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Updated 11:30 AM October 27, 2003



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Archaeologies of childhood: The first years of life in Roman Egypt

What was childhood like in the ancient world? The exhibition "Archaeologies of Childhood: The First Years of Life in Roman Egypt" at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology uses material from Egypt under Roman rule to give a glimpse into the lives of children in that place and time.

(Top) Copy of a mural of the child-god Harpocrates, and (bottom) a wooden pull-toy horse with wheels, from the 1924-25 U-M excavations at Karanis in central Egypt. (Images courtesy Kelsey Museum Of Archaeology)

The exhibition runs from Nov. 14, 2003-September 2004. Admission is free.

Two thousand years ago, infant child mortality rates were high; health care and education were limited. Natural dangers were abundant, and child abandonment and slavery were facts of life.

Like today, factors including status, ethnicity, gender and individual circumstances made for varying experiences of childhood. The museum's rich holdings of material from Roman Egypt show what children looked like and how they learned and played. They also provide insight into the expectations and concerns of children in a North African culture that existed 2,000 years ago.

Objects of daily use from Kelsey excavations in Egypt at the Roman period town of Karanis offer an unparalleled look at life in a rural farming community. Many items in the exhibition—including toys, dolls, remnants of children's clothing, images of children, protective amulets and educational tools—come from homes at Karanis.

Childhood in the ancient world is a relatively new area of study for scholars; the evidence for childhood often is hard to identify, and its significance often has been neglected. The material in the exhibition is part of new research by U-M faculty and students to recover knowledge of childhood in Roman Egypt.

The exhibition also will feature material resulting from investigations of a child mummy from Roman Egypt. A recent student project created CT-scan images of the mummified remains of a boy, revealing surprising information that may shed light on an unusual social practice in ancient Egypt. The exhibition will include images of the mummy, inside and out, and a 3-D model of its skull created from the CT-scans.

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