FAQs

Here you can read brief answers to the dozen questions our curators and staff are most frequently asked by visitors to the Kelsey Museum. You will also find some links you can follow for further information, either on this web site or elsewhere.

Where are the mummies?

The Kelsey museum has two human mummies (both children) and several animal mummies in its collection. The mummies are very fragile and must be climate controlled for their preservation since Michigan's weather is very different from the dry climate of Egypt that originally preserved them. The Egyptians themselves went to a great deal of trouble to keep the bodies of their dead hidden and private, and this helped keep the mummies so well preserved.

The two human mummies in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology are both of children about two or three years old, one probably a boy and the other possibly a girl (thanks to James E. Harris, retired Michigan professor who x-rayed these mummies, for this information). Both appear to be from the Roman period. The boy's mummy is plain and undecorated; the girl's has a plaster mask with gilt and painted decoration, heavily damaged. The boy's mummy underwent a CT-scan investigation and is now on display in the new Upjohn Exhibit Wing of the Kelsey Museum.

The Kelsey Museum collection includes the mummies of a dog, a cat, and three birds (probably falcons), as well as the decorated head from a cat mummy. Animal mummies of this sort were left as offerings to a god associated with the animal: a person would pay the priests to kill the animal and have it wrapped as a mummy and put into a special chamber in the god's temple. The cat was associated with the goddess Bast, the dog with Anubis, and the falcon with Horus. The Museum also has what appears to be the mummy of a baboon, but x-rays showed that it contains human arm bones, wrapped to look like a baboon. Apparently this is an ancient fake, designed to convince someone that they were paying for a baboon mummy. The cat mummy, the cat head, and one of the mummified falcons are now on display in the new Upjohn Exhibit Wing of the Kelsey Museum.

Do you offer tours of the museum?

Yes.  You'll find more information here.

Why do most of the statues have broken noses?

The statues in the Kelsey Museum are ancient—between 1,000 and 5,000 years old—and a lot of things can happen in that time. Although the statues are made of stone, the noses (and arms and legs) of statues stick out and are especially vulnerable to damage. Imagine falling over but not being able to stop your fall, and you'll get an idea of how this could happen! Statue noses are also easy to damage intentionally, and many ancient statues have lost their noses through ancient (or modern) vandalism.

Was this building once a house?

No. The Kelsey Museum building was never a house, although it may look like one. It was constructed in 1891 for the Students' Christian Association for meetings, religious services, and activities. Originally the building was known as Newberry Hall (the name you can still see on the front of the building). In 1928 the University leased the structure to use as an archaeology museum for its collection of ancient artifacts. It bought the building in 1937, and in 1953 it was renamed after Francis W. Kelsey, founder of the museum—and thus became the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. In 2009 the building entered a new phase of its long life with the addition of the Upjohn Exhibit Wing to the rear of the original building. For more details on the building's history, click here.

Are these real artifacts in the Kelsey Museum?

Unless a label says otherwise, all the objects in the Museum are "real:" actual ancient artifacts more than 1,000 years old. We don't put copies on display, and we don't (knowingly) display fakes—except in the on-line exhibition "The Art of the Fake: Egyptian Forgeries from the Kelsey Museum," where they are compared to genuine artifacts, for educational purposes.

Why can't we use flash photography or pens in the gallery?

The objects on display in the Kelsey Museum are very old—more than 1,000 years old. Bright light (like a camera flash) can cause invisible damage to ancient objects, damage that can lead to discoloration, decay, even disintegration. This is also why the windows of the Museum are specially treated to block out harmful rays from the sun.

We don't allow the use of pens in the gallery because the ink from a pen can cause permanent damage to the surface of artifacts—even an "erasable" pen can cause damage that can't be repaired. Although we like to think that no one would intentionally mark on an artifact with a pen, it's easy to do it accidentally—so that's why we don't allow them.

This link will take you to more information about conservation at the Kelsey Museum.

Why can't we touch the objects?

