From the Archives — March 2017

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager

The name George R. Swain is one that is familiar to many in the Kelsey community. His photographs dominate the archives, and they make the bulk of those from excavations such as Karanis. He was also instrumental in the photography of collections from overseas, and capturing people in the countries he visited. Through his lens, we see life as it was in Egypt and Turkey/Syria in the 1910s and 1920s.

Swain’s is not the only name that played an important role in the history of Kelsey photography, though. Starting in the 1950s, Fred Anderegg worked with the Museum on a number of excavations, including the project at St. Catherine’s on the Sinai Peninsula. In the following years, Mr. Anderegg spent time photographing the Kelsey artifacts in order to document them. What ensued was thousands of photographs, all done in black-and-white on 35mm rolls. Thanks to Fred, the Kelsey now has thousands upon thousands of these 35mm images cut up into strips, organized by year they were photographed, the roll number within that year, and frame within roll. Each 35mm strip envelope includes a key for which artifact was photographed, and which frame it can be found in.

Many of these photographs were then contact printed, where a similar size print was made in the positive. These were adhered to the accession cards that acted as the database before computers became such an integral part of our daily work.

Over the years, the Registry has worked to digitize some of these when we needed good, quality photographs of our collections. However, with tens of thousands of these strips waiting to be digitized, it has been a daunting task, to say the least. A few have been digitized as needed, but only a handful and quite sporadically.

Recently, the Kelsey Museum partnered with the History of Art’s Visual Resources Collection (VRC) to pilot test a project where these photographs will be digitized en masse, with the proper metadata and filenames attached to each file. This will save the Kelsey many person-hours, and will allow for a greater inclusion of photographs in our database and for other uses. Though they are still in black-and-white, they provide great photographs where we can easily distinguish each item from another. These are used for publications, but also serve as record shots of our collection.

The entire process will take some time to complete, if it does go forward (we started with about 100 rolls to test out and see if we can continue it). However, it is a much quicker process than what we could do internally, and will result in higher-quality scans. In due time, these will be available to Kelsey staff, as well as researchers and students looking to get a glimpse of items often kept hidden out of view.

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Welcome to Karanis: December 2012

imageimageBY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan

A month has passed since I arrived at Karanis, and work has been progressing well. Several areas are open at the moment, encompassing different sections of the site. The team is working mostly in areas not excavated by the Michigan team in the 1920s, outside the original Michigan boundaries. So far they have been excavating at a granary to the east of the North Temple, a kiln south of the South Temple, and a bathhouse north of the North Temple.

The finds from all sections have been interesting. Plenty of pottery has been found throughout the site, which is not at all surprising. Most of it consists of body sherds, but on occasion the team has found more unusual pieces, including filtered rims and whole vessels.

Glass and terracotta are still appearing. Fragments of a mask, possibly, and fragments of a shrine, potentially, have been excavated at the granary. This trench has also yielded a leather sandal, two large stone basins, and a mortar.

The site of Karanis has been a blessing for scholars for the amounts and types of materials discovered. This includes organics, which are still present: seeds, charcoal, textiles, and animal remains have come up in great numbers. Most interesting of all, though, are the large baskets and rope/cordage found. The weaving patterns used and shapes are reminiscent of those in the Kelsey collections.

There have been a few surprises thus far. The granary team found a pen that could have held animals, but its construction is puzzling. Walls were added that appear to serve no purpose. There is a hole in the wall, but its placement is right behind the newly built wall. Room 1 in the granary has a low-wall bin that seems quite small to have held much.

Unfortunately, one trench, the kiln, lies in the area destroyed by the sebakhim (farmers who dug up mudbricks for reuse). The levels here are disturbed, though they are still yielding plenty of finds. The room has two kilns, one small and one large. Though one glass fragment was found, it is likely this kiln was used for ceramics, as plenty of pottery and slag are found in the trench.

Due to ongoing work at Karanis, I will not be posting pictures of finds, as the team will likely want to publish their materials. However, I can show personal pictures of the site to give the reader a sense of the state of the town. Much has changed since Michigan left in 1935. Buildings that once stood prominently are covered by sand. Walls that towered over workers no longer exist. Wall paintings, decorated niches, dovecotes, arches are no longer visible. Some have been covered by backfill. Some have been claimed by the desert sands. Some have been destroyed by human hands.

When I return to Ann Arbor, I will present additional photographs to show the difference between 1920s Karanis and 2012 Karanis. Most has changed as detailed above. But the images shown here give a glimpse of how some structures remain unchanged.

A month has passed since I arrived at Karanis, and work has been progressing well. Several areas are open at the moment, encompassing different sections of the site. The team is working mostly in areas not excavated by the Michigan team in the 1920s, outside the original Michigan boundaries. So far they have been excavating at a granary to the east of the North Temple, a kiln south of the South Temple, and a bathhouse north of the North Temple.

The finds from all sections have been interesting. Plenty of pottery has been found throughout the site, which is not at all surprising. Most of it consists of body sherds, but on occasion the team has found more unusual pieces, including filtered rims and whole vessels.

Glass and terracotta are still appearing. Fragments of a mask, possibly, and fragments of a shrine, potentially, have been excavated at the granary. This trench has also yielded a leather sandal, two large stone basins, and a mortar.

The site of Karanis has been a blessing for scholars for the amounts and types of materials discovered. This includes organics, which are still present: seeds, charcoal, textiles, and animal remains have come up in great numbers. Most interesting of all, though, are the large baskets and rope/cordage found. The weaving patterns used and shapes are reminiscent of those in the Kelsey collections.

There have been a few surprises thus far. The granary team found a pen that could have held animals, but its construction is puzzling. Walls were added that appear to serve no purpose. There is a hole in the wall, but its placement is right behind the newly built wall. Room 1 in the granary has a low-wall bin that seems quite small to have held much.

Unfortunately, one trench, the kiln, lies in the area destroyed by the sebakhim (farmers who dug up mudbricks for reuse). The levels here are disturbed, though they are still yielding plenty of finds. The room has two kilns, one small and one large. Though one glass fragment was found, it is likely this kiln was used for ceramics, as plenty of pottery and slag are found in the trench.

Due to ongoing work at Karanis, I will not be posting pictures of finds, as the team will likely want to publish their materials. However, I can show personal pictures of the site to give the reader a sense of the state of the town. Much has changed since Michigan left in 1935. Buildings that once stood prominently are covered by sand. Walls that towered over workers no longer exist. Wall paintings, decorated niches, dovecotes, arches are no longer visible. Some have been covered by backfill. Some have been claimed by the desert sands. Some have been destroyed by human hands.

When I return to Ann Arbor, I will present additional photographs to show the difference between 1920s Karanis and 2012 Karanis. Most has changed as detailed above. But the images shown here give a glimpse of how some structures remain unchanged.