Money, money, money. If you take the time to really look at the money you carry around, you will probably notice two things: most of it is dirty, and it also looks pretty weird. Pretend you’ve never seen U.S. currency before and look at it carefully: there are shields and seals, birds, buildings, strange symbols, and people with crazy hair.
I really like this coin because it’s ugly in a special, money kind of way. Dirty, corroded, and tarnished, it’s got an odd-looking woman on one side and a weird little bird on the other. And — like a lot of ancient coins — it wasn’t made all that well in the first place. It’s super crooked, in fact. But, back in the day, it was legit because it’s very recognizable as an Athenian owl coin. These coins were widely used throughout the ancient classical world. On the front is the head of the goddess Athena, facing to the right. On the back – another symbol of Athena and Athens — a small owl. I think the one shown above is especially cute. You can see six of these cute-ugly owl coins for yourself at the Kelsey; they’re on view now in the special exhibit Less Than Perfect.
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. 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.