Excavating Archaeology @ U-M: 1817–2017

University of Michigan Excavations at Karanis, 1924–35

Karanis

Francis Kelsey’s ambitions for the University’s Classical archaeology collections went well beyond his purchases of Mediterranean antiquities. In 1924, he began a program of excavation at sites in Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, and Israel. The projects sought to explore and discover archaeological contexts that would illustrate daily life in the Greek and Roman worlds. Through these projects Kelsey also sought to acquire artifacts for the University’s growing collections.

The most productive site from Kelsey's efforts was Karanis, the ruins of a small farming community in Graeco-Roman Egypt. Eleven seasons of excavation under the direction of Enoch Peterson revealed a complexly stratified site and thousands of artifacts, over 45,000 of which ultimately came to Michigan. When the Karanis project began, the University of Michigan’s Classical archaeology collections were housed in the University Library with the campus art collections. By the time it ended, the Museum of Classical Archaeology had been created; in 1953 the museum was renamed in honor of Francis Kelsey.

The Karanis material is one of the Kelsey Museum’s core holdings and a centerpiece of its permanent installation. It includes an extraordinary range of artifacts illustrating daily life, religious belief, and wider cultural practices.

Selected Objects

Divine foot imprint
Brick
Flask
x Divine foot imprint
  • Representation of divine foot imprint, from temple roof
  • Limestone
  • 1st–2nd century AD
  • Karanis, Egypt
  • University of Michigan Karanis Excavations, 1928 (surface find)
  • KM 25878
x Brick
  • Brick
  • Mud, plant material
  • 1st–5th century AD
  • Karanis, Egypt
  • University of Michigan Karanis Excavations, 1924-1935 (surface find)
  • KM 29751
x Flask
  • Flask
  • Glass
  • 1st–5th century AD
  • Karanis, Egypt
  • University of Michigan Karanis Excavations, 1926 (Field number 26-A3-G)
  • KM 5561