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Our Favorite Things 2017

Funerary relief from Palmyra

White limestone, originally painted
Late Parthian Period (AD 43–226)
Palmyra, Syria
Kelsey Museum Associates purchase, 1980
KM 1980.1.1

“My favorite object at the Kelsey would have to be the funeral relief from Palmyra (AD 43–326) for so many reasons. First of all, it resembles in a striking way my Syrian grand aunt and pulls me back to a country where my family still lives. (The dimple in the relief’s left chin even mimics my grand-aunt’s distinctive birthmark.) As a funeral relief it also carries a somberness that matches the current lost hellish time in what my family always called ‘The Old Country.’”

Alexander Zwinak, IPAMAA Graduate Program Coordinator

Broad collar necklace 

Faience, gold; reconstructed from ancient beads
Late Period–Ptolemaic (650–30 BC)
E. Goudsmit gift, 2001
KM 2001.1.2

“As an art history student who also happens to love making jewelry, I was drawn to this piece as a result of its vibrant color and unique pendants. It is amazing to think that these beads are more than 2,000 years old. And yet, the design of this necklace so greatly resembles many statement necklaces popular in today’s fashion. Although the spiritual importance and purpose may change, the aesthetic appeal lasts and repeats itself, regardless of the countless generations that have passed.”

Mollie Fox, History of Art Major, Kelsey Museum Research Assistant

Greek ostrakon: record of grain transport

Clay, ink
Roman Period (AD 295)
Karanis, Egypt
D. Askren collection, 1925
KM 4232

“At first glance, texts such as the one preserved on this pottery sherd can seem like some of the most uninteresting documents from the ancient world. This ostrakon contains a simple receipt for the transportation of one donkey-load of grain to the Karanis granary, including the names of the people involved in the transaction. However, when documents like this are studied in bulk they can yield insights into broader trends in food production, transportation of goods and the practicalities of tax collection in Roman Egypt, as well as documenting local naming practices and even developments in dialect and handwriting.”

Elizabeth Nabney, Classical Studies Student

Male head with Egyptian-style headdress

Sanctuary of Aphrodite at Golgoi, Cyprus
ca. 550–525 BCE
Formerly Cesnola collection
KM 29108

“This piece is a patchwork of 6th-century BCE styles, from its Egyptian headdress, forehead, and eyes to its Greek mouth and beard. It illustrates the fact that not only merchandise but ideas traveled along the trade routes, and Cyprus, which put the copper into the Bronze Age, was a hub for both goods and fashions.”

Ann Van Rosevelt, Kelsey Museum Docent

Unmatched dice

Roman Period
Sepphoris, Palestine
U-M Excavations, 1931
KM 89966, KM 89967, KM 89968, KM 89991 

“I love this set of unmatched dice. I’m not sure how these four dice were found but it is easy to imagine them being found in some forgotten corner, lost by someone centuries ago or found together, used as a makeshift set after losing other pairs. They remind me of all of the little things like hair ties, socks, and pencils I lose all the time in my day-to-day life. I’ve often wondered where they end up and if some day, centuries from now, someone will find something I’ve lost and put it in a museum.”

Maggie Johnson, History, International Studies, and Spanish Major

Italo-Corinthian flasks for scented oil (alabastra)

Late Orientalizing Period (late 7th–early 6th century BC)
University of Marburg collection purchase, 1923
KM 2576

“This small Etruscan alabastron always catches my eye. Its design is more simple than the other alabastra to the right, but I love how the broad bands of pigment frame the lion running at the middle. The brush strokes are so delicate and fluid that the little lion seems to be zooming around the oil flask. Usually lions are portrayed as fearsome beasts, but here, the graceful lines make this lion sweet and approachable. She’s a little friend you want to check in with again and again.”

Shannon Ness, IPCAA and Museum Studies Student, Kelsey Museum Docent

Door with lock

Wood, palm fiber
Roman Period (1st–4th centuries AD)
Karanis, Egypt
U-M Excavations, 1924–1935
KM 8151

“When I pass through the galleries, I always stop by this wooden door with a lock mechanism and a palm fiber rope. It is fascinating to see this massive organic object in such a great shape after almost two thousand years. The door probably was part of a modest, rural house; although not particularly pretty, it looks sturdy and must have served its owners well. I like to imagine how the people who dwelled there would lock the door to keep their house safe.”

Julia Falkovitch-Khain, Kelsey Museum Web Administrator


Palm fiber
Roman Period (1st–4th century AD)
Karanis, Egypt
U-M Excavations, 1924–1935
KM 10843

“My favorite artifact in the Kelsey Museum’s collection is the Roman sandal from the 1st–4th century AD. To me, the sandal represents a tangible connection to everyday life in Karanis, and it demonstrates how life today is not that far removed from that of our ancestors. Many of the items in the Kelsey Museum’s collection seem to show the differences between ancient life and our life in the age of technology, but this acts as a reminder that we are all very much the same as we once were; humans with the same basic necessities.”

Keaten North, Financial Specialist - LSA Finance

Head of Augustus, first emperor of Rome

Roman Period (ca. 27 BC–14 AD)
Cummer Fund, 1975
KM 75.1.1

“Seeing the two distinct marks above this Augustus’ right eye, I like to imagine an excavator, striking what they think is an ordinary stone after a day in the hot sun. They strike once, twice, before realizing to their chagrin and excitement that this ‘stone’ is not so ordinary after all. Long cleaned of their dirt, I enjoy these little reminders that most archaeological objects lie buried until these moments of fortuitous (and at times damaging) human intervention. This marble bust, with its ‘fortuitous’ pick-made blemishes, speaks quite eloquently to a crucial, yet often invisible piece of an artifact’s life.”

J. Troy Samuels, IPCAA PhD Candidate