Mackosi’kwe’s Baskets: Marking Relationships

by Margaret Bruchac
with Object Analysis by Elizabeth Peng (see below)

On August 1, 1938, before leaving the Maniwaki reserve in Quebec, Canada, anthropologist Frank G. Speck paid a visit to his old friends, Michel Buckshot and his wife Mackosi’kwe (also spelled Meshkosikwe, meaning “Beaver Meadow Woman”). Mackosi’kwe was skilled in scapulimancy, a technique for divining future prospects in hunting and travel by scorching the shoulder blades of Indigenous deer, caribou, beaver, and other animals in a fire, and then reading the cracks and marks.[1] In Speck’s case, perhaps because she was doing a reading for a non-Native person, she used a sheep scapula to predict a safe journey home.

The River Desert Algonquin Band at the Maniwaki Reserve was a small group of a few hundred First Nations people; most were of Algonkian ancestry, some had mixed Mohawk or French heritage.[2] In 1854, under the leadership of life chief Pakinawtik (also spelled Paganowatik, meaning “Lightning Hit Tree”), they had left the Mohawk community of Kanehsatake (Oka, Lake of Two Mountains, near Montreal) to settle permanently in their former summer hunting grounds at the confluence of the Gatineau, Eagle, and Desert Rivers. There, they practiced subsistence farming, hunting, and fishing, in addition to wage work and craftwork, calling themselves Tega’zi bi win in iwag (“farm river people”).[3]

Fig. 4. Mackosi’kwe (Mrs. Michel Buckshot,. Photo taken by Frank Speck. Mss. Ms. Coll. 126, Image 1-2-b. American Philsophical Society Digital Collections.

Fig. 4. Mackosi’kwe (Mrs. Michel Buckshot,. Photo taken by Frank Speck. Mss. Ms. Coll. 126, Image 1-2-b. American Philosophical Society Digital Collections.

Mackosi’kwe, born around 1862, was an artisan with diverse skills. She did trapping, tanning, and Indian doctoring (herbal medicine), and also made “curiosities” like puzzle pouches and decorated baskets for sale to tourists. She was also a keeper of oral traditions; in 1943, while Speck and his colleague Horace Beck were collecting data on Algonquin medicinal knowledge and folklore, she shared tales of the cannibal spirit Windigo and the trickster Wisekedjak.[4]

During a 1929 visit, Speck’s student, Frederick Johnson, commissioned Mackosi’kwe to carve a collection of potato die stamps (called padaki-wàpigon, “potato-flower”).[5] In order to show print proofs of the stamps, she also provided two peeled, trimmed, and stamped ash splints harvested from the inside annular rings of black ash (Fraxinus nigra).  Ironically, although provided to document the technique of basket-stamping, these objects are now trapped in a form that renders them unusable. If destined for a basket, dyes would have been freshly mixed and stamps freshly cut before use. Prepared ash splints would have been soaked and woven into basket form before stamping. But these potato stamps have been saturated with alcohol, and these pre-stamped splints have now hardened into a permanent coil.

A selection of trimmed and etched birchbark containers from River Desert collected by Frank Speck. Photograph is plate 30 from “Art Processes in Birchbark of the River Desert Algonquin, a Circumboreal Trait,” Smithsonian Institution Bureau of Ethnography Anthropological Papers 128, no. 17 (1941): 1-60.

A selection of trimmed and etched birchbark containers from River Desert collected by Frank Speck. Plate 30 from “Art Processes in Birchbark of the River Desert Algonquin, a Circumboreal Trait,” Smithsonian Institution Bureau of Ethnography Anthropological Papers 128, no. 17 (1941): 1-60.

The items in the River Desert collection have been described as “common” and “utilitarian,” but they are much more. The objects created by Mackosi’kwe and other Algonquin artisans express Indigenous technology, ecological adaptability, and local aesthetics, woven into every piece of raw material, every stitch, every mark. The birch trees that provided sweet sap for food and medicine also provided bark for containers and canoe coverings. Folded bark baskets were covered with a myriad of elaborately etched and trimmed designs. The ash trees that provided wood for canoe frames provided an abundance of splints for baskets. The potatoes were reshaped from a utilitarian food source into a tool that could transform plain baskets into marketable tourist objects. The dyes were made from local plants; among Algonquin artisans, the making of these dyes and mordants were closely kept secrets.[6] The marks made by stamping, etching, and trimming are more than just decoration; they constitute a richly expressive language that Frank Speck identified as a symbolic ecology, evoking local plant medicines, fauna, and rock-art pictographs, with meanings that escape those who only see flowers and leaves.[7]

Collectively, these objects also represent what was once a productive relationship between the River Desert Band and researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, woven together by partners who collaborated on the collection of data and materials over the course of several decades. The travel went in both directions. Speck and his students made multiple trips to Maniwaki, and, in 1942, Mackosi’kwe’s adopted grandson, Jean Paul Bras Coupe, spent the winter in Pennsylvania with Speck. Income from the sales of tourist objects and ethnographic collections kept the Buckshot family from starving in the midst of the Great Depression, at a time when their lands were under increasing pressures from sports hunters and fishermen, and the boundaries of their homelands were being constricted by Canadian authorities.

Perhaps to highlight the artistry of Algonquin people, Speck saw to it that ethnographic materials from River Desert were dispersed into multiple museums, including the National Museum of Canada, the Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of Denmark, and the Denver Art Museum. Yet, when the traveling and collecting stopped, each of these objects were frozen in time, locked in museum cabinets, far from their places of origin. Now, these objects offer opportunities to reconnect with the people who created them and the stories embedded in them. This research calls for a return to Maniwaki, now identified as the Kitigan Zibi Anishnabeg (“people of the garden river”), a place where people still speak about those anthropologists from Philadelphia who came to visit and walked away nearly a century ago.

•   •   •   •••   •   •   •••   •   •   •••   •   •   • 

Potato Stamps and Ash Splints, A Narrative of Process and Exchange

Object Analysis for Anthropology of Museums
by Elizabeth Peng

During the 1920s-1940s, Frank Speck made at least six field trips to the River Desert Band of Algonquins, alone and in company with research assistants and students like Frederick Johnson. Johnson was especially intent on collecting examples of traditional crafts. In 1929, he commissioned Mrs. Michel Buckshot to create a set of potato die stamps and ash splints, since she was the only person practicing this type of craft in the River Desert Band. The dies and splints were sold to the Penn Museum, where they are now curated as objects 29-10-79A and 29-10-79B in the collections of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, as part of the Frederick Johnson collection.

Figure 2. Elizabeth Peng in the Penn Museum Study Lab, with jar of potato stamps and ash splints from River Desert. Photo by Margaret Bruchac.

