Ugly Object of the Month — April 2016

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

The Kelsey Museum’s current special exhibit Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero is full of insanely gorgeous objects from the villas of Oplontis near Pompeii. But guess what? The Kelsey has a few objects on view in this exhibit, too, and you probably won’t be surprised to learn that some of them are, you know, not insanely gorgeous.

Polished fragment of architectural facing. KM 29617.

This month’s Ugly Object is a marble sample — basically, a polished rock — and it’s on view in a section of the exhibit that demonstrates how the villas’ surfaces were adorned with decorative stones. You see the object here before conservation treatment to remove the collector’s label. The label — which we saved, of course — says: “From the Great Theater at Ephesus, Sept 6th 1867.”

It was collected and given to the Kelsey by James D. Candler, a businessman, builder, and traveler who was based in Detroit in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This stone sample and others like it have been the focus of recent research at the Kelsey. IPCAA alumnae Leah Long and Lynley McAlpine, U-M professor and Kelsey curator Elaine Gazda, and University of Akron emeritus professor Clayton Fant have been studying the Kelsey’s stone samples, in part to see if analytical techniques like stable isotope analysis can connect samples like this one to their sources and buildings of origin.

Identifying pottery in the field: Sad Handle Ware at Omrit

BY CAITLIN CLERKIN, PhD student in the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, University of Michigan

Pottery reading in the Omrit registry.

One step in studying pottery involves identifying what archaeologists call wares. The term “ware” refers to a particular way of preparing the fabric (the material that makes up the vessel: clay, natural mineral inclusions, added temper) to create a specific range of shapes or forms. This kind of grouping is defined by a combination of characteristics of production process, material, and shape/appearance. (See here for another definition of ware, and other terms associated with studying ceramics.)

I spent the first three weeks of June studying excavated pottery at the Omrit Settlement Excavation Project. Omrit is a site in northern Israel’s Upper Galilee, set at the foothills of the Hermon Range; it is the location of a Roman temple and a late Roman settlement (on which the current excavation focuses). I work with one of the project directors, Dr. Jennifer Gates-Foster (UM/IPCAA alumna!), of UNC-Chapel Hill, on the excavated pottery: as part of our work, we sort, identify, and record the different wares we find in each excavated unit (as well as a range of other data about the pottery). This means both identifying known wares and keeping an eye out for shared characteristics amongst sherds of unknown fabric or wares. Sometimes, with enough reoccurrence, these groups of unidentified sherds become identifiable as a new ware; sometimes, we add to what we know about previously identified wares when we spot new shapes or characteristics.

At Omrit, we aim for total recovery of cultural materials. To this end, the excavators sift all excavated dirt (pouring it through 1/4-inch mesh screens). The resulting volume of pottery is large (I don’t yet have final tally for 2015, but, in the 2014 season, we “read”—sorted, analyzed, and recorded—48,678 sherds, and 848.33 kg of pottery, plus part of a backlog from 2013), which is absolutely wonderful for the data set but can sometimes lead to what I call “sherd shock.” While in the midst of a sherd shock fit this season, I came across this diagnostic sherd:

Sad Handle Ware?

“Diagnostics” are what we call rims, bases, and handles of ceramic vessels: examination of these pieces can usually help us identify what the larger vessel shape or type was. Given a reasonably sized piece of a rim, ceramics specialists can usually identify the sherd as coming from a bowl rather than a jar. Additionally, rim shape can tell us what kind of a bowl a given sherd once belonged to. For example, the photo below shows, from a single context, 32 rims of a single type of bowl (with a very distinctive rim) called a “Banias bowl,” named for a nearby site where the bowl type was first identified. (I call this quantity a Banias Bowl Bonanza.) Having a small portion of each rim (as seen in the photo) is enough to identify the type of bowl.

A Banias bowl bonanza!

Anyway, back to that funny diagnostic sherd (in the photo with the pink 5-cm scale): that sherd is a vessel handle. But what kind was it? It seemed very strange, and it was not a handle shape that was familiar to me from published literature on the region.

