Ugly Object of the Month — February 2018

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

Last month’s Ugly Object skated perilously close to downright attractiveness, so you will be delighted to see us getting back to our roots in February, with a truly hideous creature.

Ugly_Feb 2018
Earthenware “sphinx.” AD 1890–1898, Michigan, United States. UMMAA 21492.T.

This bizarre-looking bird-thing, which is trying to pass itself off as a sphinx, if you can believe that, is especially special to me because Francis Kelsey himself was moved to comment on it. It’s a nineteenth-century fake, made in Michigan, and it and its brethren were so freakin’ weird and caused such a fuss that the University of Michigan acquired some of them (google “Soper Frauds” — or better yet, come read about them at the Kelsey). In a 1908 article for the journal American Anthropologist, Kelsey wrote,

The interest of the spurious relics to which I have the pleasure of inviting your attention is, in last analysis, more psychological than archeological; so novel are their designs and so crude the workmanship that an archeologist of training in any field could hardly fail to recognize at a glance their true character.

Nicely said, Professor Kelsey!

These forgeries do not represent a high point in Michigan’s state history, but they are really very ugly and make for a great story, which is what we love here in our ugly object blogging. I like how this one — which, again, is supposed to be a sphinx — looks like a cross between a turkey and gargoyle. It has a particularly hilarious facial expression that seems to convey both surprise and confusion, which is probably how a lot of archaeologists felt when they saw it for the first time. Come see it for yourself now in the exhibition Excavating Archaeology @ U-M: 1817–2017, open through May 2018. A virtual version of the exhibition lives on the Kelsey website in perpetuity.

 

From the Archives 25 — November 2017

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Collections Manager

Excavating Archaeology, the Kelsey Museum’s latest exhibition, is still open and available for viewing in the Ed and Mary Meader Gallery now through the end of the academic year (May 27, 2018). On display are two centuries worth of artifacts and archival materials associated with both the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology (UMMAA). This assemblage of diverse historical items was acquired from 19th-century collecting expeditions as well as from rigorous scientific excavations of the 20th and 21st centuries, and highlights the University of Michigan’s strong presence in the emerging field of archaeology since its founding in 1817. Visitors to Excavating Archaeology will see artifacts from the Philippines, United States, North Africa, South America, and Asia. And this is just a taste! There is so much more, but we did not have space to show everything.

Francis W. Kelsey played a significant role in a number of excavations associated with the Kelsey Museum. In the early 1920s, Kelsey acquired funding to initiate Michigan-sponsored excavations at three ancient sites: Karanis, Egypt; Antioch, Turkey; and Carthage, Tunisia. Kelsey already had experience at Carthage; on a visit to that site in 1893 as part of a voyage through the Mediterranean region, he made his first purchase of ancient artifacts. These would become the seeds of the Kelsey Museum collection (the very first object registered, KM 1, a lamp fragment, was among those purchased). It was to Carthage that he returned in 1924 to further his studies of the ancient world.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present archival materials associated with the excavations at Carthage. We have some telegrams Kelsey sent and received concerning the excavation of the site. With our modern cellular phones and emails and instant chatting capabilities, the telegram may seem very antiquated, but in Kelsey’s time it was the fastest way to communicate with people far away. We also have some drawings of the site, and a letter to Kelsey from the associate general director of excavations, Byron Khun de Prorok. We present only the first page here as a teaser, but it serves to show how part of an archivist’s work is to decipher handwriting. With practice, we may become familiar with a certain individual’s penmanship, but that doesn’t always make reading the letters any easier.

The University of Michigan has had much experience conducting excavations around the world, and will continue to have a presence for years to come. It is on us, we who work with the archives, to excavate that archaeology in order to inform future projects.

 

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Kelsey Museum archival collections associated with the excavations at Carthage, 1924