From the Archives #39 — February 2019

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

In 2018, a Registry intern worked with the archives to help assess materials and devise a plan for organization and some culling. As this intern had not previously worked with archival materials, they were encouraged to seek out the expertise of our colleagues at the Bentley Historical Library, the University of Michigan’s primary historical repository. Bentley archivist Aprille McKay advised our intern about plans for organization and creating a finding aid, and provided suggestions for disposing of non-essential or duplicated materials. At the end of the semester, the intern wrote a report along with recommendations, which the Kelsey will implement.

The Kelsey is very appreciative of Aprille’s insights into handling archival materials and archives in general. In addition to these, Aprille also brought the Kelsey gifts. In the 1990s, when Newberry Hall was undergoing renovations, we sent archival materials, including maps and photographs from the site of Karanis, Egypt, to the Bentley for safekeeping. Aprille returned these materials to us in 2018, and we’re still inventorying them to determine  how to incorporate them back into our collections.

This semester, a new intern is working with the Karanis materials, and they found an image that shows a feature in a temple wall labeled “crocodile mummy niche” (fig. 1). This excited them, and they wanted to learn more, which is why this exciting discovery is this month’s “From the Archives.”

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Figure 1. “Plate VI: Construction Details.” The crocodile mummy niche is illustrated at left. Maps and Plans. Map No. 118. Kelsey Archives 5.8401.

Two temples survive at Karanis, the South Temple, which we know from an inscription was dedicated to the crocodile gods Pnepheros and Petesouchos, and the poorly preserved North Temple. The image above shows construction details of the “crocodile niche” found in an inner room of the South Temple (figs. 2 and 3). Scholars think that a crocodile mummy on a bier would have been placed in this niche. While no crocodile mummies were found in the ruins of the South Temple, crocodile bones were found in both the inner shrine (room C) and the room south of the shrine (room X) (Ali 2013, p. 50).

photo of a wall niche
Figure 2. Photograph of the crocodile niche in the north wall of room B in the South Temple. Kelsey Archives 0490.
plan of a temple
Figure 3. Plan of the South Temple. Room B is highlighted pink, the crocodile niche is outlined in red. It runs below a set of stairs. After Boak 1933, plan X.

Below is a photograph of a partial crocodile mummy resting against a stone wall of the inner sanctuary of the North Temple (fig. 4). This image is the only specific record of crocodile mummies at the site of the North Temple at Karanis, although the excavators noted the discovery of “a number of crocodile mummies” to the southwest of the temple (Boak 1933, p. 13). However, the record of objects, the list of every item found at Karanis by the University of Michigan expedition (1924–1935), does not list any crocodile mummies.

We do not know where this particular mummy wound up. It likely it went to the Cairo Museum in the division of finds, but this is by no means certain. Its location remains a mystery.

photo of a crocodile mummy in a corner
Figure 4. Part of mummified crocodile in the inner sanctuary of the North Temple at Karanis. Kelsey Archives 5.1692.

 * * * * *

Read more about the Egyptian cult of the crocodile in the chapter “The Temples and the Gods,” in Karanis: An Egyptian Town in Roman Times, by Elaine K. Gazda (2nd ed., 2004). An abridged version of this chapter, without illustrations, is available here.

References

Ali 2013 = Ali, Aida Akbar. “Karanis Crocodiles: The Egyptian Crocodile Cult at Roman Karanis.” Bachelor’s honors thesis, University of Michigan, 2013.

Boak 1933 = Boak, Arthur E. R. Karanis: The Temples, Coin Hoards, Botanical and Zoölogical Reports, Seasons 1924–31. University of Michigan Studies, Humanistic Series 30. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1933.

From the Archives 24 — October 2017

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Collections Manager

This year, the University of Michigan is celebrating its bicentennial. Founded originally in Detroit in 1817, the University has enjoyed a tremendous history. In that time, the staff, faculty, and students have achieved a great deal, with much to be proud of and to showcase.

