Using Science and Art to Preserve the Past at the Penn Museum

Author: Gabriela Coya, C’14

For over 125 years, the Penn Museum has been transporting people back in time through artifacts from all around the globe. From 5,000-year-old mummies from Egypt, to Mayan hieroglyphics tracing back to 600 BCE, these diverse and often-fragile artifacts need proper care if they are to be around for future visitors.

This couldn’t be done without the help of researchers and conservators, who often stay behind the scenes but will reveal their secrets at Long Live Our Treasures: The Science of Conservation and Preservation, a Philadelphia Science Festival Signature Event taking place next Wednesday, April 26.

Conservators and researchers from the Barnes Foundation, the Mütter Museum, and even our own Penn Museum will tell all about the science and art involved in preserving our most precious artifacts, such as those from In the Artifact Lab. This new exhibit, which opened last fall, allows you to speak directly to conservators about the artifacts they are working on, including a  fragile coffin from 600 CE in need of repair, a complete adult mummy called PUM I, and this little (and even kind of cute) falcon mummy, which you can learn even more about from the conservators themselves on their blog.

Photo credit: Penn Museum

Photo credit: Penn Museum

Among other treasures currently Penn’s campus is the Lod Mosaic, which has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and is in its final American pit stop before heading to the Louvre in Paris. The mosaic found near Tel Aviv, Israel, in 1996 was impressive upon first glance — despite being nearly 2,000 years old, I didn’t think it looked a day over 100. The colors are vibrant and nearly each tiny cube on this huge 300-square-foot mosaic is still intact. Learn more about its discovery and conservation story in the video below:

If you’re interested in learning more about how the Penn Museum and other Philadelphia museums use science and art to keep the past alive, register for “Long Live Our Treasures” here. Go give artifacts like mummies a little love and attention; because it turns out they need it too.


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Filed under Campus Life, Gabriela C., Penn Museum, Student Perspective, Video

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