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.

Welcome to Karanis: November 2012

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

The University of Michigan’s Karanis excavations in the 1920s/1930s profoundly affected numerous departments at the University. Led by Francis Kelsey, the Karanis team collected artifacts that form the core of the collections housed in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. The nearly 50,000 pieces remain a focus of research, exhibition, and outreach despite the fact that Michigan left the site in 1935.

In 2005, Prof. Willeke Wendrich of UCLA procured a permit to excavate at Karanis. Since then, Dr. Wendrich’s teams have continued research at the site to expand our knowledge of Graeco-Roman Egypt, particularly in the provincial areas.

This season, Fall 2012, Dr. Wendrich has been kind enough to extend me an invitation to join the Karanis team in the familiar position of registrar. During my stay here, I will be seeing the freshly excavated materials currently being found at the site and have a chance to compare them to what Kelsey and Enoch Peterson dug up in the 1920s and 1930s. At the same time, when I can, I will be writing a blog for the Kelsey Museum to share my experiences and thoughts about the current state of Karanis.

I’ve already spent two days at the site and have marveled at its sheer size and condition. Though the Kelsey Museum holds the original plans and maps, the chance to see it in person has given me the proper perspective on how vast the site is and how small the rooms actually are. Unfortunately, Karanis no longer stands as it once did. The views of Karanis captured by George Swain and his team of photographers (including Peterson and Easton Kelsey) are not what the visitor will find today. Many walls have collapsed, many structures no longer stand.

In the coming months, I will update this blog with new findings from the field. As register, I will see all finds come across my desk. I will speak with all the specialists and gather information about those items, and how they compare to the Kelsey’s holdings. I will photograph the site and try to do so from the same angles as Swain. All this I will share with you.

This wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of Dr. Willeke Wendrick and Kelsey Director Dr. Sharon Herbert. To both of them I owe a great deal of gratitude.

Until next time, back out into the field.