Through consultation with other archaeologists at Omrit, such as field director Dr. Ben Rubin of Williams College (also a UM/IPCAA alumnus!), we determined that, while the handle looked oddly like a finger, a more appropriate name for the group to which this strange, unknown handle belonged would be “Sad Handle Ware” (because it was the saddest looking handle we had ever seen).

Not Sad Handle Ware → Hawarit Ware!

Closer examination of the handle’s fabric and surface treatment ultimately allowed me to identify it as Hawarit Ware, a cooking ware produced at a kiln (at modern Khirbat el-Hawarit) just up the slopes of Mt. Hermon from Omrit. Hawarit Ware is our main cooking ware at late Roman Omrit and is the group to which most of our cooking pots, casserole pots, and many other vessels belong. This shape was unfamiliar, but everything else about it matched Hawarit Ware. So much for a new ware! (Alas, I will never be famous for identifying Sad Handle Ware … because it is not a Thing.) This funny little handle, however, was a reminder that we sometimes come across new vessel shapes in known wares — and that our examination of pottery at Omrit will do more than just tell us about activity, consumption, and chronology at Omrit; it will also feed back into the pool of knowledge about ceramics in the region, adding to what is known about local and regional ceramics for ceramic specialists after us.

Exam time for archaeology graduate student

BY CAITLIN CLERKIN, PhD student, Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology (IPCAA), University of Michigan

Studying for exams
A confused pile of books for term papers and IPCAA archaeology qualifying exams that I need to cart back to the library.

The end of the “winter” term at U of M marks not only the end of classes and preparations for summer work, whether in the field or stateside. For IPCAA students in their first three years, the end of the winter term also marks IPCAA exam time.

IPCAA students take a lot of exams before advancing to PhD candidacy: beyond exams in courses, we have to pass four language exams (Latin and Greek, and German and French or Italian), a qualifying exam in ancient history, and archaeology qualifying exams in three major areas (Egypt and the Near East, Prehistoric Aegean and Greek, and Etruscan and Roman), and preliminary exams (preliminary, that is, to a dissertation). The language exams occur throughout the school year, but the other three exams occur just after the end of each academic year. First-years take the ancient history qual; second-years take “Quals” (the archaeology exams); and third-years take their prelims, on topics they’ve chosen in consultation with faculty members. Thus, if you visited the Kelsey during the first week of May, you may have seen some dazed, ermm, I mean, well-rested, calm, and chock-full-of-knowledge-looking graduate students wandering around the building.

The goal underlying Quals is ensuring that IPCAA students gain a foundational understanding of the major subject areas of our field, which will allow them to develop their research focus informed by knowledge about major sites, monuments, and theories while also equipping them with the resource base to teach about these different areas. As such, studying for and taking Quals is an exercise in solidarity and solidification. Solidification, because we are asked to consolidate our understanding of facts, developments, theories, and trends so that we can redeploy all these things to answer new questions. Solidarity, because taking Quals is an experience (or labor) undergone by individual cohorts together, but that also unites IPCAA cohorts across time, on what I imagine is a sociological or ritual rites-of-passage kind of level. Not only have we learned similar material, but we’ve all sat and written essay after essay, slide ID after slide ID for hours (twelve actually), after months of studying and anticipation. As a second-year in IPCAA, I, with my three cohort-mates, just took Quals. Afterward, when corresponding with an IPCAA alumna with whom I work in the field about our upcoming fieldwork, I sensed a sigh of relief in her congratulations to me for having the exam in my rearview mirror.

Before entering IPCAA, I received an MA in Latin from the University of Georgia, which involved passing a “Reading List Exam” in March of our first year in the program. In the frenzied studying for that exam, my cohort quizzed each other on writers, works of literature, and historical events. Since then, I have not forgotten that the Roman playwright and Stoic Seneca was forced to commit suicide by Nero in 69 CE, along with his nephew, the poet Lucan, because a classmate came up with the mnemonic soundbite that Seneca and Lucan “died in each other’s arms” (not strictly true but will be forever ingrained in my memory). Similarly, I think (or hope) I will never forget my go-to examples of the mixing of the Doric and Ionic orders on temples (Temple of Athena, Paestum), or where the Stone Law Code Stela of Hammurabi was found (Susa) and why that matters. Thanks, cohort-mates, for getting me through this IPCAA milestone!

