In early 1925, Francis W. Kelsey, LSA professor of Latin and Literature, assembled his archeological team and boarded a plane to Egypt. After five years of planning, he was now breaking ground on an excavation of Karanis, an agricultural community formed in Egypt in the third century B.C.E. and abandoned by the sixth century A.D.

Karanis was established after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 B.C.E., which led to Greek inhabitants and a mix of cultures and religion. Then in 30 B.C.E., after Egypt came under Roman control, Karanis greatly expanded in size and population. Kelsey hoped to fully reconstruct the village—a revolutionary archeological approach in the early 1900s—to learn about the Graeco-Roman period, a phase in Egyptian history previously documented only through preserved papyri.

“The finds of the [Karanis] excavation, even in the first season, surpassed all expectations, with both extensive structures being unearthed as well as the discovery of vast arrays of objects,” writes Andrew W.S. Ferrara, curatorial assistant at LSA’s Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, in the museum’s Karanis exhibit brochure.

Kelsey died in 1927, but the Michigan excavations continued for an additional eight years. More than 45,000 artifacts were shipped to Ann Arbor, and the material “continues to inspire new publication and investigation” regarding life in Graeco-Roman Egypt, Ferrara writes. In 1953, the University museum bearing so many of Kelsey’s archeological finds was renamed to honor him.

Until May 6, 2012, selected finds from Karanis are on display at the Kelsey Museum of Archeology in a special exhibit titled, Karanis Revealed: Discovering the Past and Present of a Michigan excavation in Egypt.

This statue of a seated priest (from around A.D. 50-100) showcases the complex, multicultural nature of ancient Karanis, inhabited by indigenous Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Here, a religious official from the Roman period is represented in an earlier Egyptian artistic style. This is one of the most important pieces of art to come from the Michigan Karanis excavation, say U-M researchers.

LSA Professor Francis Kelsey brought together a skilled team of archaeologists, surveyors, and photographers for the Michigan excavations at Karanis. This photograph shows Kelsey (fourth from the right) visiting the site in 1925. (Archival photograph by George R. Swain)

The Michigan Karanis team carefully recorded the context of each of nearly 69,000 objects it discovered, providing valuable information about the date and association of finds and allowing future archaeologists to investigate relationships between artifacts and their findspots. Documentation included maps, plans, written records, and archival photographs like this image of unearthed pottery.

This gold coin of Marcus Aurelius (from A.D. 156-157) was part of a hoard of 60 gold coins found on December 29, 1926 by the Michigan Karanis team, of which 38 are now in the Kelsey Museum. News of this exciting discovery was immediately telegraphed to then-President of U-M, C. C. Little, and widely reported in the local press. (Photograph courtesy of the Kelsey Museum)

Some objects discovered by the Michigan Karanis excavation have taken decades to reveal their secrets: LSA alumnus Andrew Wilburn investigated these painted bones for his 2005 doctoral dissertation and concluded that they formed part of a magical ritual, possibly a curse or love spell. (Photograph by Sebastián Encina)

The many complete objects found at Karanis, like these yellow glass bowls, are supplemented by thousands of fragmentary objects. Even the smallest glass shards, when studied in relation to their archaeological context, can yield useful information about the history and economy of this ancient town. (Photograph by Sebastián Encina)

Thousands of archival photographs in the Kelsey Museum archive record the details of the Michigan Karanis excavation–from images of individual objects to photographs of large structures, such as this image of a granary. Grain was one of the few commodities that the ancient Karanis exported. (Archival photograph by George R. Swain)

Archaeologists often need to record color in the field, but color photography was neither reliable nor affordable during the 1925-1935 Michigan expedition. So archaeologists relied on the talents of artists, as seen in this 1925 watercolor by British artist Hamzeh Carr of a mural found in a Karanis house. The mural represents the Egyptian gods Harpocrates (center) and Tutu (right).

The Michigan excavators recorded not only their archaeological finds, but also left a record of their own lives on an archaeological expedition. Images like this one of Plupy, a dog the archeologists adopted as a pet, in an ancient grain mill show something of the archaeologists' life and sense of humor in the field. (Archival photograph by George R. Swain)

The Karanis Revealed exhibition marks the Kelsey Museum's first use of iPads to deliver in-gallery interactive media for an exhibition. The Karanis iPads show vintage 1920s silent film footage of the expedition and also feature a sound composition by artist and U-M Art & Design student John Kannenberg based on field recordings made at Karanis in 2010. (Photograph by Sebastián Encina)

Ancient Karanis was, first and foremost, an agricultural village, and artifacts in the exhibition relate to the lives of its farmers and administrators. Farm implements, grain, and even a tax roll on papyrus (loaned by the University Library Papyrology Collection) reveal the details of the processes of agriculture and the vast bureaucratic system needed to administer it.

Captions by Terry G. Wilfong, LSA associate professor of Egyptology, associate curator for Graeco-Roman Egypt at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.