Figure 2. Elizabeth Peng in the Penn Museum Collections Study Room, with a jar of potato stamps and ash splints from River Desert. Photo by Margaret Bruchac.

The stamps, preserved in alcohol inside a glass jar, consist of potatoes onto which various shapes have been carved, such as leaves and other organic shapes. Even today there are remnants of colored pigment on some of the stamp surfaces. Because the organic material would shrivel if exposed to the air for extended periods of time, they would have been made immediately preceding use. Johnson also collected illustrative stamped ash splints, which serve as print proofs of the dies used.

A variety of colors and shapes can be found on the stamped pictures. On one splint, red (now faded to pink), black (now faded to brown), and blue dyes were used to stamp shapes in the form of flowers, leaves, beavers, shells, hands, feet, and a mask-like face. On another, there are also birds and a round shape with spokes, much like a wheel. These ash splints are meant to be woven into basket form using what Speck described as “the simple under-and-over twill as they do the bark wares.” He concluded through comparative studies of baskets in the region that this type of splint work does not extend farther north than the uppermost boundaries of the Algonquin nations, although it is widespread elsewhere in Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and Algonkian territories.[8]

Figure 3: Coiled ash splints from River Desert, Quebec. Photo courtesy of the Penn Museum.

Figure 3: Coiled ash splints from River Desert, Quebec. Photo courtesy of the Penn Museum. Museum Object Number: 29-10-79B

The Johnson collection from River Desert includes 90 objects, representing: hunting equipment (woven nets, bows, arrows, birchbark moose call, etc.); craft tools (bone awls, needles, knives, etc.); and personal gear (snowshoes, war clubs, wooden spoons, pouches, containers, etc.). In her summary of this collection, Marilyn Norcini notes that the River Desert collection is exceptional for the: “fibrous and tactile nature to these vernacular objects from the northern words. What they may lack in color and elaborate design, they make up for in a feeling of everyday life expressed through the common, utilitarian objects.”[9] Yet they also express the relationships embodied in the material exchanges between the River Desert Band, Speck and Johnson, and the Penn Museum.


[1] Speck, Frank G. 1939. “More Algonkian Scapulimancy from the North, and the Hunting Territory Question.” Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology 4(1): 21-28.

[2] The cultural term Algonkian denotes a common cultural grouping for northeastern Native peoples including Anishinabe, Wabanaki, and Wampanoag, among others. Culturally and linguistically, they are distinct from Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) peoples. The historic term Algonquin is used here to distinguish a particular grouping of Algonkian Indian First Nations bands located in the eastern Ontario and western Quebec provinces, sometimes collectively called the Algonquin Nation.

[3] Speck, Frank G. 1927. “River Desert Indians of Quebec.” Indian Notes IV(3):240-252. Also see Speck 1929. “Boundaries and Hunting Groups of the River Desert Algonquin.” Indian Notes VI(2):97-120. Museum of the American Indian/Heye Foundation.

[4] Beck, Horace 1947. “Algonquin Folklore from Maniwaki.” The Journal of American Folklore 60(237):259-264.

[5] McGregor, Ernest 1987. Algonquin Lexicon (Algonquin-English). Maniwaki, Quebec: River Desert Education Authority.

[6] Clément, Daniel and Noeline Martin 1996. “Algonquin Legends and Customs from an Unpublished Manuscript by Juliette Gaultier de la Vérendrye,” pp. 123-154 in Daniel Clément, The Algonquins. Hull Quebec: The Canadian Museum of Civilization.

[7] Speck, Frank G. 1941. “Art Processes in Birchbark of the River Desert Algonquin, a Circumboreal Trait,” Smithsonian Institution Bureau of Ethnography Anthropological Papers 128(17):1-60.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Norcini, Marilyn 2008. “Frederick Johnson’s ‘River Desert Algonquin’ Materials at the University of Pennsylvania Museum: A Collection History,” Museum Anthropology 31(2):122-147.

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Get to know Dr. Elin Danien: 2015 Volunteer of the Year


Dr. Elin Danien is the Penn Museum’s 2015 Volunteer of the Year!

At this year’s Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon I was lucky enough to present the award for Volunteer of the Year to Dr. Elin Danien. It’s always hard to choose just one volunteer to specially highlight, but Elin has always been a standout. In her 40 years of working and volunteering at the Penn Museum she has unswervingly supported our mission to transform the way our visitors think about the human experience. And though she came to Philadelphia to become America’s next great actress, she’s created an amazing legacy as a scholar, educator, and philanthropist.

By Kevin Schott, Guide Program Manager

The Penn Museum is lucky to have a corps of dedicated volunteers that run guided tours, do mummy dusting, and a lot more. Dr. Elin Danien’s work at the Museum, as a volunteer and as a staff member, covers these jobs and quite a few more, including researcher and author.  In 1998, Dr. Danien completed her Ph.D. dissertation, focused on the Penn Museum’s collection of Chama pottery which formed the core of a 2009 exhibition, Painted MetaphorsPottery and Politics of the Ancient Maya. Dr. Danien’s publications include Maya Folktales from the Alta Verapaz and Guide to the Mesoamerican Gallery, which followed her renovation of that gallery in 2002.  Events coordinator for the Penn Museum from 1981 to 1989, Dr. Danien founded the Museum’s annual Maya Weekend (1983-2013), an in-depth weekend of exploration featuring Maya scholars, epigraphers, and educators. A Penn graduate who began her college education at the age of 46, Dr. Danien is founder of Bread Upon the Waters, a Penn scholarship assisting non-traditional undergraduates—women age 30 and older—to attain an undergraduate degree through part-time study.

Learn more about our Volunteer of the Year in the short interview below with Dr. Elin Danien!

1. What do you do as a volunteer?
Docent, lecturer, researcher, author.

2. What is the most rewarding thing about volunteering?
The constant discovery. Being in an environment that enriches me and allows me to share with the public the excitement of archaeology, the need to understand other cultures and other times, and the importance of the past to the present.

3. Tell us about the differences between working at the Museum and volunteering at the Museum.
In addition to what I said above, it’s the opportunity to help shape the programs that further the mission of the Museum, to create a public message in ways that feature the traditions of other cultures and the archaeological discoveries that change and enhance our view of the past.


Dr. Danien holds a Maya polychrome chama piece from the Museum’s American collections.

4. What is your favorite thing about leading tours?
The look in a child’s eyes at the wonder of it all; when understanding of other people, other cultures, becomes apparent, and he or she realizes that difference is not a bad thing.

5. What do you like to do when you are not at the Museum?
Oh gosh—write, go to theater and concerts, hang out at other museums, read, walk, play with my puppy, and most importantly, the intellectual stimulation of exchanging ideas with other people.

