Skip to Content

Search: {{$root.lsaSearchQuery.q}}, Page {{$}}

Personal Treasures Objects


Gold, emerald
Graeco-Roman Period (3rd–4th century AD)
Egypt. E. E. Peterson collection, 1985. KM 1985.9.1a

The value of this necklace is tied to the novelty of its constituent materials. Along with gold, emerald was treasured and used to emphasize the elite status of its wearer. Known in Latin as smaragdus, a term of Semitic origin, the emerald used in this necklace was most likely mined at Wadi Sikait in the Eastern Desert of Egypt. The site was such a rich source of the stone that it was referred to as “Mons Smaragdus,” or “Emerald Mountain,” in contemporaneous Roman sources.

Dog Figurine

Graeco-Roman Period (3rd–4th century AD)
Karanis, Egypt. University of Michigan excavations, 1935. KM 6911

Found in Karanis, Egypt, this Roman figurine could have been a children’s toy or served votive purposes. The Kelsey Museum’s collections include a number of miniature dogs that were collected from Karanis, which suggests these animals formed an important part of the residents’ everyday lives, either as household pets or animal-shaped figurines.

Toy Horse Body

Graeco-Roman Period (3rd–5th century AD)
Karanis, Egypt. University of Michigan excavations, 1924. KM 3331

This horse was found with a group of other toy fragments, including wheels that may have once fit into the two holes on its legs. The discovery of such objects in the Karanis excavations suggests the presence of children and play in households, as well as a small “industry” dedicated to making wooden toys.

Mamluk Pen Box (Qalamdan)

Brass, gold, silver
14th century AD
Egypt. Sobernheim collection, 1955. KM 28802

This pen box is made of brass and inlaid with gold and silver, much of which is now lost. The case belonged to a Mamluk official (amir) active in Egypt during the mid-14th century. The amir’s name, Sharaf al-Din, appears on the box three times within bands of Arabic inscriptions listing his various titles—such as “Warrior for the Faith” and “Defender of the Frontiers”—and the positions he held, including that of royal chamberlain. Ornately decorated and inlaid boxes such as this one functioned as treasured tools and symbols of high office. Kept inside were a reed pen and an inkpot.


Possibly 10th–15th centuries AD
Fustat (Islamic Cairo), Egypt. Ruthven collection, 1962. KM 1962.1.104

This carved bone die was found in the archaeological excavations at Fustat (Islamic Cairo). Several other gaming pieces were uncovered with it, but the exact game that it was used for is not known.

Bangles of Various Sizes

12th–15th centuries AD
Fustat (Islamic Cairo), Egypt. Ruthven collection, 1970. KM 1970.3.231, KM 1970.3.321, KM 1970.3.337

The technique of using colored glass for jewelry and personal ornaments has existed since the Roman period. The presence of such bangles at many different archaeological sites proves that they were popular. Owned and worn by many, they ornamented the human body and were treasured as colorful jewelry items by their owners.

Large Washing Basin

12th–13th centuries AD
Syria or Egypt. Sobernheim collection, 1955. KM 28801

Like other medieval Islamic luxury objects, including the pen case currently on display in the “Personal Treasures” vitrine, this large brass basin would have shone brightly with inlaid pieces of gold and silver. These precious materials would have created mesmerizing light effects for the viewers, who also could peek into the basin to witness a pond filled with fish depicted at its bottom. If the basin was used for handwashing, then these fish would appear as if swimming with each flick of the finger—an optical illusion that actively engages the object’s users. With regard to ownership, the Arabic-language inscription around the basin’s body offers words of glory and triumph to al-Malik al-Salih, the last sultan of the Ayyubid dynasty (1171–1260), best known for having fought against the Crusaders in the Holy Land. As a treasured object, this basin was thereafter passed down to multiple owners, as attested by four graffiti incised into its exterior. One of these graffiti identifies the object as belonging to an administrative office (dar) and another to a vestiary or wardrobe (tishtkhana). The basin thus could have been used to either wash hands or rinse clothing—the movements of the body and fabric in the sparkling water symbolically bringing the aquatic animals to life.