Here you can read brief answers to the dozen questions our curators and staff are most frequently asked by visitors to the Kelsey Museum. You will also find some links you can follow for further information, either on this website or elsewhere.
Can I visit the museum during the COVID pandemic?
Like the rest of the University, we closed our doors to all visitors in mid-March when the severity of the COVID pandemic became apparent. Since that time, we have been working with the University to craft and implement saftey protocols that will allow us to reopen.
We are happy to announce that the Kelsey Museum is now open to University of Michigan students, faculty, and staff (visitors must have a valid MCard).
In accordance with University guidelines, the museum is operating its galleries at reduced capacity. Admission is free, but visits must be scheduled in advance through Eventbrite. Please go to our Reopening Details page for more information about how to plan your visit.
Where are the mummies?
The Kelsey museum has two human mummies (both children) and several animal mummies in its collection. The mummies are very fragile and must be climate controlled for their preservation since Michigan's weather is very different from the dry climate of Egypt that originally preserved them. The Egyptians themselves went to a great deal of trouble to keep the bodies of their dead hidden and private, and this helped keep the mummies so well preserved.
The two human mummies in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology are both of children about two or three years old, one probably a boy and the other possibly a girl (thanks to James E. Harris, retired Michigan professor who x-rayed these mummies, for this information). Both appear to be from the Roman period. The boy's mummy is plain and undecorated; the girl's has a plaster mask with gilt and painted decoration, heavily damaged. The boy's mummy underwent a CT-scan investigation and is on display in the Upjohn Exhibit Wing.
The Kelsey Museum collection includes the mummies of a dog, a cat, and three birds (probably falcons), as well as the decorated head from a cat mummy. Animal mummies of this sort were left as offerings to a god associated with the animal: a person would pay the priests to kill the animal and have it wrapped as a mummy and put into a special chamber in the god's temple. The cat was associated with the goddess Bast, the dog with Anubis, and the falcon with Horus. The Museum also has what appears to be the mummy of a baboon, but x-rays showed that it contains human arm bones, wrapped to look like a baboon. Apparently this is an ancient fake, designed to convince someone that they were paying for a baboon mummy. The cat mummy, the cat head, and one of the mummified falcons are on display in the Upjohn Exhibit Wing.
Do you offer tours of the museum?
Yes, please see our Tours page.
Was this building once a house?
No. The Kelsey Museum building was never a house, although it may look like one. It was constructed in 1891 for the Students' Christian Association for meetings, religious services, and activities. Originally the building was known as Newberry Hall (the name you can still see on the front of the building). In 1928 the University leased the structure to use as an archaeology museum for its collection of ancient artifacts. It bought the building in 1937, and in 1953 it was renamed after Francis W. Kelsey, founder of the museum—and thus became the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. In 2009 the building entered a new phase of its long life with the addition of the Upjohn Exhibit Wing to the rear of the original building.
Please visit the Building page For more information.
Are these real artifacts in the Kelsey Museum?
Unless a label says otherwise, all the objects in the Museum are "real:" actual ancient artifacts more than 1,000 years old. We don't put copies on display, and we don't (knowingly) display fakes — except in the online exhibition The Art of the Fake: Egyptian Forgeries from the Kelsey Museum, where they are compared to genuine artifacts, for educational purposes. (Note: The Internet Public Library, which hosted this exhibition, is no longer an active website.)
Why can't we use flash photography or pens in the gallery?
The objects on display in the Kelsey Museum are very old—more than 1,000 years old. Bright light (like a camera flash) can cause invisible damage to ancient objects, damage that can lead to discoloration, decay, even disintegration. This is also why the windows of the Museum are specially treated to block out harmful rays from the sun.
We don't allow the use of pens in the gallery because the ink from a pen can cause permanent damage to the surface of artifacts—even an "erasable" pen can cause damage that can't be repaired. Although we like to think that no one would intentionally mark on an artifact with a pen, it's easy to do it accidentally—so that's why we don't allow them.
Please visit our Conservation page for more information.
Why can't we touch the objects?
The human hand leaves small amounts of oil, sweat, and other residue every time it touches something; this is true no matter how many times hands are washed. These oils and other substances can discolor and damage the surfaces of ancient artifacts over time. Just because an object is not in a case doesn't mean that it is OK to touch it: stone is vulnerable to these chemicals left behind by a touch. Even the people who work here in the Museum have to wear rubber gloves to handle artifacts. If we prevent people from touching the objects, this helps ensure that they will still be around for future generations to enjoy.
