The University Record, February 18, 1998

Kelsey showcases permanent holdings

Crocodile God Sculpture, limestone, Roman period, from the U-M excavation at Karanis, Egypt. Photo courtesy Kelsey Museum

From the Kelsey Museum

"The Ancient Near East and Egypt," the permanent installation of the Kelsey Museum's archaeological collections from Egypt to Iran, opened Feb. 20. Items in the collections range in date from 3500 BCE to the 6th century CE. Along with some old favorites, the exhibition emphasizes material excavated during the course of U-M expeditions to key sites of the ancient world: the Ptolemaic-Roman site of Karanis in the Fayum of Egypt and the necropolis of Terenouthis, the Hellenistic and Parthia capital of Seleucia on the Tigris and the long-lived sacred city of Nippur in southern Mesopotamia.

The form and imagery of seals and the social and economic dimensions of the practice of sealing in the ancient Near East are explored in "Materials, Technology and Society." A section on "Writing in the Ancient World" investigates the magical, practical and propagandistic uses of writing, as well as the characteristics of the world's first written scripts, cuneiform and hieroglyphs. Decipherment of the former began in the 1800s, and was greatly aided through analysis of the spectacular 6th-century CE monument of Darius I at Behistun in southwestern Iran. This is represented through Kelsey Museum archival photos and a rare plaster impression of part of the cliffside relief.

Ancient Egyptian ideas and practices regarding death and afterlife, and strategies for maintaining the delicate balance of the universe through temple and household cult activities also are illustrated in the exhibition. Examples from the Kelsey's extraordinary collection of artifacts from the site of Karanis are featured, including objects from the North Temple: guardian lions, a fire altar and bronze incense burner, and a status of Koknopaios, manifestation of the crocodile god Sobek to whom the temple was dedicated. A reconstruction of a Karanis house and courtyard offers an intriguing window into the daily routine of this bustling town of 2000 years ago, and demonstrates continuity of activities and possessions from the past into the present.