Join the Conversation about the Museum’s Latest Special Exhibition!

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On August 24 the Kelsey Museum’s latest special exhibition, Urban Biographies, Ancient and Modern, opened to the public. It will be on display until January 8, 2019. An online version of the exhibition will remain available on the Kelsey website even after the museum show closes. 

The exhibition features Kelsey-sponsored archaeological research at Gabii in Italy, Olynthos in Greece, and Notion in Turkey and compares these ancient cities with modern Detroit. Comments on both the exhibition and the website are very welcome.

What does the concept of an “urban biography” mean to you? What do you think we can learn by comparing past and present? What are some of the details of the biography of your hometown, or of another city you know well? Please leave a comment in the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of this page.

August’s News from the Conservation Lab: Lab Cleanup Extravaganza!

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

Last week Suzanne and I took on the daunting, seemingly insurmountable task of cleaning out the Conservation Lab. When Suzanne mentioned earlier this summer that she wanted to schedule a lab cleanup, I thought she meant getting rid of some cardboard boxes, the used swabs … the usual tidying up one does in warmer months when there’s enough light to see things starting to pile up.

Oh, was I ever wrong.

What Suzanne had in mind was in fact a purge of all unused STUFF that had accumulated since her arrival at the Kelsey some 16 years ago, as well as a number of things that were here pre-Suzanne. We’re talking camera and microscope parts adapted to long-gone bodies; sad-looking Dremel tools that have seen better days; files that, at this point, belong in some sort of archive. We discovered the residues of past experiments — including blobs of dried-up green goo that I’m pretty sure were my doing — and various and sundry samples of artifacts, grout, bugs, and debris from now-ended research campaigns.

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Carrie rids her desk of old files, masking her wavering resolve with a smile.
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Workbenches-turned-sorting and stacking surfaces. Oh, the humanity!

There were moments of extreme indecision on my part, but Suzanne never wavered in her quest to rid our space of excess. Were it not for her drive and vision for a cleaner lab, I’m pretty sure we would have failed, with me buried under a pile of unused condition report template forms, never to be seen or heard from again. Thankfully, she got us through it. As a result, the lab has some rediscovered room to grow, and I learned quite a few things about the history of the Kelsey’s conservation department.

Craig’s Back!

It’s been pretty quiet in the corridors of Newberry Hall lately. The Kelsey staff is as busy as ever, but the students are all away for the summer; some are taking part in fieldwork projects, others are conducting their own research. (Some might be kicking back, though I’d wager it’s not very many.) The Kelsey research library and the IPCAA study areas — normally hives of activity enlivened by the voices of students chatting about their research, an upcoming exam, or the latest happenings on campus — are dark and deserted.

Frankly, it’s been a little dull around here.

But the new semester is approaching and the students have begun to trickle back, hale and tan and with renewed energy, and we who have stayed behind prod them for details about their adventures abroad.

The first to return this year is one of our favorite Canadians, Craig Harvey, who’s beginning his sixth year as an IPCAA grad student. We sat down with Craig to learn about his summer and (let’s be honest) to live vicariously for a little while as he regaled us with tales of his travels.

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The Kelsey: Welcome back, Craig! What have you been up to this summer?
Craig: Quite a lot! My “summer” actually started back in January when I left for what I thought would be a three-month research trip to Israel, Cyprus, and Jordan to collect data for my dissertation. During my trip, I was invited to join a survey project in Saudi Arabia, which extended my travels until June when I presented at a conference in Jordan and participated in a second project in Israel.

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Craig in front of al-Khazneh (“The Treasury”), Petra, Jordan. All photos courtesy of Craig Harvey.

Kelsey: Wow. That sounds amazing. What specifically were you working on?
Craig:
During my time in Israel, Cyprus, and Jordan I was doing a lot of traveling to sites relevant to my dissertation, which is on Roman-period construction in the Eastern Mediterranean. Specifically, I was looking at the extent of local influence on the construction techniques and materials used in Roman baths. When I was not visiting sites, I was conducting research in libraries and meeting with local scholars.

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The Sanctuary of Apollo Kylates at Kourion, Cyprus.

Kelsey: And in Saudi Arabia?
Craig: In Saudi Arabia, I was part of a survey project documenting the archaeological remains around the city of al-Ula, and for the project in Israel, I was working as the numismatist and was processing and identifying their coins.

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The old city of al-Ula, Saudi Arabia.
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Qasr al-Farid, a rock-cut tomb at Mada’in Saleh, near al-Ula, Saudi Arabia.

Kelsey: That sounds like an incredible experience. Did you get to travel around much?
Craig: Yes, I got to travel a lot, although not all that much in Saudi Arabia. I have been going to Jordan since 2008, and yet there were still places I had not seen before, so this trip was a chance for me to finally get to these important archaeological sites.

Kelsey: What did you do in your free time?
Craig: More travel! I tried to visit as many sites as possible, even those not connected to my dissertation. While in Cyprus, I rented a car and visited a number of the Painted Churches in the Troodos Mountains, and I even managed to visit Beirut and a few sites in Lebanon during the month I was in Jordan.

