The Mesopotamian Endeavor: Penn Museum’s Archaeological Exhibit About the Middle East


Source: Philly Fun

As the current home of towering pharaohs and ornate headdresses of royals from about 5,000 years ago, the Penn Museum stands on the edge of campus as an institute of archaeology in the university. The museum, as one of the oldest buildings on Penn’s campus, also has their fair share of achievements throughout their lengthy life. The museum is one of the greatest archaeology and anthropology research museums in the world and the largest university museum in the United States. However, sometimes it’s distance from the center of campus makes the museum seem too far for the average student to visit and learn about. Well, just in luck for the average student, the museum is actually embarking on opening a new exhibit that has been in the making for over a 100 years. The name of the exhibit is the Middle East Galleries, opening on April 21, 2018, that has been advertised as covering “8,000 years of history in 6,000 square feet of gallery space,” and seen as a huge endeavor for the museum.

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1899 Excavation of Nippur, Iraq; Source: Penn Museum’s A Brief History of the Penn Museum

However, before we embark on the details of this magnificent exhibit, it will help us to understand a little bit of the history of the museum and just how long this exhibit has technically been in the making. The Penn Museum was founded in 1887 when Provost William Pepper eagerly assisted an archaeological expedition go to Mesopotamia that approached him with the proposal. The eagerness behind the support was due partly to Provost Pepper’s efforts to lead the university through a renaissance that would allow it to become a modern university. Soon after, the group would embark on their archeological expedition after securing funding and support from the university as a host of the archeological findings. The expedition would head to Nippur, an ancient Sumerian city in modern day Iraq, that would soon enough establish the university within the world of archaeology. Provost Pepper would soon after establish the Department of Archaeology and Paleontology, and the university’s museum would be known to be mostly filled with items members of the university excavated themselves. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until 1894 that Provost Pepper was able to purchase land from the City of Philadelphia where they could formally build the museum in its own building. The museum, after further development, would go on to famous projects like the Excavation at Ur in modern-Iraq until now when it plans to open its new exhibit.


Source: Penn Museum Website

This new exhibit, the Middle East Galleries, as stated before, has technically been in the making since the conception of the museum. The first expeditions that the museum supported were to ancient Mesopotamia, modern Iraq, in Nippur. The purpose of these expeditions soon became centered around understanding the first examples of humans settling down into sedentary lifestyles where they farmed and lived in established cities. This transition in lifestyle has been one of the most important transitions in human history because it determined the lives we live now. This phenomenon, called the Neolithic Revolution, saw the humans of the time transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to the farmer lifestyle which gave way to various societal developments like writing and the construction of cities. The exhibit will begin at this point in human history and attempt to portray to the public the way life used to be during this time as understood through various items of the time.

With all of this information, the focus of the exhibit can be understood to be focused on the idea of settlement and the establishment of cities. Through various promotional material, the museum hopes to take the visitor from the settlements of humans nearly 10,000 years ago up until the modern age. On their website, the museum has released various videos about the process of such an endeavor which includes topics like conservation and how to understand the people of this time. One video in particular speaks about how this exhibit will have a focus on understanding the 99%. By the 99%, this refers to the general people of the time who weren’t royalty and who couldn’t afford extravagant temples or eloquent headpieces. The exhibit will attempt to focus on the lives of the people and how they lived day-to-day. Another video outlines how the discovery of an iron sword, being displayed in the exhibit, is representative of a transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age and how people began to make weapons differently. With this being just a sneak peek of the content, the exhibit is almost guaranteed to amaze and intrigue its various visitors in late April.

Overall, the exhibit is likely to be another achievement of the museum that hopes to portray a story of early humans and how these things we call cities came to be. When considering the history of the Penn Museum, it will be interesting to see how developed and detailed the exhibit will be as it has been in the making for quite some time. Lucky for us, the exhibit opens on April 21, which is this Saturday. For all alumni who will be coming back to campus in May, this is a perfect opportunity to experience this new exhibit at Penn during Alumni Weekend, beginning on May 11. You don’t want to miss out!


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