6. What’s your favorite Penn Museum story? (It doesn’t necessarily have to be related to your work.)
Well, in addition to the research I do for the biographies I’m writing (about an archaeologist and an archaeological artist, who both worked for the Museum), I think one of the best stories I know illustrates how much the staff and volunteers love the Museum: During the Great Depression, when the Museum’s funds were at a minimum and staff was skeletal, the Director could be seen sweeping the galleries after hours. That’s dedication!


Kevin Schott and Williams Director, Jilian Siggers, present Dr. Elin Danien her Volunteer of the Year award at the annual Penn Museum Volunteer Luncheon.


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Deep Description and Reflexivity: Methods for Recovering Object Histories

This semester, students in my Anthropology of Museums class learned new methods for analyzing objects in museum collections by using both “deep description” and “object reflexivity.” Students were trained to combine material analysis, ethnographic data, archival research, and critical scholarship to identify and document object histories. They also gained practice in examining methods of construction, curation, and display that reflect the shifting historical relations among Indigenous people and Indigenous objects in museums. As a result, these students generated thoughtful insights that cast new light on old objects in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Deep Description and Reflexivity

The notion of “deep description” borrows from Clifford Geertz’s “thick description,” a method of densely observing and recording human behavior and discourse. It might seem illogical to apply this to objects where the makers are absent, but traces of human activities can often be readily observed through micro-analysis of small details: the choice of material, shape of a bead, turns of a weave, patterns of wear, and modes of repair. Each of these can signal the intent of an artisan; some of these serve as signatures of particular traditions, cultures, knowledges, and communities. Objects also reflect environments. So, for example, in the midst of a grueling winter, our observations of the practical nature of Arctic fur garments evoked a much deeper respect for Inuit technologies.

An Inuit opium pipe from Alaska, collected by Capt. David Henry Jarvis. Donated to the Penn Museum by Mary E. Javis, accession number 39-10-1. Photo by Margaret Bruchac, permission of the Penn Museum.

An Inuit pipe from Alaska, collected by Capt. David Henry Jarvis. Donated to the Penn Museum by Mary E. Javis, Museum Object Number: 39-10-1. Photo by Margaret Bruchac, permission of the Penn Museum.

When studying objects, I encourage students to reflect upon, and assess, what we “know” about objects in a collection based upon what we are told. Drawing upon the use of reflexive approaches in the social sciences, I direct students to interrogate the influence of previous scholars and scholarship and to look past the exhibit labels to discover a deeper story. In addition (without over-romanticizing) they are asked to reflect upon phenomenological experiences and “object reflexivity.” What might an object feel, sound, and smell like? What music emerged from this drum? How does the fringe move when this garment is danced? Which way did the threads twist in the hands of this weaver? Does the smell of smoked hide evoke the warmth of the fire? Are the plants that produced the dyes visible in the colors of the stamp?

Adventures in Collections

The first stage of this project began in the classroom, by viewing clips from early 20th century films of Arctic expeditions. Then, we moved into the Penn Museum collections, for a broad survey of materials collected during the Museum’s seminal Arctic expeditions to Alaska, Greenland, and Labrador, with American Section Keeper William Wierzbowski as our guide. At first, students were overwhelmed by the dizzying array of objects, grouped by type and by region, with targeted expeditions and incidental acquisitions commingled. Within a short time, however, they had narrowed their choices to a selection of roughly a dozen objects for close study.

William Wierzbowski examines an Alaskan gutskin coat in the Arctic collections, with students Elizabeth Peng and Alexandria Mitchem.  number 39-10-1. Photo by Margaret Bruchac.

William Wierzbowski examines an Alaskan gutskin coat in the Arctic collections, with students Elizabeth Peng and Alexandria Mitchem. Museum Object Number: 29-47-189. Photo by Margaret Bruchac.

During the next class session, in the Museum’s Collections Study Room, students spent the first hour in silence, narrowing their focus to a single object that attracted their attention. They took extensive notes on construction, and condition, noting minute details that became more visible only after close material analysis. They listed ideas for the type of information they would need to add context to these objects, and where that information might be found. They also considered how knowledge of this object could be constructed by different types of viewers: Indigenous artisans, museum collectors, art dealers, etc. They toyed with theories that might explain certain aspects or uses of this object, and listed questions that further research might answer.

Elizabeth Peng and Karen Thomson, in the Penn Museum Study Lab, examining a pair of Inuit women’s boots with Victorian lace traim. Photo by Margaret Bruchac.

Elizabeth Peng and Karen Thomson, in the Penn Museum Collections Study Room, examining a pair of Inuit women’s boots with Victorian lace trim. Photo by Margaret Bruchac.

Students also scanned the Penn Museum’s online databases, where objects can be digitally sorted by number, type, region, etc. However, they quickly learned that object labels, sorting processes, and categories in museums are rarely simple and straightforward. Object identifications result from (and reflect) the social negotiations that take place before and after objects arrive in collections. Despite the apparent efficiency of a database, subjective processes of organization can cause small bits of data to be overlooked. That data might include crucial Indigenous names, knowledges, and relationships. For example, the broad classification of “Eskimo” can blur distinct and important commonalities and differences between “Innu” and “Inuit” peoples. Native names can be confused if individuals go by Christian, Indigenous, married, and/or other names.

The nature of salvage anthropology was such that items were frequently scattered among different museums, often without clear records of their tribal identities and symbolic meanings. In some cases, provenance data was preserved in museum archives, but detached from the objects on display. Items that passed from one collector to another may have been separated from the field notes that identify them. Most confusingly, it is quite common for different museums (and auction houses) holding similar items from the same region to assign different interpretations and values. Thus, data housed in one museum can often shed light on poorly identified objects in another museum.

In general, curators and scholars tend to sort collections in ways that match their interests, focusing on some objects while ignoring others. Speculative and incomplete data can influence modes of identifying objects over time, and small details can be overlooked. Hence, a person seeking an Inuit walrus tusk opium pipe from the Arctic could easily miss that “Oriental-style” “tobacco pipe” with the absurdly small hole.

Applying Restorative Research Methods

How then, does one recover data and restore Indigenous meanings? How can students be directed to review scholarship on unfamiliar objects? Since reflexive research calls for attention to the influence of position and personality, I advise my students to work in a way that may sound backwards: examine the object first, and examine the scholarship second. There is a logic to this. When students examine an unfamiliar object, without preconceptions, they can notice small details that might otherwise be overlooked; the object can, in a sense, “speak” for itself. When students are guided to read research articles first, someone else is speaking. Thus, students may be subtly (or not so subtly) influenced to uncritically accept conclusions that might not accurately reflect the materiality of the object itself. Too early exposure to what is “known” can get in the way of generating new questions. The emphasis here, of course, is to generate factual observations and insightful questions that can point the way to further research (while avoiding leaping to random conclusions).