Kelsey: You must have seen some spectacular things. What would you say was your favorite aspect of the trip? Did you discover any “hidden gems”?
Craig: Well, like I said, I have been going to Jordan for over ten years now, but I still cannot get over how friendly and hospitable the people are. In my opinion, they are some of the nicest people in the world. In terms of a hidden gem, I have to recommend Qasr Bshir, which is a Late Roman fort in the Jordanian desert. It is one of the best-preserved Roman forts in the world, with its walls and towers nearly fully preserved. In my opinion it is one of the best hidden sites in the Middle East and is just spectacular.

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A view of Qasr Bshir, a Late Roman fort in the Jordanian desert.

Kelsey: Thanks a lot, Craig! What’s next for you?
Craig: Now I’ll go back to writing my dissertation!

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Craig would like to express his thanks to the American Center of Oriental Research, the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute, and the Rackham Graduate School for the generous grants that funded much of his travel.

Ugly Object of the Month — August 2018

by Caroline Roberts, Conservator

This month’s Ugly Object takes the cake for being both incredibly interesting and really, really ugly. What exactly is this rather scraggly looking textile fragment? We’re not entirely sure, although its report suggests that it might have once been part of a cap.

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Scrap of wool sprang textile, possibly from a cap. 18.5 x 8.5 cm. Roman period. Karanis, Egypt. KM 12797.

This bit of cap — discovered at Karanis, Egypt — was made using a technique called sprang or nålebinding, an ancient precursor to knitting in which loops of yarn are interlinked using a single needle. Are you a yarn enthusiast or experimental archaeologist and want to try the technique for yourself? Check out Suzanne’s 2016 blog post about an ugly sprang sock, which features links to pages detailing how to knit/link your own ancient sock.

There are other cool things about this sprang fragment, one being its color. We suspect it could be an organic red dye, although analysis would be needed to confirm this. Rose madder, a red colorant derived from the processed roots of the madder plant, was used frequently as a pigment in Roman Egypt and might have been used to color our cap frag. Another cool thing is the black overcast stitches that run along one edge. These could very well be part of the cap’s original construction, or perhaps an ancient repair.

This and other less frequently seen Karanis textiles will be on display in the upcoming Kelsey exhibition Ancient Color, opening February 8, which explores the sources, uses, and scientific investigation of color in the Roman world.

From the Archives 32 — July 2018

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

It’s July, a time when the country gathers together to celebrate the independence of the United States. The days leading up to and following the 4th of July are filled with patriotic images. These include the flag, depictions of Uncle Sam, fireworks, and, of course, the eagle. A long-standing symbol of America, the eagle has been used in a number of depictions over the years. We see it on coins, on stamps, on posters, in toys, in movies, even at the grocery store and at restaurants. It is a proud symbol, one that carries much weight and meaning.

The eagle as a symbol of power has a long tradition in other cultures, one that goes back thousands of years. It is often depicted as the bird of Zeus, the king of gods in ancient Greek culture, where we see it in a variety of forms, including textiles and figurines. The Romans carried it forward with their depictions of Jupiter. The power of Jupiter equaled the power of Rome, and where the Romans traveled so did eagle imagery. It appeared on coins, figurines, military paraphernalia, and sculptures.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a few images of eagle sculptures found by the University of Michigan’s 1924 expedition to Antioch of Pisidia, in modern-day central west Turkey. 

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Relief carvings from the frieze of the city gate of Pisidian Antioch, showing a double-eagle shield and swords. Kelsey Museum Archives KR013.03, KR068.01, and KR110.06.

These carved relief blocks are from the frieze of a monumental arch located at the entrance of the city. It was built by the people of Antioch and dedicated to the emperor Hadrian and his wife Sabina in commemoration of Hadrian’s tour through Asia Minor in AD 129. The arch would have presented a monumental welcome to the emperor as he entered the city.

Established as a Roman colony under Augustus in 25 BC, Pisidian Antioch was the oldest and most strategically important of the Roman colonies in Pisidia, but by the Hadrianic period it was only one among many prosperous cities in Asia Minor. Civic competition among cities within Roman provinces was fierce; a visit by the emperor was a prestigious event that could raise a city’s stature in relation to its neighbors and within the imperial administration.

The form and decorative program of the Arch of Hadrian and Sabina contains numerous references to another monumental structure in Antioch, the Arch of Augustus, erected in 2 BC during a period of intense imperial investment in the city. “Creating a new version of the [Arch of Augustus] at the very entrance to the city and dedicating it to Hadrian would announce the city’s dedication to the emperor” (Ossi 2011, 101).

So as we celebrate this 4th of July, we can remember how, nearly two thousand years ago, the people of Antioch, a mixture of Phrygians, Greeks, and Romans, employed the eagle — the very symbol of America’s hard-won independence from British rule — to strengthen their ties to the imperial power of Rome. 