The human hand leaves small amounts of oil, sweat, and other residue every time it touches something; this is true no matter how many times hands are washed. These oils and other substances can discolor and damage the surfaces of ancient artifacts over time. Just because an object is not in a case doesn't mean that it is OK to touch it: stone is vulnerable to these chemicals left behind by a touch. Even the people who work here in the Museum have to wear rubber gloves to handle artifacts. If we prevent people from touching the objects, this helps ensure that they will still be around for future generations to enjoy.

This link will take you to more information about conservation at the Kelsey Museum.

Does the museum sponsor archaeological fieldwork?

Yes, and it has done so for the past 80 years. In 1924 Professor Kelsey, after whom the Museum is named, embarked on a series of excavations in the Mediterranean and the Near East. Wooden artifacts, sculpture, basketry, pottery, glass, coins, and textiles excavated from the provincial Graeco-Roman town of Karanis, Egypt, entered the collections in vast numbers. Approximately 45,000 items from Karanis now reside in the Museum. Primarily objects of daily life, they offer an unusual window onto village life in the Roman provinces. Between 1928 and 1937, University excavations at the Hellenistic site of Seleucia-on-the-Tigris, in modern Iraq, yielded 10,000 artifacts, including pottery, coins, terracotta figurines, beads, carved architectural fragments, bronze, bone, and gold items. The preservation and publication of this unique collection of artifacts is an ongoing project that involves professors and graduate students from Michigan and the international scholarly community.

The Kelsey has since taken part in expeditions to Sepphoris, Israel; the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai; Qasr al-Hayr, Syria; Apollonia, Libya; Cyrene, Libya; Dibsi Faraj, Syria; Carthage, Tunisia; Leptiminus, Tunisia; Tel Anafa, Israel; Paestum, Italy; Pylos, Greece; as well as Soknopaiou Nesos (Dime), Terenouthis, and Coptos and the Eastern Desert, Egypt. The Kelsey Museum currently supports excavations at Tell Kedesh in Israel, Abydos in Egypt, Gabii in Italy, and Aphrodisias in Turkey. While the focus of these more recent archaeological projects is no longer the enlargement of the Museum's collections (as it once was), these excavations and surveys have provided an impressive and growing archive of photographs, maps, and field notes. Clicking here will take you to a lot more information and pictures.

What has the museum published?

The Kelsey Museum has produced a number of books and pamphlets about its collections, exhibitions, archaeological fieldwork, and conferences. Many are available for purchase by mail order. Click here for further information about our latest publications and how to order them.

Do you have any Native American objects? Or finds from Asia? Or South America?

The Kelsey Museum collections concentrate on artifacts from ancient cultures that bordered on the Mediterranean Sea, areas now known as North Africa, the Middle East and Southern Europe, including Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, Etruria, Israel, Syro-Palestine, and Persia.

What's in the parts of the museum where the public can't go?

Only the galleries in the Upjohn Exhibit Wing of the Kelsey Museum and certain first-floor galleries in the original museum building are open to the public. The rest of the building is used for artifact storage, conservation, photography, staff offices, student work area, a research library, and exhibit preparation. The Kelsey Museum is proud to house the Hosmer Archaeology Lab, where staff and students work on archaeological projects, and the University of Michigan's Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology. It takes many people working "behind the scenes" to put together the Kelsey Museum exhibitions, take care of the artifacts and research them, keep the Museum running on a daily basis, teach students to work with artifacts, and carry out the work of the archaeological projects that are an important part of the Kelsey Museum's mission.

Where are the Epistles of Saint Paul?

The famous "Epistles of St. Paul" manuscript is a very early copy of part of the New Testament on papyrus. Although parts of this manuscript have been on display in the Kelsey Museum in the past for temporary exhibitions, the manuscript is permanently housed in the University of Michigan Library Papyrology Collection—the largest collection of ancient documents on papyrus in North America. The Papyrology Collection at the Library is closed to the public, but papyri can be seen by appointment: visit the Papyrology Collection web site for more information.