Enika Selby in the Penn Museum Archives, examining photos of Inuit women in fur garments. Photo by Margaret Bruchac.

Enika Selby in the Penn Museum Archives, examining photos of Inuit women in fur garments. Photo by Margaret Bruchac.

After writing a preliminary description and draft blog entry, students were directed to research all existing primary sources. Alex Pezzati, Senior Archivist in the Penn Museum Archives, was especially helpful in walking us through notes, correspondence, photographs, field notes, and articles from the Van Valin and Gordon Arctic expeditions. On their own, students also researched secondary sources. Whenever publications answered their questions (or raised new ones), they backtracked references to discern where other scholars had derived their knowledge. Then, students rewrote their original observations, adding references, correcting errors, and noting any additional possibilities for nuanced interpretation and further research.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, students were reminded to reflect upon the makers of these objects and the memories of the communities they came from. Indigenous artisans had particular interests in mind when each of these objects was created. Ethnographic collectors, who sought to fulfill particular research goals and aesthetic desires, often imposed their own interpretations. Some Indigenous objects in museums reflect processes of separation, more than processes of creation. Thus, crucial information about Indigenous context may be recovered by both examining the practices of the historical community that created the object, and by understanding what that object means to living Indigenous communities today.

In the end, all of my Museum Anthropology students—Michele Belluomini, Monica Fenton, Alexandria Mitchem, Sarah Parkinson, Elizabeth Peng, Pauline Saribas, and Enika Selby—were remarkably successful in recovering new (and old) data about seemingly silent museum objects. Each of them wrote insightful research reports and blog posts summarizing their observations, while posing new research questions that have yet to be answered. Watch for these intriguing blogs in forthcoming posts from “Behind the Gallery Walls.”

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Ringo’s Futuristic School of Thought

The work in the Penn Museum Archives never ends. The backlog resists attempts at taming it. The Archives is happy to have a number of interns and volunteers who are willing to help organize, catalog, and preserve the documents, drawings, and photographs in the collections. Alyssa Velazquez is one such intern, who is presently reorganizing the storage of the old glass plate negatives. The Museum has at least 30,000 glass plates, in sizes ranging from 3×4 inches to 11×14 inches. Many of these were originally transported into the field, were shot and developed there, and were then brought back to the Museum. Others were taken in the Museum’s Photo Studio, which was established by at least 1902. The Adventures of Ringo and Sobek is a social science satire centered around the Museum’s old records, surroundings, and areas of study.

In the Continuing Adventures of Ringo and Sobek:

Sobek, it’s no good.
The dratted mechanics have seized up-
And I can’t figure out what all the reluctance is about.
The world is falling apart.
The pipes,
The typewriter,
They can’t keep up.
If we are to survive these changing times we need to prepare.
When all else fails…
We must always be able to depend on our wits.
Therefore, I’ve decided to enroll us into one of the museum’s nightly seminars.
A very reputable professor teaches a rather exclusive course on the modern world.
While the term modern is puzzling,
His credentials are rather extensive.

I, personally, went to him so as to see about the scheduling of a private session.
I felt I had to explain your condition,
Your lack of mobility,
And the need to be accommodating to your stature.
With your inability to travel, all instructions would have to be had on our shelf.
Which he seemed very obliging to conduct.
I feel this is owing to a decrease in registered students.
Mr. Burrows: our soon to be tutor,
Appears to be occupationally engaged with the enemy.
However, he greatly enjoys this close proximity.

His dwelling is littered with screens and buttons of all imagination.
Wires and cords form a kind of modernistic carpet,
Well-worn and matted from Mr. Burrows’ continued scurrying about the space.
It appeared to me, as our initial interview wore on, that instead of alleviating tasks,
His contraptions made for continual motion and constant monitoring.

The focal point of our instruction will be the utilization of these contraptions.
It is Mr. Burrows’ mindset, that these supportive elements are our future.
Mr. Burrows preaches that all arguments to the contrary are futile.
We then proceeded into my first lesson with a very hands-on exercise.
At his insistence I was made to explore the many controls;
This had to be done blind folded.
It was an example exercise of Mr. Burrows’ proverbial saying: comprehension does not require sight.

At first I thought this mode of behavior was due to Mr. Burrows’ own lack of eyesight
Yet he assured me that all of humanity, regardless of eye and ear size,
Were producing more statistical productivity through generalized interactives.
Particularly those solely based off of sensory stimulation versus antiquated critical thinking initiatives.

I will admit, I did not do particularly well at that first interview.
But I am assured that through continual exposure,
My way of thinking and engaging will adjust itself.
Mr. Burrows’ recommendation to our current predicament is to portray ourselves in digital sensibility, and by doing so, everything else will fall into order.

It my belief Sobek, that you will find the whole experience very formative.
In fact your affinity to the solitary is similar to Mr.Burrows, which leads me to believe that you will be an excellent student in the art of the future.
While Mr. Burrows’ larger screens and controls are not portable, he has devised a specified lesson plan that he promises will provide adequate simulations.
As he said when I left his company the other day, “where there is a wire, there is a way.”

Mr. Burrows stares straight ahead, firm in his convictions.
The future he said is inorganic and our failure to embrace his motorized windows is from our own lack of foresight.
Imagine Sobek, a future full of so many portals.
What if we should get lost?
If we do become lost, I hope that we never lose sight of each other.

Mr. Burrows' Future

The Futuristic Classroom

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Anthropology Puzzles from the Archives

Recently I tumbled down the rabbit hole of the Penn Museum Archives with Senior Archivist, Alex Pezzati.  What started as a search for sketches of the Tiffany mosaics on our building, spiraled into Alex pulling out dozens of other collections of images, sketches, documents, and books for me to look through.  Every manilla folder we opened provided an opportunity for him to show me something else from the Museum’s nearly 130 years of history. When we landed in a box “Museum newsletters,” I spotted one of my favorite pastimes, a crossword puzzle!

This run (ca. 1950-1970) of Museum newsletters came from the Women’s Committee when they used to mail out a brief rundown of the goings-on of the museum, including current research, upcoming exhibitions, and member events.  One particular issue included two word games from a Members’ Night event held in 1965, a crossword puzzle and some Anthropological Anagrams.

After trying my hand at solving them, I’ve digitized both puzzles with some slight alterations and present them below.  The crossword puzzle is a little tough because you have to remember it was written in 1965, but it is not impossible.  The anagrams on the other hand, stumped me pretty good. Perhaps knowing that they were originally part of an exhibition event titled, Man the Inventor, will help in solving them.

