiple holes.

Fast forward to 2015, when this object was chosen for a special exhibition. We wanted to reattach the feet and other fragments, but the latter are very thin pieces of metal from the fronts of the legs. They did not attach well to the upper thighs, each other, or the feet, and they could not support the weight of the torso. Our solution was to make prosthetic legs for the Aphrodite, legs that would support the torso and to which the metal “skin” fragments could be attached. I was the conservator for this treatment, and I began by masking the metal surface with Parafilm, a plastic paraffin wrap that is used as a sealant in labs. This protected the metal surface as I worked with the object. Next, I formed new legs with a two-part epoxy putty.

Image 2
At top, the surface is being masked with Parafilm. In the lower image, epoxy putty is being shaped for the left leg.

I shaped the new legs one at a time by pressing them into the voids in the upper thighs and placing the feet and other fragments into position on the putty while it was still soft. Once it had cured, I removed the putty from the figurine and the metal fragments from the putty. I then painted the white putty and sealed all the join surfaces with a conservation sealant. Next, each leg and its fragments were glued into place with a conservation adhesive.

Image 3
At left, the glue is setting for the finished left leg. At right, the right leg is being shaped in place on the figurine.

We conservators like this object because it looks very real to us. This Aphrodite is almost 2,000 years old, and she is not lying about her age. In most museums, we see perfect examples of objects like this one. But in the field, on a real-life excavation (or at the Kelsey!), an object like this Aphrodite is incredibly special, even though it’s not perfectly gorgeous.

You can appreciate this ugly object yourself; from June 5 through July 26 it is on view in the exhibition “Rocks, Paper, Memory: Wendy Artin’s Watercolor Paintings of Ancient Sculptures.”

Image 4
Figurine of Aphrodite, after treatment.

Exam time for archaeology graduate student

BY CAITLIN CLERKIN, PhD student, Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology (IPCAA), University of Michigan

Studying for exams
A confused pile of books for term papers and IPCAA archaeology qualifying exams that I need to cart back to the library.

The end of the “winter” term at U of M marks not only the end of classes and preparations for summer work, whether in the field or stateside. For IPCAA students in their first three years, the end of the winter term also marks IPCAA exam time.

IPCAA students take a lot of exams before advancing to PhD candidacy: beyond exams in courses, we have to pass four language exams (Latin and Greek, and German and French or Italian), a qualifying exam in ancient history, and archaeology qualifying exams in three major areas (Egypt and the Near East, Prehistoric Aegean and Greek, and Etruscan and Roman), and preliminary exams (preliminary, that is, to a dissertation). The language exams occur throughout the school year, but the other three exams occur just after the end of each academic year. First-years take the ancient history qual; second-years take “Quals” (the archaeology exams); and third-years take their prelims, on topics they’ve chosen in consultation with faculty members. Thus, if you visited the Kelsey during the first week of May, you may have seen some dazed, ermm, I mean, well-rested, calm, and chock-full-of-knowledge-looking graduate students wandering around the building.

The goal underlying Quals is ensuring that IPCAA students gain a foundational understanding of the major subject areas of our field, which will allow them to develop their research focus informed by knowledge about major sites, monuments, and theories while also equipping them with the resource base to teach about these different areas. As such, studying for and taking Quals is an exercise in solidarity and solidification. Solidification, because we are asked to consolidate our understanding of facts, developments, theories, and trends so that we can redeploy all these things to answer new questions. Solidarity, because taking Quals is an experience (or labor) undergone by individual cohorts together, but that also unites IPCAA cohorts across time, on what I imagine is a sociological or ritual rites-of-passage kind of level. Not only have we learned similar material, but we’ve all sat and written essay after essay, slide ID after slide ID for hours (twelve actually), after months of studying and anticipation. As a second-year in IPCAA, I, with my three cohort-mates, just took Quals. Afterward, when corresponding with an IPCAA alumna with whom I work in the field about our upcoming fieldwork, I sensed a sigh of relief in her congratulations to me for having the exam in my rearview mirror.

