Unwrapping the Karanis dolls with micro-CT scanning

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and             JANELLE BATKIN-HALL, Graduate Intern in Conservation

Janelle Batkin-Hall, graduate intern in the Kelsey conservation lab, has been taking a closer look at the Kelsey Museum’s collection of dolls from the Romano-Egyptian city of Karanis. The dolls vary in type, but many consist of fabric bundles, some of which are wrapped around small rocks or shaped bone. Her research is to determine what the dolls are made of and what they were used for. To answer these questions, Janelle has examined the dolls using different forms of imaging, including micro-CT scanning, a technique used by scientists Basma Khoury and Dr. Ken Kozloff in the University of Michigan Orthopaedic Research Laboratories.

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Janelle (left) and Basma load the micro-CT unit.

Ms.  Khoury and Dr. Kozloff visited the Kelsey Museum to take a look at the dolls and determine if they would fit in the micro-CT scanner. The micro-CT is normally used to study small mammals, and luckily the dolls Janelle wanted to examine were roughly the same size. Janelle and the Kelsey’s head of conservation Suzanne Davis transported two of the dolls to the A. Alfred Taubman Biomedical Science Research Building, where Ms. Khoury scanned each artifact for over two hours.

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The Kelsey doll in the micro-CT unit.

Doll 1966.901.113 is made of what appears to be a polished piece of bone inscribed with eyes and eyebrows and wrapped in linen. Dyed animal fiber is attached to the top of the bone piece. Janelle was interested in visualizing the piece of bone, since most of it is obscured by the linen. Ms. Khoury captured images of the surface of the bone and a number of inscribed lines that are normally obscured by the doll’s linen wrappings. She also observed that the bone piece lacked the microarchitecture of bone, and is rather some other kind of material — possibly wood.

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Micro-CT scan of the doll’s shoulder.

We’d like to thank Basma Khoury and Ken Kozloff in the Orthopaedic Surgery and Research Departments, as well as Suzanne Davis and Terry Wilfong for their help in facilitating this project.

Ugly Object of the Month — October 2015

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator for Conservation, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

October’s Ugly Object has a nickname in the conservation lab: Scary Hair. When Scary Hair was excavated at the site of Karanis in Egypt, the excavators classified it as the head of a rag doll. But based on other similar objects from Karanis, this might not be the head; it might be the whole doll.

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“Scary Hair” the rag doll, front view. Wool, mud, hair. 2nd–4th century AD. KM 7512.

Scary Hair is about 10 cm long and is made of scraps of three different wool fabrics, plus mud and hair. Is it actually a doll? It could be, but what about the SCARY HAIR? And the mud? Could this doll, maybe, have been used for nefarious magic instead of play? Like a voodoo-type way to curse your mean neighbor? Curses! I don’t know.

I do know that this object looks kind of yucky, what with the hair and the mud. At the same time, the yuck factor is what makes it so special. Two-thousand-year-old hair! How cool is that? Whose hair is it? What about the mud?! What is the mud for? Is it for shaping the hair?

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“Scary Hair” rag doll, back view.

The little scraps of fabric are also kind of cool. Scary Hair’s blue hoodie is a type of fabric construction called “sprang.” Sprang fabric is like a knit, in that it’s stretchy, but it predates the invention of knitting. Sprang is made entirely with warp threads in a technique that’s sort of like braiding.

We’re especially into Scary Hair right now because we have a new graduate intern in the conservation lab, Janelle Batkin-Hall, and she has a research interest in — guess what? — hair artifacts! Janelle is working with us while she completes her graduate degree in conservation at SUNY Buffalo. We hope to feature Janelle’s work on our hairy dolls in future (yes, Scary Hair has friends). In the meantime, please come see Scary Hair for yourself. It’s located in the “toys” drawer, just like last month’s Ugly Object. This drawer is in the first floor case focused on Kelsey Museum excavations; if you’re standing and facing the black basalt statute of the seated dignitary, it’s the case directly behind the statue.