Good luck to all you intrepid puzzle solvers out there!

Anthropological Anagrams

RULES: The italicized words form the answer, scrambled, but the whole sentence is a clue to the answer, too. The answers may be made up of one or several words, but not necessarily the same number of words as the underlined portion of the clue. Some of the words, of course, may be plural forms. They are of varying degrees of difficulty, so try them all.
SAMPLE: A slob would get all tangled up in this. Answer: Bolas.

  1. Preparing the feast ruined Popo.
  2. O.K., a bomb fine, but me like quieter weapon.
  3. Rover, the Rat, don’t go there.
    They’ll put you in the dentist’s chair.
  4. O me no brag–the kangaroo got away.
  5. Don’t take plugs, Ben; this fishing rig works without them.
  6. O, a mower?
    No, a thrower!
  7. She’ll daze Malc with her mussels
  8. This woodcutter’s need last grew
    On a cousin of the caribou.
  9. Swap our horn, Al, for a blubber weapon.
  10. A lungbow, exactly.
  11. Board wars won with chessmen;
    Native wars won with these.
  12. O they long, those Watusi! and we love to study them.

Crossword Puzzle

You can download and print the crossword puzzle here.


Answers to both the Crossword puzzle and anagrams are here.

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From Lawyer to Gladiator: John J. Ebel and his Gladiator School


John J. Ebel as the “Murmillo” (heavy fighter).

“Suiting up” means two things for John J. Ebel. As both a trial attorney in New York and co-founder of the Ludus Magnus Gladiatores Reenacting Group, Ebel is no stranger to battle. In preparation for the Penn Museum’s celebration of Rome’s Birthday April 18, at which gladiators from Ludus Magnus will vie to “win the crowd” in a series of sword-wielding battles, I reached out to Ebel to find out more about the men behind the armor and to ask if the “mahogany arena” is really so different from that of the gladiator.

Like so many around the world, Ebel found himself “hooked” on the subject of gladiators after watching the epic film Gladiator over a decade ago. However, his journey to gladiatorial historical reenacting began long before that. Ebel has always had a passion for history, and his interest in the history of Gettysburg led him to visit the site with his wife. Watching the reenactments at Gettysburg he “was inspired by their dedication and emphasis on historical accuracy.” He joined a Confederate reenacting group, the 57th Virginia, “B” Company.

A few years later, he was studying for the New York State Bar Exam, and it was during a break in his studies, in 2001, that he watched Gladiator. Ebel then had what he calls a “Confederate yard sale,” the proceeds from which he used to buy a complete collection of gear, and became a Roman soldier in George Metz’s Legion XXIV (a group that will also be participating in our April 18 demonstrations). Soon after, Ebel created his own gladiator school, and Ludus Magnus Gladiatores was born.


A few members of Ludus Magnus Gladiatores assembled in front of their unit tent. Ebel (far right) wears the Roman military style “scutum” and crested helmet.

When asked whether the members of Ludus Magnus have a common thread in their stories about becoming gladiators, Ebel explained that all of the gladiators feel a deep connection to the past:

The one common undercurrent to our reasons for participating in historical reenacting is a deep and abiding love of history, and for many of us, the feeling that we have lived before, in many different lives and incarnations. Just about all of us feel that we have been alive during the Roman era in some way or another.

Despite each individual’s story being different, wherever they are engaging, once the fight begins, many of them feel transported back in time “and can feel the sun on our backs, the smells and sounds of the arena, and the roar of the crowd.”


Albert Barbato, co-founder of Ludus Magnus, as the Retiarius (trident-and-net fighter). Of Barbato, Ebel said, “Only a fool would want to face this man in the arena without proper training and conditioning.”

It is not only during these fights that the gladiators are transported but often before as well. As there is no training manual to learn how gladiators employed different styles, Ludus Magnus uses a technique they call “archaeological reconstruction.” They simply step up and engage each other, coming to conclusions through a process of trial and error much like their Roman counterparts would have. For example, after many trial runs with his co-founder, Al Barbato, they realized that if the Retiarius (trident-and-net fighter) attempted to plunge his trident into the Murmillo’s (“heavy fighter’s”) shield, it would get stuck in the shield, and a strong Murmillo could simply cast the shield aside and disarm the Retiarius. Thus, they concluded that it is likely a Retiarius would not have thrust at the shield, but rather would seek to hit the Murmillo on the sides. It is through this kind of engagement, reasoning, and repetition that Ludus Magnus deduces what the most effective use of any fighter’s weaponry would have been. It seems their technique is on point, as they have “compared some of our learned techniques to actual Roman mosaics depicting gladiatorial fights, and we know we have come up with styles and techniques that were most likely used by our Roman predecessors.”


Ebel “walking the net” (a technique learned from the group’s method of “archaeological reconstruction”) as he and Barbato engage.

When asked how he would classify his work with Ludus Magnus, Ebel made an important distinction. His work as an attorney is his profession, and historical reenactment is his passion, his avocation. Despite the distinction, Ebel pointed out that there is a definite parallel between the two. The same aggressive style he uses in gladiatorial reenactment he also uses in the courtroom. However, there is also professionalism in both arenas: “I treat everyone that I come into contact with: judges, opposing counsel, court officers, etc., with respect and dignity, not unlike ancient Roman gladiators did their opponents.” Using a “gladiatorial ethic” in his profession has made him a successful trial attorney, and that there have even been times the residual energy from an event “crosses over and makes for a stellar result in court.”

However, for Ebel it’s not just about doing battle. There’s an educational side of his passion that aligns with his advocacy work as an attorney. He has fought hard in the courtroom for battered and abused women and children, regularly doing such work pro bono. It is a time when he can “step up and defend those that cannot defend themselves.” It is gratifying, but can take its toll. Working with the victims of such violence has added an important message to his work in the gladiatorial arena. Events such as Rome’s Birthday are not only opportunities to wow the crowd, but are also times to demonstrate temperance. Ebel and the members of the group always take particular pleasure in getting an enthusiastic response from the younger members of the audience. However, he has also found, perhaps due to exposure to more violence, that they are the most “bloodthirsty,” being the first to shout “Kill!” when the mob is polled to see if a competitor should be spared (in true Gladiator fashion). At the end of an event Ebel always issues a cautionary disclaimer, particularly to the younger audience that the group does not put on the shows to endorse excessive violence. Rather, they aim to “show a fascinating and dark side of what was a brilliant and glorious empire, lasting almost 1,000 years.” Indeed, Ebel reminds the audience of all the things Rome gave us: our system of law, architecture, roads, irrigation, language, and so many other legacies that last to this day. He shared that he often asks the spectators if, considering “reality” shows on the air, where people degrade themselves for money, if the ancient Romans were all that different from us today:

I “hold a mirror” up to the crowd and ask them to look into it, asking themselves: “Am I all that different than an ancient Roman citizen who came to the arena to enjoy the ‘spectacle’ of people being degraded and abused?” The answer is evident from the look on the faces in the crowd, and their nods of admission; they know that not much has changed in the human experience.

