The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology debuted a new exhibit titled “Graffiti as Devotion along the Nile: El-Kurru, Sudan” on August 23. The exhibit focuses on approximately 600 graffiti artifacts found at the site of El-Kurru in ancient Kush, located in modern day Sudan. 

Geoff Emberling, co-curator of the exhibit, said the project began when a group of researchers traveled to Sudan in 2015, expecting to find an ancient royal city. 

“We found a temple and started seeing these graffiti and that was not what we went looking for at all,” Emberling said. “But that’s what archaeology is all about: finding the unexpected.” 

The exhibit also features information about the graffiti and the culture of ancient Kush. Visitors can read about how the graffiti relates to the region’s religion, trade and tradition of pilgrimage.  

There are various multimedia elements in the exhibit, including a soundscape of ancient Kush and an interactive simulation of the reflection transformation imaging researchers used to analyze the graffiti. This technology compiles approximately 30 photos taken of the graffiti with different amounts of light and creates one file. Using this file, researchers can examine how light affects the visibility of the graffiti. The exhibit also features a map of the region printed on the floor.

Rackham students Caitlin Clerkin and Shannon Ness explained how they believed multimedia impacts visitors’ experiences and deepens their connection to the exhibit. 

“We think that these elements help to bring a visitor a little closer to the reality of a place,” Clerkin said. “For us, the map provides a sense of geography as well as a reminder that the Nile ties some of these locales together. The soundscape gives a little sense of human activity, and brought us, as visitors, into the site and village.” 

Emberling said he hopes visitors will gain a deeper knowledge and understanding of ancient African civilizations. 

“I think the ancient civilizations of Africa don’t get as much attention in the public eye as they deserve,” Emberling said. “I hope people will become a little more aware of their complexity and cultural achievements.”

He also compared ancient Kush to the modern-day United States, explaining that understanding a culture solely through its elites is problematic. 

“Most of our ideas about history come from the elite and that’s not a satisfactory way to understand any culture, even our own,” Emberling said. “The graffiti art are important and interesting in the sense that they are marks left by individual people.”  

LSA junior Madeline Topor, president of the Student Archaeology Club, said she believes the study of ancient civilizations is especially relevant today.  

“Studying things from the past is a way to learn about where we came from,” Topor said. “How it shaped the world we are living in today and how traditions from the past are still carried on in the present.” 

This winter, researchers will be continuing the project, relocating to the capital of ancient Kush. The Kelsey Museum is hosting various events related to this exhibit, including an opening lecture on Sept. 5, a curator’s tour on Sept. 8 and a half-day symposium on Sept. 20.

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