In Situ(lin): Digging with Diabetes – Alexandria Mitchem

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.

I was diagnosed with type I diabetes in September of 2005. Anyone who has ever been diagnosed with a chronic disease knows that there’s a good deal of inspirational ‘coaching’ mixed in with the medically necessary lifestyle changes. I was taught how to count carbs and how often to test my blood sugar, but also assured that I still had the freedom and ability to do whatever I wanted to do. Yes, indeed, my 11-year-old self was determined to continue eating ice cream, even if it would now be carefully portioned out of a measuring cup (spoiler alert, I totally ate more than one serving.)

Over the almost ten years I’ve had diabetes, I’ve been through various ups and downs. I still get frustrated with it from time to time and still feel a little helpless about controlling it. Yet here I am, off doing all sorts of out-of-the-ordinary things and trying to test my blood sugar at the same time. While the medical advances in controlling diabetes are amazing—certainly leaps and bounds better today that when I was diagnosed—I still very much have to work with my diabetes in the field. But I am working with it. It is possible.

One clean finger!

One clean finger!

The adventures I’ve had doing archaeology with diabetes range from things I found funny at the time they happened to things that I’m probably never going to find funny. An example of the former: I take my meter into the field to test my blood sugar at lunch. The only problem with this is that I typically don’t wear gloves when I’m working, leading to a second skin of mud. Potentially great spa treatments aside, this makes pricking my fingers a little difficult. Therefore, I have mastered the art of pouring water out of my already leaky bottle, onto exactly one finger, like so:

Cute, right? It’s so little extra effort that it far outweighs the alternative of passing out in a trench. Other things are fairly innocuous: every morning at 10:30, we break for a snack, as per the strong suggestion of Dr. Kassabaum, whose wisdom we all defer to on this matter. Most people bring crackers. My friend Chandler brings a sandwich (different from the one he’s packed for his lunch). I quickly realized that a 10:30 snack followed by a 12:00 lunch isn’t enough turnaround time to bring my blood sugar back down to a normal level for lunch. The solution? Carb free snacks, in this case cheese sticks. A bit annoying to not be able to have crackers, but honestly, cheese sticks are so delicious who’s really missing out in this case? Not me.

Other things are slightly more annoying. As I mentioned in my last blog post, the bugs are ferocious down here, so we cover ourselves in bug spray every morning. In addition to getting arms and legs, I’ve also been advised to spray along the hem of my pants and shirt to avoid anything particularly feisty crawling up my clothing. All good, sage advice. More advice for those who wear insulin pumps? Avoid spraying the attachment site with bug spray. It will get infected and you will regret all the decisions you’ve made that led you to this point. Additionally, sweat and adhesive do not mix. And the thing about archaeology, even if you aren’t in Mississippi—you do sweat. So I’ve found it necessary to attach my insulin pump far away from anywhere my pants will rub on my stomach, for fear of coming home like I did on the first day and finding it uselessly hanging in my pocket, distributing insulin to my dirt-covered thigh rather than anywhere it will actually be of use.

Then some things are just a little scary. High blood sugar comes with all sorts of complications including dehydration, nausea, and dizziness, none of which mix well with fieldwork. Having to go home from the field to discover the tubing to your pump was leaking and your blood sugar is very high is frustrating. It’s embarrassing because you feel like you should have caught it before it got bad; it’s guilt-inducing because you’re at home while everyone else is working; it’s downright unpleasant, because being very sick is just unfortunate all around.

All this being said, I’m here. I’m in good health and I have opportunities available to me that I would not have with my health had I been born in another time. My job, then, is to take advantage of this. Yes, I have to take extra steps and precautions and be very careful not to lose track of where my health is, but I also get to do what I love. I hope I never take that for granted.

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One Woman’s Efforts to Celebrate Women’s History

Robyn Young with Maya stela.

Robyn Young stands beside a Maya stela in the Museum’s Mexico and Central America Gallery.

Robyn Young, who visited Senior Archivist Alex Pezzati and me at the Museum in mid-June, is on a singular mission: to bring the stories and accomplishments of Pennsylvania’s women into the broader conversation of Pennsylvania history. A few years ago, when she did an informal review of the approximately 1,600 official historical markers throughout the state, she found only about 200 of them were about women. She was and is determined to change that, one carefully researched woman at a time, by nominating, and raising the funds for, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historical markers detailing the strengths and accomplishments of Pennsylvania women. Sending proposals for markers to Harrisburg since 2001, she has to date had 14 submissions approved. Nine are up, and five—including a marker for renowned Mayanist Tatiana Proskouriakoff, who got her start at the Penn Museum—go up soon.

