From the Archives — June 2016

BY MELISSA SOMERO, Graduate Intern in Kelsey Museum Registry

Hiding out in the Kelsey Museum Archives for the past semester I have come to appreciate the variety of documents that are housed there, such as those pertaining to the history of the museum, including Francis Kelsey and his expeditions, as well as excavations carried out by the University of Michigan. Perhaps some of the most interesting finds were the many photographs by George Swain documenting Francis Kelsey’s expedition to Europe, Near East, and Africa from 1919 to 1920. Kelsey’s expedition was documented by the Dangerous Archaeology exhibition, which also chronicled the history of archaeology in the Near East. It was from this collection of George Swain photographs I have chosen to highlight the photos from Syria. Swain gives us a rare glimpse into the lives of everyday people and refugees in the early part of the 20th century, as well as beautiful archaeological sites.

 

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Aleppo, January 9, 1920: “Friday bazaar. Part of the crowd that gathered around the car.” (KS089.02)
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Aleppo, January 9, 1920: “Friday bazaar. Copper utensils in the foreground. Then the crowd, with some of the citadel in the distance.” (KS087.02)
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Aleppo, January 7, 1920: “Line-up at the entrance to the A.C.R.N.E. eye hospital, on the sidewalk. Dr. Tenner at right of door in back row at the left — man with moustache.” (7.0193)
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Aleppo, January 7, 1920: “The exterior of the inner entrance to the citadel, with a part of the inclined bridge over the moat.” (KS079.01)

 

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Aleppo, January 8, 1920: “View of Aleppo from the roof of the Hotel Casino, the headquarters of the A.C.R.N.E. (later, Near East Relief). The railway station and modern part of the city are at left. OId part of the city at the right, and beyond this the rise of the Citadel. The low building in the left distance is a barrack. Note that house roofs are built nearly flat so as to collect rain water. A stream, not shown here, runs through the town from right to left. Size, 9 1/2 x 24 in.” (Cirkut005)

 

The panoramic photograph is from a collection of Cirkut photographs in the Kelsey Archives, some of which are on display in the main entrance to the Museum. In Aleppo, the Citadel, which dates back to the 13th century, rises above the city and remains a testament to the ingenuity and prowess of ancient civilizations but is also a reminder of nations at war with its impenetrable walls. The Ancient City of Aleppo and its Citadel are now a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site, it is through this international body, which seeks to promote awareness and protection of important cultural sites, that many other sites have been saved and began to promote a thriving economy to the area.

 

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Aleppo, January 8, 1920: “Aleppo and its Citadel, seen from the roof of the Hotel Casino, A.C.R.N.E. headquarters.” (7.0203)

 

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Aleppo, January 7, 1920: “Citadel, a nearer view of the moat and entrance bridge.” (KS080.05)

 

Although for many archaeology in the early 20th century stemmed from the desire to seek out objects for personal glorification, it is clear that Kelsey began a career in the field for educational and humanitarian purposes. Kelsey was not only an explorer and archaeologist but was also involved with the Red Cross and his foray into Syria is documented by the many photographs taken of refugees of the Armenian Genocide.

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Aleppo, January 7–9, 1920: “Some of the 1500 orphans in the Armenian orphanage. Taken in the courtyard.” (7.0198)
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Aleppo, January 8, 1920: “The driver Zacke, two views, front and profile. Ethnic types. This is the driver that took us to Aintab, and who six weeks later, with Mr. Perry, was killed on the road.” (7.0202)
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Aleppo, January 7, 1920: “Armenian housekeeper. Two view, face and profile. Ethnic types.” (7.0200)

 

Because of people like Kelsey, the field of archaeology has not only introduced people to new cultures but has created a thriving enterprise that seeks to unite us in our common heritage. Along with the help of photographers like George Swain we may not only see the stoic archaeological remnants of past cultures but see the living ones that surround and add value to the ancient.

Lastly, I leave you with the images of the ruins of Baalbek which can attest to the grandeur of the structure and the beauty of the intricate design. It is clear from these images that there was a thriving artistic community which is indicative of a prosperous society.

 

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Baalbek, January 13, 1920: “General entrance to Propylaea and present entrance to ruins. Mrs. Kelsey and Mrs. Norton near top of steps. Ancient steps to Propylaea missing.” (7.0212)
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Baalbek, January 13, 1920: “Corinthian Columns, Temple of Bacchus.” (7.0218)
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Baalbek, January 13, 1920: “Great portal, entrance to the Temple of Bacchus. Note the keystone of the flat arch of the lintel. Now held securely in position.” (7.0221)

 

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Guest contributor Melissa Somero is a graduate intern this semester for the Kelsey Museum Registry. She earned her Master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University in historic preservation. While Melissa has assisted with multiple projects, her focus for the term has been the Kelsey Archives.

From the Archives — January 2016

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Happy New Year, readers. The Kelsey Museum is back in the swing of business, and we are already in the midst of the semester, working with students, classes, and upcoming exhibitions. As it is the Winter term, some people begin planning for fieldwork and being overseas. Some Kelsey staff will be leaving for the field in just a matter of days, while others will wait until May/June/July to be at their respective projects.

For those who have never been on an archaeological dig, you are missing out! There is so much to learn, to experience. Being overseas, especially, affords a person the opportunity to interact with different people, eat different foods, and lead life at a different pace. There is also the opportunity to travel, see the sites a country has to offer. And there is, of course, the actual archaeology, what there is to discover that gives us a better understanding of the past. It truly is a magical experience.

But it’s not all fun and adventures. Sometimes being overseas brings with it some hindrances and annoyances that add up to interesting stories, but not exactly a great experience. For those not used to travel, new water and new foods will have an adverse effect on digestive system. Dealing with customs and authorities might be an issue. Many people will miss their family and friends, and the comforts of home.

In other cases, the environment is pestering, quite literally. Working as an archaeologist, one will find themselves outside often. Sun, wind, occasional rain, heat and cold all contribute to grueling days. And in many areas of the world, the flora and fauna of the region pose risks to health and work. Wild animals and overgrown plants get in the way, not caring for the work one is pursuing. Some, like the mosquito, will carry diseases one has to be wary of.

This is a problem that affects the modern archaeologist, but it is not a new dilemma. The papers of Qasr al-Hayr, an excavation headed by Oleg Grabar in the 1960s and 1970s, show how the simple fly was proving to be a nuisance even back then. Professor Grabar reached out to colleagues and experts for resources or suggestions for ways to handle the fly problem. In this month’s “From the Archives,” we see a response from a colleague at the Freer Gallery of Art, along with a pamphlet discussing the household fly from the US Department of Agriculture. The pamphlet makes recommendations, such as traps, screens, insecticides. However, the letter expands on this, noting that the region is rife with flies, and trying to tackle the situation would demand many more resources than realistically available, and any efforts would be lost as flies from surrounding regions would just fill the vacuum created.

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Letter from Qasr al Hayr archives on fly problem in Syria
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Pamphlet from the Qasr al-Hayr archives on the fly problem in Syria.

Qasr al-Hayr was a medieval Islamic town found between the Euphrates and Damascus. By its placement at the foot of one of the few mountain passes in the central Syrian desert, it commanded a commercial and strategic position of importance between settled and nomadic groups. Those of us who have worked in that area of the world know how prevalent flies are, and any efforts to lessen their numbers seem to be fruitless. They are a constant presence.

Being out in the field is truly a great experience, one many students, staff, and professors look forward to every year. But it comes with a price. Sometimes that price is large, other times it is small, but even those small problems have ways to multiply and cause big headaches.