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Collections FAQ

Are the artifacts in the Kelsey Museum real?

Unless a label says otherwise, all the objects in the Kelsey Museum are "real": authentic ancient artifacts with an average age of 2,000 years. With a few, clearly marked exceptions, we don't put copies on display, and we don't (knowingly) display fakes. If you are interested in fakes, there is an  open-storage drawer installation in the Egyptian gallery and an online exhibition The Art of the Fake: Egyptian Forgeries from the Kelsey Museum, where they are compared to genuine artifacts, for educational purposes.

How did the Kelsey acquire the artifacts in its collection?

Excavations in Egypt and the Middle East in the 1920s and 1930s account for most of the Kelsey's holdings. Slightly more than 35 percent come from purchases, bequests, and gifts. Read about the Kelsey Museum’s collections history here.  

How many objects are not on display and where are they stored?

The Kelsey today houses more than 100,000 artifacts, ranging from prehistoric to medieval times. About 1,500 objects are on display in the Upjohn Exhibit Wing or appear in special exhibitions; the rest are maintained in climate-controlled storage in the basement of the Upjohn Building. Read more about our collections here.

Where are the mummies?

The Kelsey Museum has two human mummies and several animal mummies in its collection. Some are on display in the Egyptian galleries; the others remain in storage. 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 ancient Egyptians themselves went to a great deal of trouble to keep the bodies of their dead hidden and private, and this helped preserve the mummies.

The two human mummies in the Kelsey Museum are both of children about two or three years old (we thank James E. Harris, retired Michigan professor who x-rayed these mummies, for providing this information). Both appear to be from the Roman period. One of the child mummies is plain and undecorated, while the other has a plaster mask with gilt and painted decoration. The decorated mummy is heavily damaged. The plain mummy underwent a CT-scan investigation and is on display in the Upjohn Exhibit Wing; the damaged mummy is too fragile for display and is kept in our climate-controlled storage (It is illustrated in our book Life, Death, and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt).

The Kelsey Museum collection includes mummies of 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 Kelsey also has what appears to be the mummy of a baboon, but x-rays have shown 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. We also have another ancient fake, a mummy in the shape of a dog, made for the cult of one of the Egyptian jackal gods, that contains human child bones (this mummy was featured in the exhibition Death Dogs: The Jackal Gods of Ancient Egypt. The cat mummy, the cat head, and one of the mummified falcons are on display in the Upjohn Exhibit Wing.

Why do most of the statues have broken noses?

The statues in the Kelsey Museum are ancient—between 1,500 and 5,000 years old—and a lot of things can happen over such a long period. Although made of stone, the noses (and arms and legs) of statues stick out and are especially vulnerable to damage. Imagine falling over but not being able to stop your fall, and you'll get an idea of how this could happen! Statue noses are also easy to damage intentionally, and many ancient statues have lost their noses through ancient (or modern) vandalism.

Was this building once a house?

No, the Kelsey Museum building was never a house. Newberry Hall was completed in 1891 for the Students' Christian Association, which used it as a meeting place until 1927. In 1937 it became home to U-M’s museum of classical archaeology, which was later named after the museum’s founder, Francis W. Kelsey. The Upjohn Exhibit Wing, adjoining the rear of the original building, was built in 2009 and houses the museum’s galleries. Newberry Hall is now used for museum administrative offices, classroom space, lectures, and special events.

To learn more, visit the History page on the Kelsey website.

Where are the Epistles of Saint Paul?

The famous "Epistles of St. Paul" manuscript is an early copy of part of the New Testament on papyrus, dating to around 200 CE. 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 University Library is closed to the public, but the papyri can be seen by appointment: visit the Papyrology Collection website for more information and check out their app at https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/epistles/.

What do I do if I have a question about an artifact in the Kelsey collection?

Email your question to kelseymuse@umich.edu. Be sure to describe the artifact and include its Kelsey registration number (the number on the object identification card that starts with “KM”). You can also visit our Contact page and send the email to the appropriate Kelsey staff member.

Can I use an image of one of your artifacts for my publication?

Yes, we encourage the use of our images for your publications and teaching. For publications, we ask you to fill out the Application for Reproduction Permission form to request proper permission. For teaching purposes, you may use our images freely. All we ask for is acknowledgment. 

Can I get an object appraised?

The Kelsey does not provide appraisals or authentication services for artifacts or art objects. Please refer to the Appraisals policy page of our website for more information.