Indeed, the group adheres to a time-honored principle: “Those who do not learn the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them.” Ebel characterizes the violence in the world today as a pandemic that shows no sign at all of abating. He feels that because life is more complicated, filled with pressure and competitiveness, we have become depersonalized and somewhat lost our way in our lives. To counter this, he has instilled a deep love of history in his 16-year-old daughter, and stressed that this area of study needs to be promoted more. He is proud that his daughter is a historical scholar in her own right and can “hold her own with her old man in any discussion of antiquity, no matter what era.” History, he lamented, is an ever-diminishing area of interest for too many young people, and it must be revived. Too much attention, in his opinion, is placed on the sciences, technology, and mathematics. That’s not to say that these aren’t very important areas of study in the modern era. However, he argued, history and literature must be preserved and kept alive in new generations. “If not, we truly will be ‘doomed to repeat the past,’ and will never go forward into an era of peace, humanity, and prosperity.” His advice to every thinking person, young or old, is to embrace history and all the valuable lessons it teaches. Embracing a love of history is a true labor of love, which is quite literally the case for the members of Ludus Magnus.


Barbato (left), Ebel (center), and James Massimilo, the Greek “hoplite” or “heavy fighter” (right).

It’s truly a show for anyone and everyone, of all ages, and perhaps nothing is more indicative of that than the gladiators themselves. From an 18-year-old high school senior to the 61-year-young Ebel, the members represent a diversity of ages and occupations. There’s Al Barbato, 46, a Postmaster for the United States Postal Service (USPS), his two sons Patrick and Ryan, 24 and 18 respectively, the former a recent graduate of film school and the latter a high school senior. James Massimillo, 45, and Elizabeth Servidio, 42, are letter carriers for USPS. Dan Bluman and Dave Romero are both 24 years old, the former an electrical engineer and the latter a personal trainer. Connor Dwulet, 19, is a recent high school graduate who will be attending college next year. Barbato shared that the group has some new blood showing up for Rome’s Birthday in his 18-year-old nephew, Brian Mathieu, and his youngest son’s girlfriend, 19-year-old Gracie Soto. All of these individuals have the same passion that Ebel does, and he is certain the other members of Ludus Magnus use some of what they feel and learn as gladiators in their respective occupations as well. He stressed that, despite their differences, they all have the deepest respect and admiration for one another.

That admiration Ebel has for his fellow gladiators and the love of what they all do, will never fade. Although he considers himself to be in much better condition than many men his age, he knows that the time will come when the risk of injury will outweigh the thrill of vigorous participation. When the time comes to put aside his sword, he said, he will most likely play a role similar to that of Oliver Reed’s character, Proximo, in Gladiator. When the time comes to retire from the arena, Ebel will happily be the “crusty old trainer” and owner of a “ludus” (school). The group has had men and women in their late seventies to even early eighties reenact as senators, civilians, and the like. Ebel said that as long as one has the spirit and enthusiasm to participate, there is no reason to retire from reenacting. After speaking with Ebel, it’s hard to envision him ever “retiring.” Like gladiators before him, the spirit and enthusiasm he possesses is timeless.

Rome’s Birthday is Saturday, April 18, 11 am to 4 pm. Events and activities are all FREE with Museum admission ($15 general admission; $12 for seniors [65+]; $10 for full-time students [with ID] and children [6-17]; free for Museum members, children under 6, active U.S. military and PennCard holders). Attendees are encouraged to get in the spirit of the day; those daring enough to wear a toga or gladiator attire receive half-off the price of admission!

Brittany MacLean is a Marketing Assistant at the Penn Museum

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Ur Project: March 2015

Toward a Digital Research Tool
Spotlight on EHG46: Larsa/Old Babylonian grave assemblage
Example usage of the Ur-Online test site

We have opened our digital research tool — — in a test version to researchers around the world. This month I want to show one way it helps to speed up research by organizing contextual information.

Please bear in mind that the site is nowhere near complete in the data we eventually want to make available, so all of the information you might want to glean from the records is not yet accessible. There is a good deal here, however, and we are continually adding more. We’re also looking for input on how to make the data more useful to a research community (we will add functionality for a more general public audience after the core research functions are established). Among the ideas we’d like to hear about are helpful organizational schemes and interconnections that might make the data more comprehensive and comprehensible.

In this blog post I’m going to use a particular category of objects that I’ve studied in the past to show how the site aids research by offering up the data in ways that make their associations clear wherever possible. The category in question is that of balance pan weights, measuring tools for the evaluation of mass. In the ancient world these typically took the form of polished stones that had been ground down to a specific sequence of units. The most common form in the ancient Near East is ovoid, resembling an olive or a date, and the most recognizable form is that of a sleeping or trussed duck.

Example sphendonoid (ovoid) weight from Ur, U.6257, B16365, marked as weighing 1 shekel

Example sphendonoid (ovoid) weight from Ur, U.15041, 30-12-523, marked as weighing 1 shekel

Weights were used in trade and manufacture to assess value, determine payment, and to measure ratios of materials such as metals for smelting. They can therefore tell us a great deal about the processes behind the ancient economy. I have long been intrigued by these elements of ancient business and have found it particularly important to assess them in context, as is true of all archaeological materials. In other words, a weight by itself with no information on its find spot can’t tell us much, whereas a weight known to be found on the floor of a building with several other objects that may have been used alongside it starts to paint a more understandable picture.

Example duck weight, U.6257A, B16365, shown from the side. The duck's head is only somewhat indicated and rests on its back.

Example duck weight, U.6257A, B16365, shown from the side. The duck’s head is only somewhat indicated and rests on its back.

Let’s take a look at the above weight, U.6257A, as an example. We can find it on the Ur-Online site in many ways—by its field number (6257), its museum number (B16365), or by searching under the controlled category of balance pan weights. Of course, the more specific we can be, the more quickly the particular weight can be found.

We could type ‘weight’ into the main search box, but that would return all occurrences of the word in the database and may overwhelm us with results. So, we go to the ‘advanced search’ option where we can use the pull-down menu for object type categories if we wish (under economic/administrative, weighing, balance pan weights, duck) and search through to find it (note that as yet we do not have all that many modern images of artifacts, so this makes a visual search difficult at the moment). Since we know the field number, however, our best bet is to type 6257 into the U number box.