IPCAA field conservation workshops — Spring 2015

BY CARRIE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

The Kelsey Conservation Lab recently hosted two hands-on conservation workshops for PhD candidates in the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology (IPCAA): one covering ceramics and the other copper alloy (bronze) conservation. Our goals were to help familiarize the students with archaeological conservation best practices, learn about condition issues and field recovery, and gain some useful hand skills. In essence, we wanted to provide them with conservation information they could take with them into the field.

The first workshop covered ceramics conservation, beginning with an overview of deterioration phenomena. We spent some time looking at artifacts that demonstrated springing, spalling, and other structural condition problems; and we talked about lifting, transport, and temporary storage, as well as long-term ceramic storage considerations. We then proceeded with the hands-on part: the smashing and subsequent reconstruction of thrift store ceramics (the most challenging object proved to be the purse-shaped cookie jar adopted by Shannon Ness). The students learned how to make their own Paraloid B-72, a conservation-grade adhesive, and label their homemade adhesive tubes with hazardous materials labels. Fun times!

IPCAA students
IPCAA students Dan Diffendale and Alison Rittershaus reconstruct broken ceramics.

The second workshop covered copper alloy conservation. This time we discussed deterioration, field recovery, and the goals of cleaning small metal finds (to stabilize artifacts and reveal information). The students participated in a cleaning exercise, where they learned how to use various tools — from bamboo skewers to scalpels — to clean archaeological copper alloy artifacts. They wore Optivisors during this step of the workshop. These magnifiers allowed them to better see the progress of their cleaning. The Optivisors also provided a fun talking point, as they basically transform the wearer into a lab tech/Star Trek-looking character. We finished by making Ethafoam cavity-cut supports for their artifacts and talking about the pros and cons of using silica gel in microclimate storage.

Conservation workshop
Conservator Carrie Roberts talks to the students about copper alloy corrosion.

We conservators had a lot of fun working with the IPCAA students. They had many questions for us and participated in the hands-on sections with real enthusiasm. I think they’ll be taking some useful information with them into the field. We’ve benefitted too; teaching drives home the fact that one of the best preservation strategies we have is to share our knowledge with others. We hope to provide interested students with other conservation workshops in the coming years!

Life on a Fulbright: Fieldnotes from Naples

BY JENNY KREIGER, PhD candidate, Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, University of Michigan, and Fulbright Fellow, 2014–2015

Since October, I have been living in Naples, Italy, where I have been conducting my dissertation research with the help of a grant from the US-Italy Fulbright Commission. The Fulbright Program supports academic exchange programs for American and international students, faculty, and researchers, and Italy is just one of many countries that participate in a bilateral Fulbright Commission.

Naples overview
A view of Naples from a hilltop castle. That very straight street at the lower left is one of the Roman decumani, still in use as a main road today.

The beauty of the Fulbright program is that it gives me the time and resources to do my research abroad while encouraging me to serve as a “citizen diplomat,” representing my country and learning about my host country at the same time. I wanted to immerse myself in the culture of Naples, so I rented a room in an apartment with Italian roommates. As it turned out, these were not just any roommates: they are the managers of an experimental theater company (TeatrInGestAzione; see link below). Their principal project every year is Alto Fest, a performing arts festival that puts artists into unusual venues in Naples — terraces, garages, kitchens, even the airport — offered for free by the owners. Artists come from around the world to create and adapt works for these spaces throughout the city, encouraging audiences to explore and connect with Naples on an intimate level. In our day-to-day life in this rooftop apartment, my roommates show me how the arts and cultural heritage can be used for social development and urban renewal in a concrete and personal way.

My roommates are not the only young Neapolitans using culture and heritage to change their city for the better. Through my research on the catacombs of Naples I have come into contact with the people of La Paranza, a social cooperative organization that is developing the catacombs and other heritage sites of the Rione Sanità as tourist destinations and sources of employment and local pride. La Paranza organizes concerts, art exhibitions, and other special events in addition to regular tours of the catacombs, and their programs attract locals and visitors alike. Centuries ago, the catacombs were important sites of cult and memory, and in their modern context the catacombs continue to shape local identity and daily life.

