From the Archives #27 February 2018

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA

The exhibition Excavating Archaeology presents a look back at the history of archaeological explorations undertaken by the University of Michigan. It was guided by the work of Carla Sinopoli, who co-edited the book Object Lessons & the Formation of Knowledge (with Kerstin Barndt; University of Michigan Press, 2017). This book presents the fabulous history of how the materials that came to make up the various libraries, archives, and museums at U-M —  including the Kelsey Museum — arrived here in the first place.

The collections at the Kelsey have had their own books detailing their histories. Artifacts from excavations are thoroughly discussed in the book In the Field (Talalay and Alcock; Kelsey Museum Publication 4. Kelsey Museum, 2006), while Passionate Curiosities (Talalay and Root; Kelsey Museum Publication 13. Kelsey Museum, 2015) gives us the background of the objects that were collected by individuals.

Books like Object Lessons, Passionate Curiosities, and In the Field owe much to the many people who have, in their own way, written about the collections at Michigan. One of these is the focus for this month’s “From the Archives.”

For this month, we present a report written by Museum of Classical Archaeology curator Orma Fitch Butler. Butler, a native of Fitchburg, Michigan, and high school student in Mason and Lansing, received her bachelor of arts in 1897 from the University of Michigan. In 1901, she earned her master of arts, and then her doctor of philosophy in 1907, both also from U-M. After some time away, she returned to Michigan in 1912 as Francis Kelsey’s assistant in Latin and Roman Archaeology. In 1928, after several other promotions, Butler was named Curator of the Archaeological Collections, a position she held until her death in 1938.

As part of her duties, she wrote a report on the collections that was presented to the University president. This particular report is from 1930, and covers the time period when the Museum first opened (not yet named the Kelsey Museum). Dr. Butler writes about the collections and how they came to be in Ann Arbor. She tells us about the various people involved in procuring the artifacts, starting with Francis Kelsey. From there, she speaks about other U-M professors, friends from Ypsilanti, and friends from Tunisia, Italy, and elsewhere in Europe, Africa, and Asia. What she writes gives us greater insight into the objects we admire in the galleries every day.

Butler writes more than just about the history of the collections in her report. She speaks about the aftermath of Kelsey’s death (in 1927), and how the collections and Museum owe much to him and his legacy. She writes that, with little to no publicity, the Museum still received over 100 people in its third and fourth months. This interest that the public has in classical archaeological materials, Butler notes, is a great sign for the future of the collections. She stresses that the University has a duty to maintain and care for the collections.

Elsewhere, Butler writes about Newberry Hall, and how, even so early on, it is acknowledged that it is not adequate for a museum. However, the museum staff are using the space as best they can, with certain rooms dedicated to different exhibition themes (the long room in the back what is now the gift shop and classroom, long before the elevator was installed).

Ultimately, the collections are in good and sound condition. The future seems bright. The University needs to invest in the collections and care for them. By doing so, they will ensure they can continue being used for two important purposes: exhibitions and instruction. Butler would be heartened to know that, nearly 90 years later, this vision remains true.

Read more about Orma Fitch Butler here: https://www.lib.umich.edu/faculty-history/faculty/orma-fitch-butler

View the report as a PDF here: OrmaButlerReport.

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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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A student’s perspective

BY PAIGE DE RUE, Kelsey Registry Intern and Major in Classical Archaeology and Anthropology

This past fall semester has been truly an exciting experience since I was provided with the awesome opportunity to work as an intern for the Kelsey Registry. Having experience working with a paleontological museum collection, I was familiar with some basic collections etiquette, but nothing could have prepared me for how thrilled I was to be working with archaeological material- my field of interest and study. My first day as an intern, I was a little intimidated to be working in such a pristine and restricted environment. However, I adjusted to this new environment just fine and focused my attention more on working with the collections, which was the best part of the internship of course! Working hands-on with the artifacts, I was often responsible for pulling objects needed for research or class use and returning them to their permanent location once they were no longer needed. I did an inventory of a couple cabinets and assisted with condition reports for a portion of loaned artifacts. Sometimes my help was needed for class visits to assist in watching the objects and ensuring their proper handling by students. This internship also taught me how vital a database system is to such a large collection. The database is essential for finding any artifact in the collection. It keeps track of temporary and permanent locations, gives you a history of where the artifacts have been in the past, and so much more.

A project I completed by the end of the semester involved reorganizing a portion of the collection in permanent storage. This project required extensive planning before any physical movement could take place in order to ensure a manageable project and safe handling of artifacts in drawers. I helped the collection become more consolidated and easily accessible by combining worked bone artifacts into one cabinet. I feel very proud to know that I have helped the future of the collection and that I was able to reorganize some artifacts in such a way that makes them better accessible for researchers, class use, and the conservators.

Without this internship experience, I do not think my long-term career goals would be the same as of today. The Kelsey Registry has shown me that I thoroughly enjoy working with archaeological collections in the museum setting versus working with archaeological material in the field. In my future, I hope to be working with museums collections and I know I will forever be thankful for my great experience as an intern here at the Kelsey!

 

 

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.