This Saturday, the Kelsey Museum of Archeology hosted its second annual “Spooky, Weird, and Magical: Halloween with the Kelsey” tour. Led by docent Robin Little, the tour explored a variety of items from the approximately 1,500 on permanent display through the lens of Halloween. Before starting, Little made clear: “When I say weird, I don’t mean weird in a negative way. I mean unusual. I don’t pass any value judgment on the word “weird”.
Here are the 5 “weirdest” or most unusual artifacts we saw, along with explanations of their historical background, according to the tour.
- A cat mummy
The Kelsey has a strict rule against any human remains in their collection; however, this policy does not extend to the realm of animals. Their collection currently includes a mummified falcon, a baboon, a cat’s head and a whole cat (pictured above). In ancient Egypt, animals were associated with certain gods, and cats were particularly powerful divine symbols. Many Egyptians wanted their pets buried next to them and as a result many mummified animals were found alongside the remains of their owners. But dealers weren’t always scrupulous, and recent ability to x-ray artifacts has revealed that many animal mummies actually contain only random assortments of bones. It remains uncertain what remains beneath this cat-like mummy.
- Four canopic jar lids with human heads
The ancient Egyptian process of human mummification began with the removal of four internal organs: the lungs, liver, stomach, and intestines. After the organs were removed, they were treated with various chemicals, wrapped in linen and then placed in canopic jars like the ones above. The pots were buried next to the mummified body in their sarcophagus. Different pots were reserved for specific viscera and had specific magical properties.
- Some very rusty pliers
These forceps are an example of a medical tool that would be used to deliver babies in ancient Rome. Although apparently not the most hygienic instrument, they allowed practitioners to reach areas they could not reach with their fingers alone. Forceps came in a variety of forms and could be used for a variety of other purposes, such as removing tumors or even cosmetic surgeries. The Romans often accompanied such medical practices by taking votives of certain body parts to shrines in hopes of receiving healing prayers.
- A “demonic bowl”
“Demon bowls”, also known as “spell bowls” from the Parthian period in modern Iraq, were an ancient alternative to demon hunters and an example of early practical magic. The bowls were used as a protective measure to lure and then trap demons or ghosts, although they could also be used to summon one to aid. Since the majority of people were illiterate, the spells were often unreadable. Recent research has even suggested that the magical spiral inscriptions were gibberish or “pseudo scripture”, so we still don’t know what they mean to this day.
- Villa of the Mysteries
In 1924, archaeologist and museum namesake Francis Kelsey commissioned Maria Barosso to paint a five-sixths scale replica of the monumental fresco in the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii. The watercolor reproduction is complete with the damage sustained by the villa after the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. Seems to engage in a series of sacred rituals involving masked centaurs and even whippings by a winged figure . New interpretations of the story behind the murals are constantly offered, but since only members of the mysterious cult knew the details of the rituals and nothing was written down, the exact nature of the cult remains a mystery.
Sampler Saturday tours at the Kelsey Museum are free and open to all visitors.
Daily art writer Jaden Katz can be reached at [email protected]