To celebrate the opening of the special exhibition Graffiti as DevotionAlong the Nile: El-Kurru, Sudan, I’ve chosen a particular group of graffiti for this month’s Ugly Object post. The graffiti of El-Kurru were created by ancient pilgrims to the site’s Kushite temple and pyramid. Images of animals, textiles, boats, and people were carved into the surfaces of the structures’ sandstone columns and blocks, along with hundreds of cupules — or holes — of varying size. This blogroll is all about embracing the seemingly underwhelming, so it felt only natural to take a closer look at these mysterious holes.
The same qualities that make Kurru sandstone so difficult to preserve — it is soft and readily disintegrates into sand — made it ideal for stone collecting. Suzanne and Geoff, who curated the exhibition, believe that pilgrims wanted to take a piece of the powerful temple structure with them as they continued on their journey. I can picture someone rotating a knife into the column surface while a pile of powder grows in their hand. This debris apparently brought protection or healing to whoever possessed it, which helps explain why the temple columns are so … holy. Apparently, a lot of people wanted a piece of that Kurru magic!
I was hoping to submit this last blog post on my time in Sudan, sharing some of our results, as I left the country on 21 December 2018, but unfortunately some rather significant events occurred and I had to leave the country early. On the 19th and 20th of December, protests erupted across the country with various motives that I will not focus on in this post, but I encourage you to read up about these events here and here. I was on my way to Khartoum during this period and while there I was advised to stay in the hotel and to leave the country on the earliest flight possible. In the end, I had no trouble at all leaving Sudan and saw no signs of the protests or their aftermath on the streets from the hotel to the airport, and I was very glad to arrive safely back home to news from my Sudanese friends and colleagues that they were all safe and in good health. Since I left, other research projects have continued to visit Sudan, such as the Uronarti Regional Archaeology Project, although the protests have continued off and on. These protests have recently resumed after a period of relative calm and I hope that the Michigan team now in Sudan stays safe and out of trouble!
In the image above, you can see the results of this season of geophysical survey and how it relates to the large Temple of Amun, visible in the left center of the image, and to the palm line to the lower right. This season of geophysics at Jebel Barkal was successful in defining a large number of archaeological features of interest, some of which are being investigated more intensively right now by other members of the project team on site. One of these is shown in more detail in the figure below, which zooms in on the center of the larger area of gray results in the larger image. What is most significant are the straight lines and right angles formed by the lighter and darker pixels, which reflect differing magnetic readings across the surface.
More detailed results and analysis of this survey season will be published after thorough analysis, interpretation, and comparison with the excavation results. It was a fantastic field season, even with the hot weather at the beginning and the other obstacles we encountered. At times I didn’t think that we would complete everything we set out to do, but in the end we did even more than we targeted — a rare event in my experience!
Many thanks are due to the many people who made this fieldwork possible. First of all, I want to thank my assistants in the field, Bakri Abdelmonim and Abdelbaqi Salaheddin Mohamend, who I have worked with now for many years and whose experience and expertise make my job significantly easier. Thanks also to Sami Elamin, our NCAM (National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums of Sudan) inspector, who helped me to organize work on site as well as my day-to-day life while in Sudan, and who invited me to many social events in El Kurru and nearby towns and cities, including me as much as possible in the life of the region. Many thanks to everyone in El Kurru who welcomed me during the month of fieldwork and have always welcomed me — it feels like a home away from home when I am there. I would like to also thank our project’s overall director, Geoff Emberling (University of Michigan), for supporting my work from the very start. Hopefully we’ll make many more discoveries together. Finally, the greatest of thanks are due to Larry and Julie Bernstein for the financial support that made this work possible, we could not have done it without your generosity.
The primary purpose of the Kelsey Museum archives is to document the activities of the Museum and capture history that will inform future research. Scholars visit the Kelsey archives to find information relating to excavations. When they want to know, for example, the measurements of the walls at Karanis, or the findspot for that certain vase from Seleucia, or when the excavation team was at Lahoun, they will peruse the records in the archives. Kelsey staff often use the archives to learn how older exhibitions were mounted, how certain artifacts were displayed, or what font was used in an exhibition 30 years ago. This history proves invaluable to the work that takes place at the Kelsey every day.
One of the pleasures of working in archives is finding information that was captured as a memento, but not meant to further research. These are snapshots of life — lectures and parties, events where people came together to socialize. These images will not likely be featured in any publication, nor will researchers from across the world ask to see them. But they remain an interesting view of a time long past, where friends we know, or knew, can be seen in another era.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present some random photographs found years ago in the archives. They were never included in our archival photographs database, so identification proved problematic. However, they were seen as being too valuable to the Kelsey’s history to just set aside and forget. Former Kelsey Museum director John G. Pedley (director from 1973 to 1986) sat down recently with the Registry to help identify the people and events in the photos. As a result, we were able to put faces to names, and keep the memories of these people alive. These photographs have now been accessioned into the archives database, and when people come to the Kelsey to do research, these images will be available to them.
With Professor Pedley’s assistance, we now know what events are captured in these photos, and and who attended them. We see here many Kelsey stalwarts such as John Pedley, James Mason, and Ted Buttrey attending lectures and receptions, and — in several photos — the retirement party for James Mason, who was responsible for building many of the Kelsey exhibition cases in years past. But one figure, Donald White, appears in all the images, and he is the catalyst for showing these photographs at this time. On November 21, Professor White passed due to injuries sustained in a car accident. He was 83. From 1963 to 1973, White taught at the University of Michigan. He then left to embark on a 30-year career as professor of classical archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania and curator of the Mediterranean section at the Penn Museum. While at Michigan, and continuing at UPenn, White was involved with the excavations at the Libyan sites of Apollonia (1965–1967) and Cyrene (1969, 1971, 1973–1981). More can be learned about these excavations in the Kelsey Museum publication In the Field (Talalay and Alcock, 2006).
