November’s News from the Conservation Lab — Cultural Heritage Management

By Suzanne Davis, Curator of Conservation

Hello! The conservation excitement of my month was attending the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) in Denver. I co-chair the Cultural Heritage Management sessions for this meeting, along with my colleague Glenn Corbett (program director at the Council of American Overseas Research Centers). This year we had a great selection of papers in two sessions.

The first session focused on ASOR’s Cultural Heritage Initiatives. The ASOR group works on cultural heritage preservation in conflict zones and receives funding from a variety of important sponsors. They focus on documenting damage due to conflict, promoting global awareness of heritage in conflict zones, and planning emergency and post-war responses. We heard from archaeologists working on projects in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. If you love a) human life, and b) archaeological and built heritage, these papers aren’t easy to hear. And yet, it was good to see the important work ASOR is doing in partnership with local communities and heritage professionals in areas suffering from prolonged conflict and instability.

ancient ruins
Jerash, Jordan. Colonnade Street. Image from the ACOR Photo Archive.

Our second session looked at wider preservation initiatives for archaeological heritage and community-focused projects at archaeological sites. We heard about a great photo archive project at the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR), where archival photographs of Jordanian heritage are being digitized and made publicly available; this form of virtual site preservation is also a special form of time travel, since researchers can see early images of important sites. Following this presentation, a report from Tel Mozan about the ongoing site preservation and presentation work by local community members and Syrian professionals made me jealous that I don’t work there; I would happily hear multiple days of papers about this project! We also heard from two other wonderful community-engaged projects: the Madaba Regional Archaeological Museum Project, and the Umm el-Jimal Project, which is doing so much cool stuff — like water conservation — with its community, it’s hard to know what to explore here. You’ll have to check it out for yourself.

The conference was also interesting for many other reasons. In addition to lots of great archaeology papers and posters (many by current or former IPCAA students), I attended several meta sessions about ASOR itself. For example — the name, is it time to change it? The member consensus was “yes!” Other big topics were: where and how the organization should hold its annual meetings, and how the group would like to develop its research over the next fifty years. I was impressed by the commitment of the ASOR and ACOR boards to transparency and the desire to engage members in these kinds of decisions. It was an inspiring meeting, as always, and I hope you enjoyed this update about it. Check out some of the links above!

Two Conferences — Two Countries — Four Days

BY MATTHEW NAGLAK, IPCAA student

From December 6th to 9th, I had the opportunity to participate in two separate conferences on two different continents in different capacities. At the University of Edinburgh, I was invited along with U-M Classics professor Nicola Terrenato to give a talk about early Latin society and state formation based on evidence from Gabii, Italy, at the international conference The Dawn of Roman Law. Back in Ann Arbor, the Kelsey Museum was gearing up for Into the Third Century: The Past, Present, and Future of Michigan’s Archaeological Museums, a graduate and undergraduate student symposium sponsored by the Collaborative Archaeology Workgroup in conjunction with the bicentennial exhibition Excavating Archaeology @ U-M: 1817–2017 (which is currently on display at the Kelsey Museum). As one of the graduate student organizers for the event, I felt that I should do everything possible to make sure it went as smoothly as possible.

I arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland, on the morning of December 6, about two hours before the beginning of the conference. What followed was approximately 36 hours of extended presentations on topics ranging from the use of the dative in the Twelve Tables to an Etruscan inscription that may be one of the earliest moments ever found for the culture, of dining on Scottish delicacies as well as quite odd Italian-Scottish fusion, and sleeping the sleep of the jet-lagged. Following our well-received presentation, however, it was necessary to switch gears quickly from presenter-mode to that of an organizer/administrator for the symposium back in Ann Arbor.

Organizing a conference is not easy. One must arrange and purchase meals, airport rides, and hotel rooms for the participants, reserve and set up lecture venues, create schedules, prepare introductions, cajole speakers, clean up, and deal with the inevitable technology issues that will arise. Fortunately, the team of doctoral candidate Kimberly Swisher from Anthropological Archaeology, Kelsey Museum educator Catherine Person, and myself had each other to help spread the load. After an excellent keynote address by Lisa Çakmak (Associate Curator of Ancient Art at Saint Louis Art Museum and IPCAA alumna) on Friday night, Saturday went smoothly with presentations by numerous graduate students from IPCAA, Anthropological Archaeology, and Classics, as well as remarks from the directors of the Kelsey Museum and the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, Terry Wilfong and Michael Galaty, respectively. At the same time, there were multiple posters presented by undergraduate and graduate students and a technology session where participants could try out the newest technology for presenting archaeological materials to the general public. Overall, although an exhausting couple of days, it could not have gone any better!

