Where the majority of ancient Egyptian exhibits evoke the wealth and prosperity of pharaohs with gold and intricate jewelry, a recently opened exhibit in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology brings something new to shows that highlight ancient civilizations. “Karanis Revealed: Discovering the Past and Present of a Michigan Excavation in Egypt” reveals to its visitors the possibility of connecting on a personal level with a society that lived thousands of centuries before.

Karanis Revealed: Discovering the Past and Present of a Michigan Excavation in Egypt

Through Dec. 18th
Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

“It’s all about getting people to connect with what’s on display and being able to establish a connection on something familiar,” said associate professor of Egyptology and curator Terry Wilfong. “The formality of high art from ancient Egypt is somewhat off-putting, but this is about seeing things people used every day and were a part of their daily lives.”

Wilfong also acknowledged that the strong point of the exhibit lies in the sincerity and simplicity of its objects.

“The idea was to get what people’s everyday lives were like,” Wilfong said. “Our strength is that we have so much material from the daily lives of ordinary people, and we made a point of making some of that available to tell stories of what lives would have been like in that time.”

This archaeological story-telling can be seen in the riveting images and videos from the excavation at the site of the small Egyptian village of Karanis, led by a group of University archaeologists and researchers in the 1920s and 1930s.

Ahead of its time, the traveling group brought video equipment to the northeastern village to capture valuable footage, which can be viewed on the interactive display in the center of the exhibit.

“The idea was to include associated archival photos, or plans or maps from the dig,” Wilfong said. “But it expanded more about the objects and the people that lived in the town.”

The exhibit is filled with simple yet remarkable pieces from the early centuries of the village under Greek rule during the Ptolemaic dynasty. Visitors will get a feel for the quality and circumstance of life in Karanis, exploring the homes and possessions of villagers.

Among the various artifacts is a selection of painted animal bones thought to have been used in magic rituals and ceremonies, wooden locks and keys that were at the height of the society’s ingenuity at the time, broken coins and a statue of a priest, which has become the icon of the Karanis exhibit.

“The piece that welcomes you, the statue of the seated priest, it’s a really unusual piece,” Wilfong said. “It shows us something about the Egyptian culture, even in the Greek and Roman times.”

This “Seated Dignitary” statuette, carved from black basalt and dated between A.D. 50 and 100, is just one of thousands of objects found during the Michigan archaeological dig.

With so much material and so many objects that have yet to be put on display, “Karanis Revealed” has been split into two parts — the current part covers Karanis in its early stages and has objects in the exhibit that date to A.D. 1 and before. The second part, opening Jan. 27, will explore the changes brought to Karanis with the Roman occupation of Egypt in 31 B.C.

“Karanis Revealed,” though covering a wide span of time and information, allows visitors to form a personal connection by the simple act of presenting something relatable to their lives — whether it’s a wooden doll, a piece of cloth or a long-forgotten bracelet, a village as ancient and remote as Karanis becomes familiar.

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