Before entering IPCAA, I received an MA in Latin from the University of Georgia, which involved passing a “Reading List Exam” in March of our first year in the program. In the frenzied studying for that exam, my cohort quizzed each other on writers, works of literature, and historical events. Since then, I have not forgotten that the Roman playwright and Stoic Seneca was forced to commit suicide by Nero in 69 CE, along with his nephew, the poet Lucan, because a classmate came up with the mnemonic soundbite that Seneca and Lucan “died in each other’s arms” (not strictly true but will be forever ingrained in my memory). Similarly, I think (or hope) I will never forget my go-to examples of the mixing of the Doric and Ionic orders on temples (Temple of Athena, Paestum), or where the Stone Law Code Stela of Hammurabi was found (Susa) and why that matters. Thanks, cohort-mates, for getting me through this IPCAA milestone!

Staff Favorite

When it comes to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s collections, not all artifacts are created equal. Some call out to us intellectually, others emotionally.

BY RICHARD REDDING, Research Scientist, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology; principal investigator on archaeological projects in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia; Chief Operating Officer and Chief Research Officer of Ancient Egyptian Research Associates. Redding works in Giza, Egypt, during dig season.

Djehutymose coffin
Front, inside, and back views of the Djehutymose coffin.

Favorite Artifact: The Coffin of Djehutymose. Mummiform coffin of the priest Djehutymose. Wood, plaster, and paint. Saite period (26th Dynasty, 685–525 BC).

Why: “This coffin is both elegant and beautiful and offers human solutions to natural events such as the sun rising each day after the darkness of night. For example, see the goddess Nut painted on the interior of the coffin lid with a red sun disk on her mouth, which she swallows every night and to which she gives birth (the red disk at her feet) every morning.”

About Artifact: It dates to the Saite period, an era of great artistic revival in ancient Egypt. Texts on the coffin identify its owner as a man named Djehutymose, a priest of the falcon god Horus and the “Golden Goddess” Hathor, and give the names of his parents, Nespakhered (also a priest) and Taro (“The Lady of the House.”)

The coffin, carved to represent the mummy of Djehutymose, is covered with magical spells from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead and images of protective gods and goddesses. In this way, the identification of Djehutymose with Osiris is reinforced, and he is provided with multiple levels of protection against the perils of the afterlife as well as appropriate spells for the successful continuation of life in the world of the dead. The coffin represents a microcosm of the afterworld and the eternity that Djehutymose expects to enjoy.

Lid Exterior: Djehutymose’s face is green in imitation of the god of the dead, Osiris; the color symbolizes regeneration and rebirth. His false beard is characteristic of Osiris; his collar with falcon-headed terminals is another symbol of rebirth. His name reinforces his personal identity throughout the texts on the coffin. The goddess Isis, wife of Osiris, spreads her wings protectively over Djehutymose’s feet. A snake encircles the entire coffin lid, its tail and head meeting above Djehutymose’s feet. This circled snake symbolizes protection and eternity.

Lid Interior: The sky goddess Nut spreads her wings protectively over Djehutymose’s chest. Nut’s crown is a sun disk containing her name, and she holds powerful ankh (life) symbols in her outstretched hands. The two eyes of Horus (wedjat) symbolizing protection and rejuvenation are confronted on either side of her head.

Base Exterior: Protective texts from the Book of the Dead and processions of gods and goddesses line the sides of the coffin.

Base Interior: The goddess Imentet magically embraced Djehutymose’s mummy as it lay in the coffin.

Background: For much of Egyptian history, the bodies of the dead were placed in coffins, which often bore texts giving the names, titles, and parentage of the deceased, as well as religious texts for provisioning, protection, and regeneration in the afterlife.

EmbalmScene
Djehutymose lies on a funerary bed, where he is being embalmed by the jackal-headed god Anubis. His soul (ba) in the form of a human-headed bird, hovers overhead. Beneath the bed are four canopic jars containing Djehutymose’s internal organs, removed during the mummification process.

