Student-professor team researches college’s ancient treasures

July 25, 2011

A McDaniel senior and her History professor are collaborating on research this summer to catalog the college’s collection of 119 Egyptian and Greco-Roman artifacts.

Although previously studied by McDaniel professors, the gift, willed to McDaniel in 1983 by Winter Myers, has never been comprehensively catalogued and published.

Professor Donna Evergates and Jessica Fry of Saint Marys, Ga., will create an index of each piece and hope to publish the material online for public viewing.

Their initial focus is on Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman materials, including many terracotta pieces. During the last four weeks, Fry has indexed over 30 artifacts. Their studies are particularly relevant at the moment, since, according to Evergates, terracotta collections from the Louvre and other museums have been discovered to be 10-20 percent fake.

In the 1870s there were hundreds of tombs discovered in Greece containing thousands of terracotta figures. Soon there was a large demand for these figures, and the market was flooded with fakes, taken in by prestigious collectors and museums alike.

Along with hours of measuring, photographing, and research in Hoover Library, the professor-student duo branched out to the library at Johns Hopkins to further expand their knowledge of the pieces. Fry creates up-to-date bibliographies and short essays on each indexed artifact’s cultural significance.

“One of our next steps would be to look at publications for artifacts similar to ours,” to assist with dating,” said Evergates.

However, the pieces can only be truly authenticated with an expensive thermoluminescence (TL) test. During the test, the piece is heated to a sufficiently high temperature it will emit a faint blue light. The intensity of the light is proportional to the time that has elapsed since the object was made.

She and Fry also visited the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, where they spoke with Meg Craft, Senior Objects Conservator, and Regine Schulz, Curator of Ancient Art, about identification and conservation of the pieces.

Fry, who designed her own major in Classical Civilizations and Archaeology, attended College Year in Athens, a study-abroad program focused on the history and civilization of Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean region.  She hopes to study Classical Archaeology in graduate school.

She feels this is an important project to prepare her for a future career.

“They're an interesting part of the College's history, and I hope that future students will also have a chance to do more in-depth studies of the pieces,” said Fry.