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.

We Call It the Silo Building Complex

BY RICHARD REDDING, Research Scientist, Kelsey Museum, blogging from Giza, Egypt

We discovered an Old Kingdom mud-brick building two years ago while clearing sand. It is located just south of the Khafre Valley Temple and separated from the tombs and pyramids by a large stone wall. As we cleared away the sand from the tops of the walls, one of the first things we found was a series of five silos — hence, the Silo Building Complex (SBC). Due to lack of time in 2012 we did not get to really excavate into the building except in two rooms on the eastern edge. We filled the area with clean sand and left it for the future.

This season (2014) we decided to explore this building. We had several questions:

  1. How old was it? Did it go back to the reign of Khafre? We did have one seal impression from Niuserre, a 5th Dynasty pharaoh.
  2. What was the building used for, and who occupied it?
  3. Is the depression to the west really a harbor?
  4. Could the SBC access the area to the north?

To answer these questions we excavated in four areas of the SBC. The first was two of the silos, which we knew would contain information on diet.

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The SBC on Saturday, 19 April. The large silos are very visible, and two have been excavated. To the right (east) are two rooms excavated in 2011. To the left (west) is a room excavated this season (photo R. Redding).
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Two photos of the silos. Note how high the walls still stand. The small semicircular cut in one is the remnant of the access door (photos R. Redding).

We also excavated a room on the western edge of the building. We wanted good floor deposits and to check on a blocked doorway that led to the west from the SBC.

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Excavated room. Note the Meidum bowl set in the floor (photo R. Redding).

The third excavation was a trench from the western room down into the depression we thought might be a harbor. The excavation revealed three terraces that stepped down to an elevation of about 14.5 meters above sea level (m asl). Coring in the west of the water-filled trench revealed a layer of black clayey silt at about 13 m asl. In the Old Kingdom the Nile flood plain at Giza was about 12 m asl, and the flood would have reached about 14 m asl. We have a harbor.

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Excavation into harbor from western room. Terraces marked (photo R. Redding).

The last area we have excavated is around the stone wall forming a border between the SBC and the area to the north. We found a doorway that was plastered that led through the wall from the SBC.

Finally, we excavated an area of the stone wall to establish the relationship between the SBC and the northern boundary wall. Which was built first?

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The stone boundary wall. Note doorway in lower left that allowed access from the SBC to the area to the north. The doorway is nicely plastered, and you can see the plaster line (photo R. Redding).

We are finishing the excavations, and we will begin the laboratory analyses soon. A team of ceramicists, a faunal analyst, a lithics analyst, botanist, and objects team will soon start work. In a few weeks I will send out another blog describing what they found.