It is a sad moment when a friend of the Museum passes. However, we are better off for having had Professor White spend time at the Kelsey. He will be missed, but his work carries on. And these photographs interspersed within our archives will ensure that we at the Kelsey will continue remember him.
BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
For the past four weeks it has been all hands on deck at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Indeed, it has taken the entire Kelsey village – curators, registrars, conservators, educators, and exhibit coordinators – to bring Oplontis to life.
The first step in installing Oplontis was to receive the objects. Over 30 crates of artifacts arrived from Italy nearly five weeks ago. Kelsey collections managers were at the Museum (very) early in the morning to oversee the movement of the crates from truck to loading dock to gallery. The crates were allowed to adjust to the climate of the Kelsey galleries for about a day before being opened.
Our next step was to unpack and install the artifacts. We did this with the help of two couriers, Giuseppe Zolfo, Head of Conservation at Herculaneum, and Stefania Giudice, Conservator at Pompeii. Giuseppe and Stefania checked the condition of artifacts as they were unpacked and helped install them in cases, on stands, and on top of columns. Both Giuseppe and Stefania have traveled to numerous museums around the world to assist with the installation of artifacts from the Pompeii area, and we’re grateful for their help in installing the Oplontis artifacts and sculpture.
The wall painting fragments that appear suspended on the gallery walls took many days to install, their positions needing to align with their reconstructed backgrounds. The coins and jewelry in the Villa B area were expertly mounted by Stefania and Giuseppe using covered pins and shaped metal rods. You may wonder how we moved the massive strong box onto its base. The box is too fragile to lift manually, but it is set on wheels, which allowed us to roll it from its crate onto the base with the help of a wooden block. We installed the large sculptures with the help of a company specializing in the movement and installation of works of art.
Our final steps will be to install the lighting and text before the exhibition opens. This is by far the largest installation I have been a part of, and it has been a fantastic learning opportunity. Among other things, I feel much more adept at using a drill.
BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator for Conservation, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
This month’s Ugly Object is, well, not as ugly as it could be. As fish go, there are certainly more attractive examples, but for an archaeological artifact made from lead? This is in great shape! We really like it! We chose it for you because, although our galleries are closed for a major exhibit installation, you can go see this little guy in person, right across the street in the Hatcher Graduate Library. He is moonlighting, along with four of his Kelsey friends, in a special exhibition curated by our colleague, papyrologist Brendan Haug.
BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. As is customary for the University of Michigan, staff at Michigan are given the week between Christmas and New Year’s day off. The Museum is preparing for this break, and the staff will shut down for behind-the-scenes business (don’t worry, the galleries will be open during the break). There is much work to do before we all go away, and much to get accomplished as we prepare for our upcoming exhibition, Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii (opening February 2016). This is a frantic time of year, as we catch up on work and projects that were set aside while working with students and classes.
Our predecessors worked hard during this time of year as well. Egypt is an extremely hot country, so the traditional dig season for many archaeologists, North American summer (when classes are no longer in session), is not ideal for excavations there. The extreme heat found in the deserts would be dangerous for the crew members on any dig. Instead, the Michigan team, as do many other projects then and now, opt for a North American winter season. Teams would arrive in Autumn, and due to the long trip to Egypt, they would stay a prolonged period of time. In many cases, the teams would be in Egypt over the holiday break, working from December (or earlier) into the new year and beyond. For the Karanis team, this meant being in Egypt, away from family, on Christmas. But they made the most of it. Pictures show decorations at the dig house as the team made their surroundings festive.
They, and the rest of the team, found other ways to keep entertained during the holiday season. And that is the focus of this month’s From the Archives. While at Karanis, the workers held a fencing contest on Christmas day (KM Neg #676). Unfortunately, our records do not indicate what year this took place, or if this happened every year, but we know that at least once in the life of the excavation, some fun was had with a fencing competition. The archives do not indicate if there was a winner, how many participated, or if this was just a random occurrence between two people having a little fun. The photographer is also unknown, though it would not be a stretch to assume George R. Swain was the man behind the camera.
On a Christmas day 90 years ago, the Karanis project team was preparing for their own holiday season just as we are today. They had decorations and games to pass the time. They were finding ways to make their current home as festive and comfortable as their permanent homes. Thousands of miles from Michigan, they just wanted the same comforts we will be enjoying soon.
BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
This month’s Ugly Object is a limestone relief sculpture of Isis-Thermouthis. Like many of our previous Ugly Objects, it’s from the site of Karanis, which was a Roman-Egyptian farming village in the Fayum Oasis. One cool thing about the ancient Egyptian religion is that the pantheon was big, and you could choose from a wide variety of locally appropriate gods and goddesses. Isis-Thermouthis is a special agrarian deity, an Isis/cobra goddess combination who was responsible for protecting the harvest. This relief was found in a house at Karanis, and scholars have speculated that items associated with Isis-Thermouthis (like sculptures of her and votive offerings to her) were originally displayed in household shrines.
Like many of our Ugly Objects, this one has seen better days. It’s burned, and few surface details remain. For comparison, have a gander at this much better-preserved Isis-Thermouthis figurine at the British Museum. You can, of course, visit Isis-Thermouthis at the Kelsey Museum. This object is on the first floor of the Upjohn Exhibit Wing, in the case devoted to University of Michigan excavations.
December marks the final month of Ugly Objects for 2015. Readers, it is therefore time to vote for Ugly Object of The Year! The earlier Uglies are linked here: