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The Kelsey has a long and proud tradition of sponsoring archaeological fieldwork in the Mediterranean and Near East. This tradition dates back to Francis Kelsey himself, who in the early twentieth century embarked on a series of excavations, most famously initiating work at Karanis, a Roman-period town in the Egyptian Fayum. Many objects excavated at Karanis are now in the holdings of the Kelsey Museum. Other early projects (such as at Seleucia-on-the-Tigris, 1928–1937) similarly resulted in substantial additions to the Museum's collections—a practice that no longer holds true today owing to changes in accepted archaeological ethics.

Since those early days, Kelsey staff and students have taken part in expeditions in countries as far afield as Italy, Syria, Ukraine, Libya, Jordan, Tunisia, Croatia, Armenia, and Greece, with Kelsey-sponsored projects currently under way in Egypt, Sudan, Turkey, Greece, and Italy. Some of these current projects are documented in reports "from the field."