From the Archives #38 — January 2019

By Sebastián Encina

Researchers from around the world often visit the Kelsey Museum, or seek out its holdings, in order to learn more about the ancient world. The archives of the Kelsey have detailed information about sites where Michigan has excavated, the artifacts discovered there, and the general timeline of occupation of the site. With new research, even legacy information plays a vital role.

For modern researchers, the archives provide a secondary benefit: learning what life was like for the excavators. Who were the they working with? Who did they hire? What were the logistics of the excavation? Where did they get their food? What visitors came through the site? Scholars ask these questions not only for curiosity’s sake, but also to recreate the circumstances under which project directors worked. Often, the researchers are working or leading a project in the same area, and are interested in seeing the similarities and differences.

The journals found in the Kelsey Archives provide an even closer look at the people behind the excavation directorship. Not only what work was occurring, but also who they visited with, who they corresponded with, what they did on their way to and from the site. For example, we have the journal that dig director Clark Hopkins kept at Seleucia on the Tigris in October–December 1936, with notes about his experiences while overseas. Reading it, we can see that he spent time at the Museum of Aleppo, where he encountered a statue of Brahma. He took notes on artifacts on display at the Palmyra Museum. There is even a detailed account of expenses he incurred while traveling, including food purchased for a train journey, nights stayed in Palmyra, and tea. He even begins the journal by noting what he plans to look for at the site when it rains (“walls of palace, theatre, walls + canal sides, etc.”).

Every once in a while, we are treated to even more amusing entries. For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a single page from Hopkins’ October–December 1936 journal. Though much of the journal discusses work happening at the site, as well as Hopkins’ work and travels, we weren’t expecting to find this:

recipe for rice
On the right-hand page, a recipe for cooking rice, from the Seleucia journal of Clark Hopkins, 1936.

Friday Dec 18

Captain + Mrs. Modin [sp?], Mrs. Mitchell, Mr. Lampard + party visited us for lunch.
No special finds.

Recipe for cooking rice.
Brown slightly in butter.
Cook over slow fire to 2 cups of water to one cup of rice until water disappears + little holes appear in the rice.
Take off fire + cover w. napkin, the napkin touching the rice to dry it.
Better still use chicken broth instead of water to give flavor to the rice.

Being able to cook a basic meal of rice is important, and we are happy Hopkins found a recipe he could use. It is still a welcome surprise to find when researching the finds of Seleucia, the architecture and the temples.

As one reads through any archive, they will undoubtedly find surprises. This will likely not be the last time we find a recipe from long ago in the Kelsey Archives, nor will it be the last random non-archaeological thing we encounter. This makes our work all the more exciting. We never know what we will read next.

 

 

Ugly Object of the Month — June 2018

by Caroline Roberts, Conservator

This month’s Ugly Object will be featured in the new Kelsey in Focus case, a rotating exhibit space that will highlight some of the Kelsey Museum’s hidden collections. The first In Focus installment features a trio of ceramic duck figurines from Seleucia on the Tigris, a site just under 20 miles south of modern Baghdad that was excavated by the University of Michigan between 1927 and 1937. The duck fragment that’s made our list bears a remarkable likeness to the real thing; I live near a creek and as such share my habitat with a number of these aquatic birds, so I consider myself a fair judge of the high quality of this remaining fragment of duck. Even so, back when it was made this was not a one-of-a-kind object. It was created from a two-part mold, evidenced by a seam that bisects the duck’s face. Even more interesting: one of the duck’s nostrils is “clogged,” seemingly because it was not fully scooped out like the other nostril after casting. These little artifacts of the manufacturing process are fascinating, as is the question of how many of these ducks were made and what they were used for. Look closely and you can see traces of paint in the duck’s eyes and nostrils, and an ancient repair adhesive on its neck. Someone clearly valued this duck enough to stick its head back on when it broke.

ugly_june-2018
Head of a ceramic duck figure from Seleucia on the Tigris, Iraq. 2nd century AD. KM 2018.1.104.

Come visit the Kelsey in Focus case on the first floor of the Upjohn exhibit wing, next to the elevator.