It’s a labor of love for Robyn, a paralegal by profession, who puts in at least 15 hours a week on her personal project. “I have not watched TV since 1994. I spend my free time reading about women’s history, traveling to women’s homes and local historical societies and libraries, always looking for more on a woman I am researching.”


Tatiana Proskouriakoff (23 Jan. 1909-30 Aug. 1985), the expedition architect for Piedras Negras in 1936. Penn Museum image #37401

Researching important yet often little-known women, Robyn came upon information about Tatiana Proskouriakoff—a Russian-born American scholar, a gifted artist, and student of architecture, who found her way to the Penn Museum shortly after graduating college in 1930. It was through the Museum that she made her first trip to Maya country—to the site of Piedras Negras in Guatemala—and began a long career in Maya studies that would ultimately have an indelible impact on the field in general, and the reading of Maya hieroglyphs in particular.

Tatiana Proskouriakoff was raised in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, and Robyn came across her name and house listing on a Walking Tour of Lansdowne she discovered and printed out around 2008, though she didn’t begin to research her life until four years later, when she found a biography, Tatiana Proskouriakoff: Interpreting the Ancient Maya, by Char Solomon, 2002.  “After I read her biography, I just knew I had a marker quality lady!”

I learned of Robyn’s extraordinary volunteer efforts, and her discovery of Tatiana Proskouriakoff, thanks to an editorial that she wrote for Inspired by her all-volunteer efforts, I connected with her, and, learning that she had never been to the Penn Museum, invited her to come see a bit of the behind-the-scenes where Tania, as her friends called Tatiana, got her start.

Most staff at the Museum know the story of how Tatiana, using a famous Maya stela from Piedras Negras that takes center stage in our Mexico and Central America Gallery, was able to do what no other Mayanist had done before, or even thought was possible—“crack the code” and read, beyond the number system, the stories of the Maya written in hieroglyphs. Walking with Robyn towards the Museum Archives, I stopped in front of the stela with Robyn, who cupped her hand to her mouth and gasped. Here was tangible evidence of the stories she had long researched.


Robyn Young and Alex Pezzati look at Tatiana Proskouriakoff’s sketches in the Museum Archives.

In the Archives, Alex and Robyn had an animated discussion, as Alex showed her some of the exceptional, detailed original drawings Tatiana had rendered early in her career. Here was work that drew upon Tatiana’s strong architectural training, but also had something more—a creative touch that reanimated the world of the ancient Maya.

Alex had one surprise in store for Robyn; we took the windy staircase up to the third floor offices where the young Mayanist-in-training had long ago worked. Here, old American Section office spaces included a well-used wooden drafting table and a wooden stool carved with the words:

T.A.P.   Personal Property
Jan. 1937


Tatiana Proskouriakoff’s inscribed chair:
T.A.P. Personal Property
Jan. 1937

A New Marker and a Celebration to Mark It

On Saturday, August 1, 2015, at 12 noon, there is a public dedication ceremony of the new Pennsylvania historical marker to honor Tatiana Proskouriakoff (1909-1985).

The dedication ceremony and unveiling of the new marker, approved by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, takes place on the corner of Fairview Avenue and South Lansdowne Avenue south of Lansdowne train station. Penn Museum Senior Archivist Alessandro Pezzati, biographer Char Solomon, and Robyn Young will be among the speakers.

Pam Kosty is the Public Relations Director at the Penn Museum. She will be at the marker dedication, to be sure!

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Ur Project: June 2015

Mapping the Early Trial Trenches at Ur
Reconstructing the sequence of excavation
A look at TTA-TTG as archaeological contexts

Locating Woolley’s trenches on a map is a trying exercise. In most cases he did not record the locations of exploratory excavation trenches specifically, as he was less concerned with them than with the location of buildings they might reveal. So, we must piece together evidence (sometimes contradictory evidence) in an attempt to reconstruct a complete excavation map. It is an important endeavor, however, because, although Woolley gave precedence to building locations, he often recorded finds from trial trenches with no other information. In order for us to get a good idea of the general find spot for these objects, we must know where the trenches were.