CAW poster 2017

Attending the Archaeological Institute of America annual meeting

BY KATHERINE LARSON, PhD candidate, Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, University of Michigan

Over the weekend of January 8–11, I — along with the majority of the Classics Department — escaped the frigid air of Michigan to attend the joint Archaeological Institute of America (AIA)/Society of Classical Studies annual meetings in New Orleans, the first in which I participated by giving a paper. Attending these conferences is key for young scholars such as myself to establish a name and professional presence, to meet and network with friends and colleagues, and to learn about current, cutting-edge research. The AIA is the biggest and most widely attended, but many of us attend and participate in several conferences over the course of the year: alongside classes and excavation schedules, they are foundational to the annual rhythms of the archaeological academic life.

Back in mid-August, I submitted an abstract to the organization and learned in early October that it had been accepted for a fifteen-minute presentation at the meeting. My paper was titled “And Now, For the Rest of the Story: Interrogating Small Finds from Tel Anafa, Israel” (with a nod to the late Paul Harvey). In honor of the forthcoming Kelsey Museum publication of the final volume of the Tel Anafa excavation reports, I amalgamated the numerous studies of small finds from the site, including metal agricultural tools, terracotta spindle whorls and loomweights, and stone grinding implements, which have been written since the first volume on Anafa came out in 1994. We’ve come to realize over the years that, in addition to possessing luxurious imported objects from the Phoenician coast, the late Hellenistic residents of Tel Anafa were self-sufficient for their daily needs and engaged heavily in various forms of animal husbandry, agriculture, food production, and crafts (including metallurgy and textile manufacture). I argued that, while these objects are often overlooked in site-wide studies in favor of architecture and pottery and their discussion limited to specialist studies, they can tell us important things about daily life, economy, and social and cultural relationships in the ancient world. The Karanis objects on display at the Kelsey are another good example of this: they tell us so much about the people who lived and worked at Karanis, including how they spent their days, what they ate, what they wore, and so on.

The AIA annual meeting used to be more difficult for me: I didn’t really know anyone outside my own school, and I’m not good at walking up to people I don’t know to introduce myself. This isn’t the case anymore, and the meetings have become a fun and easy way to catch up with friends, former professors, field colleagues, and IPCAA alums. The book displays and sales are famous, with many publishers offering recently published texts at 25–50 percent discounts. Alas, I missed out on the deeply discounted inventory-clearing sales on the last day of the conference, when graduate students get in line at 7:30 a.m. clutching hotel room paper cups full of coffee in hopes of finding $100 volumes for $5.

The AIA isn’t all about formal papers and networking: many of us were able to find a little time to explore the nearby French Quarter. Highlights for me were eating charbroiled oysters and visiting St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Archaeologically, the burial ground is fascinating, with family mausoleums spanning from the 18th century to the present day, funerary inscriptions in French and English, and a particularly memorable monumental tomb of Italian design and imported marble.

Thanks to the financial support of the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, I was able to attend this year’s annual meeting and present the results of important research in a public forum to a community of archaeologists. Next year, I’ll be “on the market” and with any luck will spend the meeting interviewing for jobs!

News from the Conservation Lab

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Associate Curator and Head of Conservation

At the end of May, I attended the big professional conference for conservators in the United States — the annual meeting of the American Institute for Conservation. This was a special meeting for me because I was in charge of the program for the “Objects” group. This group has about 900 members, all of whom focus on the conservation of three-dimensional art and artifacts — in other words, objects.

Usually at a conservation conference, I attend the presentations about archaeological conservation because that’s what will help me most in my work for the Kelsey. But this year, because I was the program chair, I had to be there for ALL the papers. I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it, but it was great!

Conservator Hiroko Kariya at work at Luxor Temple, Egypt. Photo from the University of Chicago/Oriental Institute Epigraphic Survey webpage.
Conservator Hiroko Kariya at work at Luxor Temple, Egypt. Photo from the University of Chicago/Oriental Institute Epigraphic Survey webpage.

I learned about conservation work at Luxor Temple in Egypt — that’s up my alley — but also about preservation of public art in the Modernist architectural mecca of Columbus, Indiana (who knew?) and about conservation of the Watts Towers in Los Angeles, California, a National Historic Landmark sculptural site created by Sabato Rodia between 1921 and 1954 that’s considered a masterpiece of “outsider art.”

View of the Watts Towers. Photo from the Watts Towers webpage.
View of the Watts Towers. Photo from the Watts Towers webpage.

I also heard about the National Air and Space Museum’s amazing research and conservation of a Nazi Bat Wing stealth fighter aircraft made out of plywood (you can read a recent post about this work here on the NASM blog) and about preservation of animation cels at the Walt Disney Animation Research Library. I learned about how conservators at the Arizona State Museum are treating pine-pitch–coated Native American baskets, and about how a team at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago used CT scanning to virtually restore a skull from the Magdalenian Era.

Magdalenian Era skeleton
Magdalenian Era skeleton, with subsequent virtual facial reconstruction. Photo from University of Chicago Radiology webpage. See a Field Museum video about this project, featuring conservator JP Brown, here.

I gained a surprising amount of useful information about the treatment of complex, composite objects from these papers. This is knowledge that I can, actually, apply to my work at the Kelsey. Continuing education rules!