Doing this returns three entries. This is because Woolley’s catalogue card for this number listed three weights. Our goal has been to create one entry for each identifiable object using subletters where appropriate to identify them as part of a particular field number grouping. This particular weight was listed first on the card and is thus U.6257A. The image for the weight appears in thumbnail next to its entry since it has been investigated in the Penn museum and a modern photo is available. Despite being found together, the other weights were sent to the other principal museums (one to London, and one to Baghdad) and photos are not yet available of them.

The database that underlies the Ur-Online site contains searchable transcriptions of all of Woolley’s field cards. The information on them has then been normalized into categories that seem to make sense in modern research terms. Archaeologists do not agree on categories of objects and therefore there is a certain amount of interpretation here but we have made every effort to connect with schemas that are generally in use for digital archaeological data, such as the CIDOC-CRM.

After entering the card data we began examining each object from Ur in Philadelphia and in London (a process we are still conducting). In this process we record modern data such as measurements and descriptions, assess the piece for conservation needs, and take modern photographs. We also attempt to connect the object back to its field number, though we have found that many objects were never assigned a number in the field. When we encounter such an object, we record it without field number in the database, thus always increasing the total finds from Ur on record.

If we click on the ‘view details’ button for our current weight, U.6257A, we see additional information. Woolley’s records appear under the ‘archival’ tab, while modern data is under the ‘general’ tab. If scientific analysis, such as x-ray florescence, had been conducted on the piece, we would record that information under the ‘conservation/analysis’ tab.

We are in the process of connecting further archival information to the entries, including scans of catalogue cards, field photographs, field reports, and field notes. These digitized records are currently being tagged to ensure connection to the proper artifact records. We are also listing published references of the artifact in question at the right of the screen.

For the analytical point I am making in this blog entry, the most important information is that of context found at the upper right. In this case, it shows Ur>>EH>>LG153 (EHG46). This tells us the hierarchical location for the object. The weight was therefore found within the site of Ur, area EH, Larsa Grave number 153 (the published reference number, which in the field was designated EH Grave number 46). By clicking on the last portion of this chain, we are shown all the objects that were found in that same location. This is the assemblage of materials in the grave–those objects that were found with and possibly used alongside the weight.

We also see a general description of the grave, which tells us that it was a communal (familial?), brick-built tomb that contained three skulls ‘in confusion.’ This means that we can’t know which of the objects belonged to or were buried with each individual, but they were almost certainly associated with one or more of them.

Screen shot from Ur-Online showing the assemblage from EHG46. This view was obtained by searching G46 in the main search box.

Screen shot from Ur-Online showing the assemblage from EHG46. This view was obtained by searching G46 in the main search box and expanding each entry at left.

The assemblage contains a cylinder seal, 11 balance pan weights (one fragmentary and not coming up in the expanded types), a stone loom weight, 2 beads, 3 pieces of copper, and a clay vase. It closely follows other observed assemblages that may be associated with ancient merchants, as I defined in my dissertation long ago. I had not seen this complete assemblage before, but it is interesting to note how it follows a general pattern I had already encountered. Amassing data on such assemblages is time-consuming when poring through old reports and field notes, but at least for Ur it is now getting much easier.

Now that I can call up such associations quickly, I can move directly to the more important work of analyzing and understanding them. Already I see that the ‘loom weight’ is probably not a loom weight at all. Although these are sometimes made of stone, they are most often made of clay, and are generally large and crudely made (exact mass doesn’t matter as much as it would for a balance weight). I have not been able to see this object but I suspect it is a small suspension weight. Next, we see the inclusion of two beads and small fragments of copper. The copper pieces could potentially have been parts of a deteriorated scale, or perhaps pieces of raw material to be weighed out. Beads are often found with weights and may have been used for accounting purposes, calculations on an early form of abacus. Two beads are not really sufficient for this, but weights are often found with groups of beads.

Whether this is a merchant assemblage can be questioned, but it would appear that one or more of the people interred in this grave had been involved in the trade and evaluation of goods. Such understanding of people is the ultimate goal of archaeology and I believe we are making the data from Ur more useful in this effort.

Please let us know if the site helps in your research too.

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Is Elvis in the building?

In honor of the important national holiday today we highlight an ancient artifact [reel to reel tape!] from our audio-visual collections…

Report on the We-Uns audio tape box

Report on the We-Uns. Author: Robert Nathan Originally aired: 11 November 1956 CBS Radio Workshop.

“Plot synopsis: Archaeologists in the year 7956 explore the abandoned ruins of the long-dead civilization of North America, and attempt to decipher the meanings of its strange artifacts. Based on a short story, [by Robert Nathan] ‘Digging the Weans’, first published in Harper’s Magazine, in November 1956.

A quote: ‘I dare say we will never know anything more about the Weans, but we now know enough to evaluate them as a minor culture, with a rudimentary religion, devoted to a god named “Oscar,” who was worshiped by “rocking” and “rolling”. [The above synopsis quoted from]

For more on the short-lived CBS Radio Workshop

NB: despite the original tape box note, this program is currently in the public domain and streamed on

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Happy 159th Birthday Max Uhle (1856-1944): Father of Peruvian Archaeology

“In Americanist studies the first thing that had to be done was to introduce the idea of time, to get people to admit that the types could change over time.”

-Max Uhle, May 15, 1923


Max Uhle at Pachacamac, Peru, with view of niched walls P and Q, seen from the west. 1896.

Today, March 25th 2015, marks the 159th birthday of the German archaeologist, Max Uhle, who excavated in Peru for the Penn Museum from 1895 to 1898. Called the “Father of Peruvian Archaeology,” Uhle  is best known for introducing the chronological sequencing of differing strata to pre-Columbian and American archaeological research. His work in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile helped establish the framework for the chronological periods now recognized in Andean pre-history studies.

Max Uhle grew up in Dresden, Germany and studied linguistics as a doctoral student focusing on medieval Chinese grammar, an interest he never again explored. According to his biographer, John Howland Rowe, this period in his early career occurred at a high point for Peruvian research with the publication of Das Totenfeld von Acón in Peru (The Necropolis of Ancon in Peru), which inspired Uhle to pursue Andean archaeology.

After extensive work at museums in Dresden and Berlin, Uhle finally embarked on his first field expedition at the age of thirty-six, an overland trek by mule from Buenos Aires through northwestern Argentina and Bolivia. In the last decade of the 19th century, Uhle conducted ethnographic, linguistic and archaeological research projects throughout South America, sending his reports and findings back to the Berlin Museum. He was instrumental in mobilizing political and popular support to stop vandalism at the site of Tiwanaku, in northern Bolivia, and his attention to the preservation of prehistoric monuments extended throughout his career.  Beginning in 1895 the Penn Museum came to sponsor Uhle’s work in Peru, surveying and excavating around Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, and the sites of Ancon and Pachacamac in Peru.


