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. We wondered, “Which artifacts move our staff?”

Curator T. G. Wilfong and Conservator Claudia Chemello prepare the child mummy for installation in its simulated tomb.
Curator T. G. Wilfong and Conservator Claudia Chemello prepare the child mummy for installation in its simulated tomb.

BY TUNICIA ROSS, Custodian, Plant, Buildings and Ground Services, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan. A 24-year employee of the university and mother of two, Ross has been taking care of the Kelsey for the past two years.

Favorite Artifact: Mummy of a child. Human body, cloth, resin, wood. Roman period (1st century AD). Fayum region (?), Bay View Collection 1971. KM 1971.2.179.

Why. When I thought about ancient times before I came to the Kelsey, I imagined adults living then, not children. So the mummy of a child was very eye-catching to me when I first saw it. As I cleaned the glass (Plexiglas) panel in front of the exhibit, I realized it was not just an ancient mummy. But a real child who had lived more than 2,000 years ago. As a mother, I connected immediately.

After two years at the Kelsey, this child mummy still draws me. It also draws a lot of children! Museum rules caution visitors against touching any exhibits, but children leave more fingerprints on the child mummy’s viewing glass than any other exhibit case (except for the Djehutymose coffin).

This means I am often at the child mummy’s side, cleaning the glass. To clean Plexiglas, we use a special cleaner that doesn’t leave scratches. I first spray cleaner onto a cotton cloth before using it to wipe off fingerprints. We never spray cleaner directly onto museum glass because some exhibit panels have open spaces between them. If we sprayed directly, the cleaner would squirt between the open spaces and damage ancient artifacts.

One of my position’s perks is the opportunity to catch up with ancient history as I work. And when the curators and staff work on a new exhibition, it’s kind of exciting to see their preparations and the artifacts up close before the opening.

About Artifact. The anonymous child mummy probably dates to the early Roman period (1st century AD). We know nothing of the circumstances of its burial or discovery. The mummy came to the Kelsey from the former Bay View Collection, where it had been since the 1890s.

This mummy is displayed with pottery from roughly the same period (from the U-M excavation at Terenouthis, Egypt) to approximate what the burial — perhaps made in a pit grave — might have originally contained. In doing so, we hope to have struck a balance between respecting the wishes of ancient Egyptians while accommodating visitors’ interest in learning from this mummy.

Child mummy about to undergo CT-SCAN.
Child mummy about to undergo CT scan.

In 2002, an undergraduate engineering student undertook a project that led to a new investigation of this mummy through CT scan, undertaken at the University of Michigan Hospital. The resulting images revealed the enormous amount of linen used to bandage the small child’s body, a wooden framework used to stabilize the body during embalming, possible postmortem damage of the skull, and the surprising fact that the child’s left hand had six fingers.

The CT scan images were further used to construct a virtual 3D model of the body beneath the bandages and an actual polymer resin model of the mummy skull. The technology has allowed scholars to investigate this mummy in a non-destructive and respectful manner.

Background. The anonymous child’s mummy hints at the sometimes harsh realities of life in ancient Egypt: child mortality was high, and children who did survive lived in a world that could be dangerous. Many artifacts from the University of Michigan excavations in Egypt (1924–1935), including dolls, toys, and images, show aspects of children’s lives: how they looked, dressed, played, ate, and learned — and died.

Find It. Look first for the Djehutymose coffin in the center of the first floor of the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. While facing the coffin, turn slightly to the left, then slightly to the right. Now walk straight back to the wall where you’ll find a discreet glass panel built into the wall behind which the mummy of a child rests in a simulated cave burial.

Learn More. Life, Death and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt: The Coffin of Djehutymose, by T. G. Wilfong, is available in our Gift Shop or online at https://www.isdistribution.com/BookDetail.aspx?ad=34777.

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. We wondered, “Which artifacts move our staff?”

 BY KATHRYN (KATE) CARRAS, Entrance Monitor, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan. A self-confessed “fiberholic” with two degrees in textile studio art from Eastern Michigan University, in her spare time Carras spins, knits, weaves, crochets, embroiders, and knits dolls from her own patterns. She is currently learning rug-hooking and Japanese braiding (kumihimo).

Image
Fragment of woven wool tapestry.

Favorite Artifact. Small fragment of woven wool tapestry. Roman period (1st–4th century AD). Karanis, Egypt. KM 10534.

Why. “I first saw this textile fragment when I worked on a Karanis textile cataloging project for former Kelsey curator Thelma Thomas. The image — which may be a lion or some other creature — looks more like something out of a Pac-Man game. As a spinner and weaver, I appreciate all the textiles in the museum, but this little cartoon character is special.”

About Artifact. This small tapestry fragment features the motif of an animal that appears about to eat a red/purple object. The design is somewhat oval with an outer ring of yellow crested wave motif on the red/purple backgrounds.

The ancient weaver used light brown wool for the warp (set of vertical threads) and the weft (set of horizontal threads), along with a lighter yellow, red/purple, and blended yarn of red/purple and blue. Although the weft in the plain brown weave shows damage on the fragment’s edges, the colors remain vivid and still show luster.

This piece was one of approximately 3,700 textile fragments excavated by University of Michigan archaeologists during their 1924–1935 Karanis expeditions. Historic textiles from the Roman period and later antiquity are rare in many parts of the world, but Egypt’s dry climate fortunately preserved great quantities of them.

Background. Museum namesake Professor Francis W. Kelsey began a series of excavations in Egypt that were intended to find artifacts and documents in an archaeological context to illustrate daily life in the Greek and Roman world. These excavations began with the site of Karanis (modern Kom Aushim), extensive ruins of an abandoned town of the Greek and Roman periods. The University of Michigan spent eleven seasons at Karanis, where the team unearthed a wealth of material of everyday life. Thousands of these objects were given to the University by the Egyptian government, and the artifacts are now housed at the Kelsey and the papyri at the Papyrology Collection at the University of Michigan Library.

Find It. Currently not on exhibit, this fragile textile is protected in our climate-controlled collections storage. Scholars should contact Kelsey Collections Manager Sebastián Encina at sencina@umich.edu for further information.

Learn More. The book Textiles from Karanis, Egypt, in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology: Artifacts of Daily Life, by Thelma K. Thomas, is available for purchase in our gift shop or online from our distributor, ISD.