In 1899, the grandson of former Michigan governor Alpheus Felch (1804–1896) donated this glazed Chinese tile to the University Museum. Accompanying the tile was a fascinating note. According to the note, this tile was part of the famous porcelain tower of Nanjing (Nankin), a temple tower constructed in the early 1400s, during the reign of the emperor Yongle (r. 1402–1424). The tower stood 260 feet tall and was covered with glazed yellow, green, brown, and white porcelain bricks that reflected the sun. European travelers to China described the tower as one of the seven wonders of the medieval world. The tower was destroyed in 1854 during the civil war (or Taiping Rebellion) between the Qing Dynasty and the “Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Movement.” The note says that U.S. soldiers who were stationed near Nanking excavated this tile in 1861, and Paymaster Calvin C. Jackson took it back to the U.S., where he presented it to Felch in 1894. Further research is required to determine whether this story is true, but U.S. military records confirm that Pay Director Calvin C. Jackson was in China in 1861, serving on the USS Dacotah.
In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.