In early 1925, Francis W. Kelsey, LSA professor of Latin and Literature, assembled his archeological team and boarded a plane to Egypt. After five years of planning, he was now breaking ground on an excavation of Karanis, an agricultural community formed in Egypt in the third century B.C.E. and abandoned by the sixth century A.D.
Karanis was established after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 B.C.E., which led to Greek inhabitants and a mix of cultures and religion. Then in 30 B.C.E., after Egypt came under Roman control, Karanis greatly expanded in size and population. Kelsey hoped to fully reconstruct the village—a revolutionary archeological approach in the early 1900s—to learn about the Graeco-Roman period, a phase in Egyptian history previously documented only through preserved papyri.
“The finds of the [Karanis] excavation, even in the first season, surpassed all expectations, with both extensive structures being unearthed as well as the discovery of vast arrays of objects,” writes Andrew W.S. Ferrara, curatorial assistant at LSA’s Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, in the museum’s Karanis exhibit brochure.
Kelsey died in 1927, but the Michigan excavations continued for an additional eight years. More than 45,000 artifacts were shipped to Ann Arbor, and the material “continues to inspire new publication and investigation” regarding life in Graeco-Roman Egypt, Ferrara writes. In 1953, the University museum bearing so many of Kelsey’s archeological finds was renamed to honor him.
Until May 6, 2012, selected finds from Karanis are on display at the Kelsey Museum of Archeology in a special exhibit titled, Karanis Revealed: Discovering the Past and Present of a Michigan excavation in Egypt.
Captions by Terry G. Wilfong, LSA associate professor of Egyptology, associate curator for Graeco-Roman Egypt at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.