Among that storied history are all the archaeological projects the University has undertaken in the last 200 years. The University of Michigan, through its archaeological programs, has been around the world multiple times, visiting fantastic sites in far off countries. It is these projects that are now the focus of our most recent exhibition, Excavating Archaeology @ U-M: 1817-2017. The exhibition is now open to the public, here at the Kelsey Museum. Through this exhibition, we display artifacts gathered together by University of Michigan archaeologists. Some of those objects are from the Kelsey Museum collections, while others are on loan from the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology.

The University still has excavations in some of the countries exhibited in the galleries, but these days, countries like Egypt do not permit artifacts to leave the country.  Instead, researchers must visit these countries in order to study artifacts in local or national museums and storage magazines. But this was not always the case. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, when Michigan first went to places such as Karanis, these countries often permitted scholars to bring artifacts back to Michigan. This is how the Kelsey Museum formed much of its collections.

For this month’s From the Archives, we present records of how the decision was made about which objects would be kept in Egypt and which would be sent to Michigan. The Egyptian government had antiquities staff working with Michigan staff on the excavations. When artifacts were accumulated, they were brought together and arranged according to type (coins, wood objects, ceramics, papyri, etc.). They were then photographed.  Looking over the photographs, the antiquities staff member marked with red Xs which ones were to be kept in the country, leaving the rest to be sent to Michigan. Look closely at some of these photographs and you can still see a red “X” on some of the objects.

 

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These black and white photographs were later bound into thick books and stored in our archives.  Recently, an intern and I carefully took these books apart and made color scans of the photographs to preserve this valuable information.  In addition to information about what objects went where, these photographs are often the only image we have of certain artifacts.

The Kelsey Museum possesses a long history of archaeological excavations, many of which have been highlighted in this blog. Now, thanks to Professors Terry Wilfong and Carla Sinopoli, these and many other excavations are now available for viewing in our latest exhibition.

Ugly Object of the Month — September 2017

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

It’s back-to-school time, and town is certainly feeling lively as ~30,000 students return to campus. It’s also the harvest season here in Michigan, where it’s already starting to feel like fall. That is sort of, maybe, a decent lead-in to this month’s Ugly Object, which is … wait for it … some pieces of wheat!

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Old-as-heck wheat. 1st–3rd century AD. University of Michigan excavations at Karanis, Egypt. KM 3958.

This is some bonafide archaeological grain-stuff here and, while it might not be considered a typical museum-quality artwork, I think it looks pretty amazing. According to Kelsey curator and director Terry Wilfong, wheat was the biggest and most important crop for ancient Karanis. Egypt was a major producer of grain for the Roman Empire, and Karanis had ten large granaries to store it prior to its shipment to Alexandria and then Rome. Some of this wheat’s brethren might have been eaten by emperors! But if, for some reason, it fails to impress you with its extreme ancient awesomeness, be aware that we also have garlic bulbs and a bunch of other fantastic 1,700-year-old seeds on view. Come enjoy the Kelsey’s cornucopia of ancient — if not always attractive — agricultural delights.

News from the Conservation Lab: a fond farewell

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator

Last Friday we said goodbye to our first-ever summer intern in conservation, Amaris Sturm. Amaris is a graduate student in the Winterthur / University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, and has a special interest in archaeological conservation. During her two months at the Kelsey, Amaris treated twelve artifacts (many in preparation for the museum’s upcoming bicentennial exhibition), familiarizing herself with some of the “bread and butter” activities of a museum archaeological conservator. She brought thoughtfulness and skill to each of her projects, and approached each new treatment as an opportunity to learn. As is often the case with interns and fellows in the lab, we learned a great deal from her as well.

We will miss having Amaris in the lab, and wish her all the best as she moves on to her internship year at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

Thank you, Amaris!

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Amaris removes an old coating from a copper alloy dish.
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One of Amaris’s treatment projects: a reconstructed ceramic vessel from Karanis.

