When I first arrived at Hopkins about six and a half years ago, one of the first “fun facts” I heard about was of an Egyptian mummy on campus, who had been given the nickname “Boris.” The mummy is in fact on long-term loan to the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum from Goucher College, and has been since the 1980s. In 1988, Dr. Betsy Bryan, the museum’s director and an eminent Egyptologist, oversaw the CT-scanning of “Boris,” which resulted in the re-discovery that “he” was in fact a “she. “ For my first year, this was all I knew of our archaeological collection.
Then, I heard that there was more than an Egyptian mummy in our archaeological collection—we had thousands of objects. But where were they? Why had I never seen them? I had been to Gilman Hall where they were kept, but no one had ever pointed them out to me, nor did I notice any glass cases with these pieces. I soon learned that the reason I had never seen them was because they were not on display all the time. What a shame!
After my second year here, the news came that Gilman was to undergo a three-year, $73 million renovation which would include an archaeological museum! I saw mock drawings, building plans, and articles in the Gazette that talked about what was in store for the building.
A year and a half ago, it was time to reopen Gilman Hall. I couldn’t have been more excited to check out the new museum, and FINALLY meet the mysterious mummy that I had heard so much about. My first trip to the archaeological museum was fantastic! Sanchita Balachandran, Curator/Conservator of the museum and lecturer in Near Eastern Studies, took us on a tour and told us about the vast collection. She talked about hands-on work she had been doing with current students, and told us about Director Dr. Bryan’s work with specific artifacts.
With pieces from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, the Near East, and the ancient Americas, the installation showcases almost 700 objects. These pieces, in addition to those still being sorted and cataloged, have come from a variety of different places—some have been purchased by the university, some gifted by prominent Baltimoreans, others donated by alumni, and others put on loan for us to identify, study, research, and display. The museum also has an extraordinary loan of over 2,000 ancient Egyptian objects from Eton College in Windsor, England, as well as objects from the Baltimore Museum of Art, in addition to the Egyptian mummy from Goucher College.
The museum has not only done an excellent job of making the pieces in the museum accessible, but it has also done phenomenal work in conservation (just take a look at http://archaeologicalmuseum.jhu.edu/the-collection/conservation/ to see items restored or cleaned…it’s amazing!)
Here are a few highlights on what type of pieces are currently being studied:
- A Roman Lead Curse Tablet – We currently have a collection of lead tablets, all written by the same person, which curses five other individuals. One of the curses recently placed on view at the museum calls on the gods to destroy a man named Plotius with debilitating fevers, promising gifts in return if the curse is successful.
- Attic Red-Figure Vases – In the spring of 2011, Hopkins professor Alan Shapiro of the Classics Department conducted a course on these vases. It gave students the opportunity to examine the pieces, dive into their history, and create informational texts to be displayed along with them, allowing the public to more fully understand their purpose.
- An Unpublished Magic Spell from Late Antiquity – One of our Johns Hopkins professors, Theodore Lewis who teaches Aramaic at Johns Hopkins, and his graduate students were able to translate the text from a piece of an incantation bowl. They found that it was asking to ward off evil spirits from a person’s home!
- Archaeology of Daily Life - Hérica Valladares, a professor in the Classics Department at Johns Hopkins, created an undergraduate research seminar to “stimulate innovative research through the close study of objects.” In this seminar, students studied pieces that were used in the daily lives of people, as well as those that depict what daily life was like.
When Daniel Coit Gilman created Johns Hopkins University, his main goal was advancing knowledge through research and scholarship, so that this knowledge could then be spread to the world. (Click here to learn more about his vision.) As you can see, the new archaeological museum on campus has done just this! It has provided great opportunities for students at both the graduated and undergraduate level to learn through hands on experiences and share their findings.
When you visit campus next, be sure to stop by our archaeological museum (http://archaeologicalmuseum.jhu.edu/)— it is open Monday-Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and the outside cases can be viewed anytime the building is open. There’s no excuse not to visit!