Ugly Object of the Month — June 2018

by Caroline Roberts, Conservator

This month’s Ugly Object will be featured in the new Kelsey in Focus case, a rotating exhibit space that will highlight some of the Kelsey Museum’s hidden collections. The first In Focus installment features a trio of ceramic duck figurines from Seleucia on the Tigris, a site just under 20 miles south of modern Baghdad that was excavated by the University of Michigan between 1927 and 1937. The duck fragment that’s made our list bears a remarkable likeness to the real thing; I live near a creek and as such share my habitat with a number of these aquatic birds, so I consider myself a fair judge of the high quality of this remaining fragment of duck. Even so, back when it was made this was not a one-of-a-kind object. It was created from a two-part mold, evidenced by a seam that bisects the duck’s face. Even more interesting: one of the duck’s nostrils is “clogged,” seemingly because it was not fully scooped out like the other nostril after casting. These little artifacts of the manufacturing process are fascinating, as is the question of how many of these ducks were made and what they were used for. Look closely and you can see traces of paint in the duck’s eyes and nostrils, and an ancient repair adhesive on its neck. Someone clearly valued this duck enough to stick its head back on when it broke.

ugly_june-2018
Head of a ceramic duck figure from Seleucia on the Tigris, Iraq. 2nd century AD. KM 2018.1.104.

Come visit the Kelsey in Focus case on the first floor of the Upjohn exhibit wing, next to the elevator.

Curator Favorites

imageWhen it comes to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s collections, not all artifacts are created equal.  Some call out to us intellectually,  others emotionally. With this in mind, we asked our curators to name their favorite Kelsey Museum artifacts and why each was a favorite. This is the first in a series of seven.

BY SHARON HERBERT, Museum Director and Curator of Greek and Hellenistic Collections, University of Michigan

Favorite Artifact.  Alabastron, clay, Protocorinthian (ca. 700–650 BC), National Museum of Athens, exchange 1933. KM 10925

Why. “The still-visible incision marks and the center impression of the compass point used to make the scales connects me to the artist who made them more than 2,662 years ago. In my imagination, I can almost see the artist carefully centering the compass point into the clay.”

About Artifact.  This small oil bottle originally was decorated with a colorful pattern of small red, yellow, and black scales. The ancient paint has disappeared and all that remains of the artist’s meticulous work are incision marks outlining the scales and the center impression of the compass point used to make them.

Find It.  In the ancient Greek case (on the left-hand side in front) on the first floor of the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.

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