 

Ugly Object of the Month — August 2017

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator

This month’s Ugly Object is bound to give its competitors a run for their money. It is not much to look at, but it’s definitely worth getting to know. What exactly is it? It’s an ancient Egyptian mudbrick.

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Mudbrick. Bay View Association Collection purchase. KM 1971.2.226

Mudbrick is a material used in building construction worldwide. It was used in antiquity and continues to be used today, from the painted mudbrick complexes of El Kurru village to my grandmother’s old ranch house in Fresno, CA. The components of mudbrick vary but usually include clay or clayey soil, sand, plant fibers and, in the case of the Kelsey brick, pieces of fired ceramic. Each brick would have been shaped, dried in the sun, and then used to build things. There are countless ancient mudbrick structures in Egypt, including the houses excavated at Karanis.

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Mudbrick architectural remains at Karanis, Egypt

 

This mudbrick has seen better days, but it’s fun to imagine what kind of structure it might have been a part of once. Was it part of the wall of a house? A pyramid? We don’t really know. There are a number of ancient mudbrick structures still around, but (as shown by the poor condition of our brick) they can be a challenge to preserve.

You can find out more about the Kelsey’s ancient mudbricks in our exhibition Excavating Archaeology at the University of Michigan, on view starting October 18.

Ugly Object of the Month — July 2017

By Amaris Sturm, Visiting Graduate Student in Conservation

Were Bigfoot’s ancestors Egyptian? This heavy hunk of dirt-covered limestone might just provide the answer. July’s Ugly Object is an Egyptian foot impression, excavated in Karanis in 1928. Karanis is located in modern Kom Aushim, and was previously an agricultural town in its earliest days. Archeologists from the University of Michigan excavated the ancient site from 1924 to 1935. This Karanis artifact consists of a limestone block with a large (58 x 25 cm) foot impressed on the surface, appearing as if someone had stepped through wet concrete.

Karanis Foot
Limestone “Bigfoot” imprint. KM 25878

Although I like the idea that an ancient Bigfoot made its mark in Egypt, this “impression” was more likely cut into the limestone, with chisel marks throughout the surface. Although it is not entirely clear how this literal “big foot” was used, why it was produced, or even how it may have been originally displayed, it does shed some light on ancient foot afflictions with a lovely bit of foot fungus. In actuality, this inactive biological activity is likely from the object’s time outdoors or in uncontrolled environments. Any way you look at it, this size 26 foot yields more questions than answers and proves that a simple object can evoke tall tales and thoughtful steps toward understanding our history.

Can the next clue to finding Bigfoot be found in the Kelsey galleries come October? Perhaps, but you can decide for yourself: this foot will be in the upcoming bicentennial exhibition, Excavating Archaeology at the University of Michigan, on view at the Kelsey Museum from October 18, 2017 through May 27, 2018.

Ugly Object of the Month — June 2017

CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Can an object be both elegant and ugly? I believe it can. Take, for instance, this month’s Ugly Object — a broom. This broom was found in a house at Karanis, Egypt, and we can pretty easily guess what it was used for. I like the broom for its simple, effective (even elegant?) design. To me, it looks like someone gathered a bunch of palm stems and mashed up the ends to create bristles. Voila! Insta-brush. Someone then lined up the stems and secured the group by passing a palm rope over and under each stem. Two additional ropes were used to gather the stems together into a bundle that could be held in your hand or tied around a wooden handle. Pretty neat! Another thing I want to point out about the broom is that it’s got a swishy tail (so to speak). Whether this is from use or age or something else is unclear, but I like how it makes the broom look like it could glide across the floor without any human help, like something out of Fantasia.

The broom will be featured in the upcoming exhibition Jim Cogswell Cosmogonic Tattoos, opening June 2. Artist and Professor Jim Cogswell drew inspiration for his window vinyl installation from Kelsey artifacts, including this broom. See if you can spot it in the exhibition or on the windows of the Kelsey!

 

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