Naples catacombs
A view of one of the main galleries in the Catacomb of San Gennaro. That central arch is big enough to accommodate a city bus!

Finally, I want to share a few words about my research itself. My dissertation examines three major Italian catacomb complexes (in Rome, Naples, and Syracuse) to learn about the funerary industry in late antique urban contexts. Specifically, I am looking at inscriptions, paintings, and architecture in catacombs for clues about how funerary labor was organized, how laborers balanced customization and “mass production” in their work, and how materials (like marble slabs) were recycled and traded for funerary use. In practical terms, this has meant visiting sites, museums, and archives to study surviving materials and analyzing what I find using an array of philological, art historical, and archaeological methods. One of the broader goals of my dissertation is to consider the roles that ordinary workers played in the shaping of ancient culture, and it has been an invaluable part of this process to get to observe small organizations shaping the culture of a major modern city.

For more information on the Fulbright Program, TeatrInGestAzione and Alto Fest, or La Paranza and the Catacombe di Napoli, follow the links below.

On the Fulbright Program in general:

The US-Italy Fulbright Commission site:

TeatrInGestAzione site (in Italian):

Alto Fest 2015 call for applications:

La Paranza, “Who we are” (in Italian):

Catacombe di Napoli main site (in Italian):

Camping and Kanka Cola: Life at Labraunda

BY CHRISTINA DIFABIO, PhD student, Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, University of Michigan

The BULP 2014 Team and the Monumental Fountain House, photo courtesy of Liam Dean-Johnson.
The BULP 2014 Team and the Monumental Fountain House, photo courtesy of Liam Dean-Johnson.

My fieldwork experience was crucial for my decision to apply to graduate school. During my junior year at Brown University, I had the opportunity to become involved in a new archaeological project directed by Prof. Felipe Rojas, who is at the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown. Since 2013, I have been part of the Brown University Labraunda Project (BULP). BULP is concerned with the rural sanctuary of Labraunda in ancient Caria, now modern southwestern Turkey, and is part of the greater Labraunda Archaeological Project directed by Dr. Olivier Henry.

In antiquity, Labraunda was a sanctuary dedicated to Zeus Labraundos, and people from cities to the north and south came to worship the local deity at an annual festival. The sanctuary is known for its monumentalization by local satraps under the Persian Empire in the mid-4th century BCE: Mausolos (most famous for his Mausoleum, a wonder of the ancient world, located in Halikarnassos, now modern Bodrum) and his brother Idrieus. The current objective of the project is to study a monumental fountain house that lies just outside of the sanctuary. Before our studies, the fountain was largely overlooked because it does not conform to traditional classical architecture, even though its importance is clear due to its position between the two entrance gates to the sanctuary. Our studies suggest that the fountain was built in the mid-4th century BCE and used in some capacity through the Christian period. It is the largest fountain house at Labraunda, and it would have provided rest and refreshment for visitors after a long journey.

I enjoy the intellectually stimulating (and physically tiring) research, but even more so I love learning and living in the Labraunda community. Multiple groups work at Labraunda at a time. In addition to our Brown team, I interact with Turkish, French, and Swedish scholars on site. During the week, we camp about a five-minute walk from site, so we do not have the same accommodations we would have if we were staying in a hotel in the closest town (i.e., we have limited electricity and two working toilets). When I tell this to people, they often describe it as “roughing it,” but with such great company and views of the mountains and stars, I can’t complain at all. I have also enjoyed working with local Turks in the trenches. Language is often a barrier, and I am on my way to learning Turkish. However, we often find things to chat about, mostly the weather (Bugün hava çok sıcak — Today the weather is very hot!), and we have fun as we work together. Some of the younger workers have affectionately dubbed our team members kankalar, similar to “bros” in English, and we have named our daily soda breaks “Kanka Cola.”

When I first heard about this project, I never could have imagined where it would lead me. Now as a first-year student in IPCAA, I plan to specialize in Western Anatolia and continue fieldwork in Turkey. The excavations of the monumental fountain house are almost complete, but I look forward to seeing where BULP’s future studies at Labraunda will go.

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!