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For more about the archaeological expedition to Pisidian Antioch, the viewer is invited to visit Building a New Rome: The Imperial Colony of Pisidian Antioch. In this online version of the special exhibition, held at the Kelsey Museum in 2006, curator Elaine Gazda and her team make use of archival materials to present Antioch in new and refreshing ways. The exhibition catalog of the same title is available for purchase.

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Ossi, Adrian J. 2011. “The Arch of Hadrian and Sabina at Pisidian Antioch: Imperial Associations, Ritual Connections, and Civic Euergetism,” in Elaine K. Gazda and Diana Y. Ng, eds., Building a New Rome: The Imperial Colony of Pisidian Antioch (25 BC–AD 700), pp. 85–108. Kelsey Museum Publications 5. Ann Arbor: The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.

July’s News from the Conservation Lab

by Suzanne Davis, Curator of Conservation

I recently returned from a few weeks of work at one of the Kelsey Museum’s excavations — the site of Notion in Turkey. Notion is a beautiful, rugged, and windswept site on promontory jutting into the Aegean Sea, and it’s interesting from a research perspective because it preserves an entire city, albeit at ground level.

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Altar of the Temple of Athena at Notion, with view of the Aegean Sea.

For the past three years, I’ve been working with Notion team to assess the site’s condition and the ongoing risks to its long-term preservation in order to develop a sustainable plan for its conservation. Conservation planning at Notion is interesting and challenging for many reasons. One is that the city is built from a few stone types that have inherent problems (translation: the stone is falling apart). Another is that Notion is poised to develop — and be conserved — in a way that’s uncommon for an archaeological site. Because the site has remained almost untouched, it preserves a large stretch of pristine coastline and is home to quintessential Mediterranean ecosystems. Unlike many archaeological tourism destinations in Turkey, Notion provides an opportunity for something closer to ecotourism, a type of sustainable tourism designed to benefit local communities at the same time that it encourages conservation and enjoyment of the natural environment. This poses a special conservation challenge: How can the site be preserved in ways that are unobtrusive and retain the value of its natural as well as archaeological features?

To give you a view into some of the difficult decision-making around this, here is one small example, focused on oregano. Yes, this star of summer cookery plays a major role at Notion! Notion’s wild oregano is incredibly powerful; it makes the site smell amazing, it’s attractive, and people come from all around the region to harvest it. But … it’s also a pesky condition risk to our falling-apart stone. It grows particularly well inside the blocks of the Temple of Athena. Not around them. In them. The oregano is literally breaking them apart.

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The Temple of Athena at Notion.
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Wild oregano bursting forth from the blocks of the Temple of Athena.

So the question becomes, which is more important? The temple? The oregano? Thankfully it grows in other places on the site, too, so if we decide to remove it at the temple, we won’t doom this herb to destruction (but I secretly think the oregano from the Temple of Athena is the best on the site). At the moment, the Notion team is still in the planning phase for excavation and conservation, so we’re not yet ripping this herb out wholesale. We do, however, occasionally harvest small amounts for our own use, and I will leave you with one recipe for it — a cocktail created by the conservation and site management team at Notion. Enjoy!

The Notionikos

Ingredients

  • 1 sprig fresh oregano* (additional sprig for garnish, optional)
  • 3 slices small cucumber, peeled (additional slice for garnish, optional)
  • 1/2 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 oz gin
  • ice
  • tonic water

Directions

  1. In a rocks (old fashioned) glass, muddle the oregano and cucumber slices with the lemon juice.
  2. Add the gin and fill the glass 2/3 full with ice.
  3. Add the tonic and stir gently.
  4. Garnish with the additional oregano sprig and cucumber slice, if desired.
*The oregano from Notion is STRONG – feel free to use more sprigs if you’re not getting enough of an herb-forward effect.

Ugly Object of the Month — July 2018

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

I’m going to open this month’s Ugly Object blog post by echoing a sentiment expressed by many of our readers: beauty (or lack thereof) is in the eye of the beholder, and not every Ugly Object is ugly to everyone. In fact, “ugly” is not the first word I would use to describe July’s pick, a small jug (or juglet) in the form of the head of Dionysus.

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Ceramic juglet in the form of the head of Dionysus. Roman, 1st century BCE. KM 6542.

When I gaze into this vessel’s mold-formed visage, the first thought that enters my mind is actually, “How cool is that?” Perhaps this comes from the fact that I am a huge fan of things that look like other things but function as the simple thing that they are. There are other examples of this in the Kelsey collection (many of them ceramic, a material so easily pressed into any shape), my favorite being a little date-shaped vessel that’s got all the wrinkly impressions of the desiccated fruit. This juglet’s maker took it a step further in creating a vessel that embodies in both form and modeling the square-jawed masculinity (and rather surly expression) of Dionysus. Who wouldn’t have enjoyed pouring wine straight from the head of the god of wine himself? Or eating fish off a fish plate, only to discover an illusion of more fish in the decorative scheme of the dish underneath? Perhaps I am too easy to please, but these clever little details never fail to delight me.

The Dionysus juglet will be traveling to Dearborn next spring, where you can see it on display at the Alfred Berkowitz Gallery at University of Michigan-Dearborn. Be sure to pay the juglet a visit if you are there!