Caballitos or reed boats of the fishermen at Eten, Peru. Photograph by Max Uhle, 1896. Penn Museum Archives

Uhle’s observation that the artifacts he found had gradual changes (in design, style, materials)  in differing strata signaled that cultural changes were occurring over time. Put simply, that artifacts of similar style found in one layer (considered contemporaneous) were either older or earlier than the artifacts found in the strata above or below. His conclusion seems obvious to us today, but Uhle was actually helping to lay the foundations of modern Andean studies. This chronological sequencing allowed American archaeologists to construct a timeline of pre-Columbian Andean history.

Uhle’s year-long excavations in Peru at the sacred site of Pachacamac, some 25 miles south of Lima, yielded one of the Penn Museum’s largest collections of ceramics, lithics and well preserved organic remains including textiles, wood, basketry, shell, feathers, and other materials. The ancient site, a destination for Andean pilgrims to worship their central, creator deity, Pachacamac, contained temples, pyramids, palaces, plazas, and the oracle of Pachacamac. When the Inka empire moved into the area in the mid-to-late 15th century, they recreated Pachacamac as an administrative center, building a Temple of the Sun and various buildings to support the new imperial presence at the site.

Upon finishing his excavations, Uhle returned to Philadelphia to write up his results with the help of his translator and wife, Charlotte Dorothee Grosse, working together in their apartment on the 3400 block of Sansom Street. Shortly after his return, in 1900, the Uhle’s transferred to the University of California, where many of his papers and collections are held by the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum. In the early part of the 20th century, Uhle took on a number of positions in South America, including general director of the Museo de Historia Nacional in Peru, president of the the Sociedad Chilena de Historia y Geografía in Chile, and chair of Ecuadorian Archaeology at the Universidad Central in Quito, Ecuador. Uhle returned to Germany in 1933, where he continued to publish until his death at the age of eighty-eight in 1944.

Uhle’s 1903 volume on his Pachacamac excavations, published by the University of Pennsylvania, has been called the “finest single-site archaeological report in Americanist studies of its time” (Willey 1991: xii), and continues to be influential in the field. His incredibly detailed and accurate plans of the site were the basis for a 4D reconstruction and flyover by students in Prof. Clark Erickson and Prof. Norm Badler’s collaborative anthropology/digital media design course Visualizing the Past/Peopling the Past. In 2011, a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported two post-graduate fellows in a project to conserve, photograph, and rehouse 3,600 textile and ceramic objects from the Pachacamac collection (a process they documented in a series of blog posts).

Filmed in the 1950s, the archival footage below shows the site of Pachacamac obviously not by Uhle himself, but you can still get a sense of the site from this later footage.

A few of Max Uhle’s finds:

Animal, Andean, Peru. Museum Object Number: 29454

Animal, Andean, Peru. Museum Object Number: 29454

Mummy Mask, Andean, Peru. Museum Object Number: 26684

Mummy Mask, Andean, Peru. Museum Object Number: 26684

Border Textile, Andean, Peru. Museum Object Number: 29684

Border Textile, Andean, Peru. Museum Object Number: 29684

Figurine, Andean, Peru. Museum Object Number: 26960

Figurine, Andean, Peru. Museum Object Number: 26960

Further research published in Expedition Magazine on the Andean collections at the Penn Museum:
Rags and Tatters Among the Textiles of Peru” Ina Vanstan
Two Stone Figures from the Andes: Question: What Part?” Alfred Kidder, II
Ancient Peruvian Textile Arts: Patchwork and Tie-dye From Pachacamac” Ina Vanstan
The Mummies of Pachacamac: An Exceptional Legacy from Uhle’s 1896 Excavations” Stuart Fleming

Andean Ceramics: Technology, Organization, and Approaches, Izumi Shimada
Textiles from Beneath the Temple of Pachacamac, Peru: A Part of the Uhle Collection, Ina Van Stan

Special thanks to Anne Tiballi who contributed to this blog post.

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Collections Madness!

Calling all lovers of objects from ancient to modern world history!

Introducing the Penn Museum Object Bracket Challenge

For the month of March the Penn Museum is now the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology AND BRACKETOLOGY! We’re asking you, the public, to vote for your favorite objects in our first ever Object Bracket Challenge! We narrowed down the playing field from roughly one million objects to a field of 64 excellent objects from our world-class collections. It is now your job to crown a champion!

You can pick your favorite object by the culture that created it. Or by its form and function. Maybe go by its historical significance throughout human history. Or just because it is your favorite color! Anyway, it is all up to YOU!

Submit a bracket by Monday, March 23, 2015, to be eligible for a Grand Prize with a retail value up to $250)! Based on our special algorithm, the bracket to earn the most points will be crowned our grand prize winner on April 7, 2015. There will also be second and third place winners, as well as Sweet Sixteen and Final Four runner-ups (who will be awarded prizes based on a random selection amongst the runner-ups). Prizes include Behind-the-Scenes Tours of the Penn Museum by our Collections Keepers and Curators, gift cards to the Pepper Mill Café, and some serious Penn Museum swag. Plus, every submitted bracket gets a $2 off admission coupon to the Penn Museum! (Promo code expires December 31, 2015)

Here are the rules:

  1. Go to and drag and drop your selections through all six rounds of the Object Challenge. Choose carefully, cause once you drop, you can’t go back (unless you refresh your browser and start over).
  2. Submit your bracket! Please only one submission per person. There are two options:
    1. If you want to submit your bracket to be eligible for prizes and receive $2 off admission to the Penn Museum, you must supply your name, your email, and agree to our Terms and Conditions.
    2. If you’re just playing for fun, check the box to submit your bracket without including your name and email.
  3. You’ll receive a copy of your filled out bracket in an email from the Penn Museum. Check your spam folder if you don’t see it in your inbox.
  4. Brackets submitted for prizes will be accepted till midnight on Monday, March 23, 2015. Just for fun brackets are accepted anytime!
  5. Check back to see how your bracket fared for the Sweet Sixteen reveal on Thursday, March 26, 2015, and the Final Four reveal on Thursday, April 2, 2015.
  6. Prize winners will be announced on Tuesday, April 7, 2015.

Fill out your bracket at today for your chance to win the Grand Prize or Penn Museum swag!

Adopt an Artifact:

Want to do more than crown your favorite object as the 2015 champion? Consider “adopting” it by donating to the Penn Museum to support the preservation, storage, and management of our prized artifacts.

Donate Now

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