Jeanny "Jes" Vorys Canby, 78, an archaeologist who corrected the reconstruction of an ancient monument and once discovered a stolen treasure in a Philadelphia thrift shop, died of emphysema Nov. 18 at the Quadrangle in Haverford.
After a career as an educator and curator in Maryland, Dr. Canby moved to Bryn Mawr in 1984 and became a volunteer research associate at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
In 1991, she was browsing in shops on South Street when she came upon a small statue of the Egyptian god Osiris, which she recognized as having been stolen from the museum two years earlier. Her discovery also led to the recovery of a century-old crystal ball belonging to the Dowager Empress of China, which had been stolen from the rotunda of the museum at the same time as the statue. She declined the $10,000 reward from the museum for her find.
For more than 10 years, Dr. Canby's research project at the museum was reconstructing carvings that had decorated a nine-foot-high limestone stela, or monument, from Mesopotamia. Archaeologists had found the monument in smithereens in 1920s. It had been pieced back incorrectly by museum workers, Dr. Canby found. She rearranged pieces to depict chariots, wrestlers, angels, workmen, and a courtesan hugging a god. "She's actually squishing her bosom against him. This is really cuddly," Dr. Canby told a reporter in 2002, a year after publishing a book about her work.
The pieces were too fragile to be reconstructed as a monument. Instead, the museum had a reproduction made, which will eventually be displayed with the fragments Dr. Canby pieced together. One of the fragments, showing a king as a builder, is now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, said Richard Zettler, associate curator of the Near East Section of the university museum.
Dr. Canby grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and in Washington, where her father, John N. Vorys, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 20 years. She earned a bachelor's degree from Bryn Mawr College; a master's degree in archaeology from the University of Chicago; and a doctorate in archaeology from Bryn Mawr.
In 1959, she married Thomas Canby. The couple raised two sons in rural Maryland, where they renovated a farmhouse and gardened. He was science editor at National Geographic and she worked as the curator of the Ancient Near Eastern Wing of the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore. The couple later divorced.
Though Dr. Canby's career included teaching at Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University, her son Mac said, she focused on research, conservation and presentation of ancient artifacts.
Her work took her to archaeological sites in the Middle East and Europe. In Turkey, she studied the Hittites, an ancient people who flourished from 1600 to 1200 B.C. She was one of a few scholars who could understand the Hittite language, her son said. She learned falconry firsthand, he said, to be able to research its practice in the ancient world.
In addition to her son, Dr. Canby is survived by a son, Yellott; a sister, a brother; three grandsons; and her former husband.
No services are scheduled. Dr. Canby contributed her body to science.