Karanis Revealed: Discovering the Past and Present of a Michigan Excavation in Egypt.

Author:Peck, William H.
Position:Book review

Karanis Revealed: Discovering the Past and Present of a Michigan Excavation in Egypt. Edited by T. G. WILFONG and ANDREW W. S. FERRARA. Kelsey Museum Publication, no. 7. Ann Arbor: KELSEY MUSEUM OF ARCHAEOLOGY, 2014. Pp. viii + 192, illus. $24.95 (paper).

During the period 1924 to 1935 the University of Michigan carried out a series of excavations at Karanis (Kom Aushim) and related sites in the Fayum region of Egypt. Karanis proved, as the result of eleven seasons of exploration and study, to be one of the richest repositories of material from the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods found in Egypt. The site yielded "tens of thousands of artifacts and thousands of documents and archival photographs documenting the excavation." In the division of finds the University of Michigan became the depository for not only a large number of artifacts (46,514 objects out of 68,438 found) but naturally the caretaker of the documentary records of the excavation. In 2011 and 2012 T. G. Wilfong was the curator for Karanis Revealed, a two-part exhibition with emphasis in the first part on the earlier material from the site and problems of excavation and in the second on later material and ongoing research. Based on both exhibitions, this book is organized to introduce three aspects of the work related to the activities at Karanis. These are the archival materials, the artifacts, and a sampling of the ongoing research.

Karanis had its beginnings in the third century B.C. under Ptolemy II and was inhabited probably until the sixth or even into the seventh century A.D., although the mid-fifth century has been the traditional date assumed for its abandonment. Like many other ancient sites in Egypt, it was eventually engulfed by drifting sands and almost forgotten. It lay mainly undisturbed until the nineteenth century, when a combination of factors drew attention to the ruins. The burgeoning tourist trade created a growing market for artifacts and papyri while the mining of decayed mud brick for fertilizer by local field workers threatened to destroy the remains of preserved buildings. At Karanis, as at other Fayum and Delta sites, the extraction of sebakh, as the mud brick remains are known, did extensive damage.

Modern controlled excavation was first carried out briefly at the site by Bernard Grenfell and D. G. Hogarth, but it was not until Francis W. Kelsey, University of Michigan Professor of Latin, inaugurated work at a number of sites around the Mediterranean...

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