Please visit our Conservation page for more information.
Does the museum sponsor archaeological fieldwork?
Yes, and it has done so for over 90 years. In 1924, Professor Francis W. Kelsey, after whom the Museum is named, embarked on a series of excavations in the Mediterranean and Near Eastern regions. Most important was the site of Karanis, a Graeco-Roman farming town in Egypt, about 50 miles southwest of Cairo. Between 1924 and 1935, when excavation ceased, approximately 45,000 objects from Karanis were transferred to the Museum, including wooden artifacts, sculpture, basketry, pottery, glass, coins, and textiles. Primarily everyday objects, they offer an unusual window onto village life in the Roman provinces. The second major source of scientifically excavated artifacts in the Museum is the site of Seleucia-on-the-Tigris in modern Iraq, about 15 miles southeast of central Baghdad. Seleucia was founded on the site of an earlier town by one of the generals of Alexander the Great in the late 4th century B.C., and remained great metropolitan center until the 3rd century A.D. Excavations at Seleucia were carried out between 1928 and 1937, and yielded approximately 10,000 artifacts, including pottery, coins, terracotta figurines, beads, carved architectural fragments, bronze, bone, and gold items.
After the second world war, most countries passed antiquities laws restricting the export of archaeological artifacts from excavations, but the Museum has remained an active field research unit. In addition to Karanis and other sites in Egypt, and Seleucia in Iraq, the Kelsey has taken part in expeditions to Sepphoris (Israel); the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai (Egypt); Qasr al-Hayr (Syria); Apollonia (Libya); Cyrene (Libya); Dibsi Faraj (Syria); Carthage (Tunisia); Leptiminus (Tunisia); Tel Anafa (Israel); Paestum (Italy); Pylos (Greece); Coptos and the Eastern Desert (Egypt); Aphrodisias (Turkey); Vani (Georgia); and Tell Kedesh, (Israel). The Kelsey Museum currently supports excavation and survey projects at Gabii in Italy, Olynthos in Greece, Notion in Turkey, Abydos in Egypt, and El Kurru in Sudan. Although the Museum no longer acquires artifacts from ongoing field projects, it does serve as the repository of Kelsey-sponsored excavation records and archives.
What has the museum published?
The Kelsey Museum has produced a number of books and pamphlets about its collections, exhibitions, archaeological fieldwork, and conferences. Many are available for purchase online.
Please visit our Publications page for further information.
Do you have any Native American objects? Or finds from Asia? Or South America?
The Kelsey Museum collections concentrate on artifacts from ancient cultures that bordered on the Mediterranean Sea, areas now known as North Africa, the Middle East, and Southern Europe, including Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, Etruria, Israel, Syro-Palestine, and Persia.
The University of Michigan Museum of Art has a rich collection of Asian objects on display. Extensive collections of Asian, Native American, and South American objects are also found in the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology (a research museum not open to the public).
What's in the parts of the museum where the public can't go?
Only the galleries in the Upjohn Exhibit Wing of the Kelsey Museum and certain first-floor galleries in the original museum building are open to the public. The rest of the building is used for artifact storage, conservation, photography, staff offices, student work areas, a research library, and exhibit preparation. The Kelsey Museum is proud to house the Hosmer Archaeology Lab, where staff and students work on archaeological projects, and the University of Michigan's Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology. It takes many people working "behind the scenes" to put together the Kelsey Museum exhibitions, take care of the artifacts and research them, keep the Museum running on a daily basis, teach students to work with artifacts, and carry out the work of the archaeological projects that are an important part of the Kelsey Museum's mission.
Where are the Epistles of Saint Paul?
The famous "Epistles of St. Paul" manuscript is a very early copy of part of the New Testament on papyrus. Although parts of this manuscript have been on display in the Kelsey Museum in the past for temporary exhibitions, the manuscript is permanently housed in the University of Michigan Library Papyrology Collection—the largest collection of ancient documents on papyrus in North America. The Papyrology Collection at the Library is closed to the public, but papyri can be seen by appointment: visit the Papyrology Collection website for more information.