“Fashioned nearly 2,600 years ago, the Djehutymose coffin has made a complicated journey into the present. In the intervening centuries, the coffin was separated from Djehutymose’s mummy, now lost. Within the last hundred years, Djehutymose’s coffin traveled far beyond the imaginings of the ancient Egyptians: from Egypt to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Donated to the University of Michigan in 1906, the coffin was long on display at the Kalamazoo Public Museum before it returned to Ann Arbor in 1989,” according to the Kelsey publication, Life, Death, and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt: The Djehutymose Coffin.

Although the mummy of Djehutymose is long lost, the coffin has a large modern-day following on Facebook’s Mummy Djehutymose, with 3,892 followers to date, and on Twitter’s @Djehutymose with 3,650 followers). Through Twitter, Djehutymose converses regularly with three ancient Egyptian mummies:

  • @KVMMUMMY from Kalamazoo Valley Museum in Michigan;
  • @LASMummy from Louisiana Arts & Science Museum in Baton Rouge, Louisiana;
  • @MummyDjedi at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, and
  • @RockaroundCroc, a crocodile mummy at the British Museum in London, UK.

 Find: Look for the coffin of Djehutymose in a prominent exhibit case in the middle of the first floor of the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. The coffin stands tall and open, with the interiors of the lid and base facing visitors. Exteriors of the lid and base can also be viewed from the back of the exhibit.

Learn More: Life, Death, and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt: The Djehutymose Coffin in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, by T. G. Wilfong, available in our gift shop or online.

Find out more about Richard Redding’s work in Giza, Egypt, at http://www.aeraweb.org.

IPCAA field conservation workshops — Spring 2015

BY CARRIE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

The Kelsey Conservation Lab recently hosted two hands-on conservation workshops for PhD candidates in the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology (IPCAA): one covering ceramics and the other copper alloy (bronze) conservation. Our goals were to help familiarize the students with archaeological conservation best practices, learn about condition issues and field recovery, and gain some useful hand skills. In essence, we wanted to provide them with conservation information they could take with them into the field.

The first workshop covered ceramics conservation, beginning with an overview of deterioration phenomena. We spent some time looking at artifacts that demonstrated springing, spalling, and other structural condition problems; and we talked about lifting, transport, and temporary storage, as well as long-term ceramic storage considerations. We then proceeded with the hands-on part: the smashing and subsequent reconstruction of thrift store ceramics (the most challenging object proved to be the purse-shaped cookie jar adopted by Shannon Ness). The students learned how to make their own Paraloid B-72, a conservation-grade adhesive, and label their homemade adhesive tubes with hazardous materials labels. Fun times!

IPCAA students
IPCAA students Dan Diffendale and Alison Rittershaus reconstruct broken ceramics.

The second workshop covered copper alloy conservation. This time we discussed deterioration, field recovery, and the goals of cleaning small metal finds (to stabilize artifacts and reveal information). The students participated in a cleaning exercise, where they learned how to use various tools — from bamboo skewers to scalpels — to clean archaeological copper alloy artifacts. They wore Optivisors during this step of the workshop. These magnifiers allowed them to better see the progress of their cleaning. The Optivisors also provided a fun talking point, as they basically transform the wearer into a lab tech/Star Trek-looking character. We finished by making Ethafoam cavity-cut supports for their artifacts and talking about the pros and cons of using silica gel in microclimate storage.

Conservation workshop
Conservator Carrie Roberts talks to the students about copper alloy corrosion.

We conservators had a lot of fun working with the IPCAA students. They had many questions for us and participated in the hands-on sections with real enthusiasm. I think they’ll be taking some useful information with them into the field. We’ve benefitted too; teaching drives home the fact that one of the best preservation strategies we have is to share our knowledge with others. We hope to provide interested students with other conservation workshops in the coming years!