RAF aerial photo of Ur in Nov. 1922 showing Hall's excavations and Woolley's Trial Trench A and B

RAF aerial photo of Ur, 22 November 1922, showing Hall’s 1918-19 excavations and Woolley’s Trial Trenches A and B.

When Woolley began excavating at Ur in 1922, he set out two Trial Trenches, Trial Trench A (TTA) and Trial Trench B (TTB). These are easy to locate since the Royal Air Force (RAF) kindly photographed the site from the air on 22 November 1922. For the next few years, Woolley concentrated on expanding TTB to uncover the building it struck—known as the e-nun-mah (Sumerian, roughly translated = Lofty Storehouse)—and uncovering the ziggurat and other buildings near it. But in the 1925-26 season he opened a new Trial Trench C (TTC). Like those before, he did not make a map to show where the trench was located, but the RAF again photographed the site on 21 May 1926. By this point, a good deal of excavation had occurred and the exact location of the trench is hard to discern, especially because there is so little other evidence of where it was located. In all likelihood, it is near the building known as the e-hur-sag (Sumerian, roughly translated = Mountain House) in the southeast of the sacred area and there is a trench on the photo here that could be TTC.

Most artifacts recorded from the trench have only the note ‘from TTC’ written on their cards. In two cases, however, we have other information. One says “alongside mud brick wall running NE by SW, S of Egigpar and parallel with the Temenos wall.” E-gig-par (Sumerian, roughly translated = Cloistered House) is what we now call the Giparu (Akkadian, roughly translated = Priestly Residence) and is the major building south of the ziggurat, but there is no clear wall south of it that could meet this description. The note probably meant to write “Ehursag” or “E-hur-sag,” which is the large building just southeast of the Giparu and one that H.R. Hall excavated in 1918. The other object card related to TTC includes the note “back of Hall’s Excavation,” which would seem to confirm the location near this building. And, in fact, there is a large mud brick wall to the south (part of the earlier Temenos Wall). When we look at the 1926 aerial photo, we see that the length of this wall had been excavated and there is also what appears to be a trench cutting at a diagonal from the wall to the northeast. This is probably TTC.

RAF aerial photo of Ur in May 1926 showing extensive Woolley excavations and TTC (though note there is another mystery trench to the west of the Temenos).

RAF aerial photo of Ur, 21 May 1926, showing extensive Woolley excavations and TTC. There is also an unidentified trench west of the Giparu.

The original TTA had revealed no architecture but had produced small pieces of jewelry. Woolley felt that this might indicate a graveyard and that his team was not yet experienced enough to dig what could be an important cemetery. In the 1926-27 season, he finally returned to TTA and opened more trial trenches near it. Indeed, this area would begin to produce many spectacular objects, revealing the royal graves in this season and the next.

Once again, Woolley did not draw a map of the trial trench locations or even give their measurements. Unfortunately, the next aerial photo was not taken until 1930. Gathering as much evidence as I can, I’ve been attempting to place the trenches on a map as accurately as possible. It’s been an interesting puzzle, at times frustrating, but I think I have a working hypothesis of the locations now.

Object cards, field notes, and field reports have been the most helpful since they record Woolley’s process as he was going through it. Still, they rarely give complete details. For example, in a report dated 28 November 1926, Woolley states: “…most of the men were again moved, this time to cut a long and deep trial trench across the unexplored part of the site lying between the Nebuchadnezzar Temenos and the heavy buttressed wall running south-east of the ‘Palace’.” The palace is the e-hur-sag; other field information shows that Trial Trench D ran from TTA at the mud brick wall to the east corner of the Neo-Babylonian Temenos wall. This means that it can be located pretty securely, though whether it literally ran from the head of TTA or only near it is in question as is its exact width.

Trial Trenches E through G (TTE, TTF, TTG) are all located in the Royal Cemetery area. This we know from the notes that show the various graves found within the trenches. Of course, Woolley didn’t map the trenches, nor did he map the earliest graves found. He began mapping graves only after the trenches were expanded to cover the entire area of the royal cemetery. In 1966, Hans Nissen published new interpretations for the dating of the graves and briefly tackled the problem of the trial trenches. In 1982, Wolfgang Gockel spent more time with the problem. Citing Nissen who cited object cards in the British Museum, Gockel placed PG337 in TTE and PG580 in TTG. The cards do show that PG337 was in TTE, but so was PG580. Even though PG579 and PG581 were in TTG, the numbering of graves often jumped between trenches that were being dug concurrently. TTE also revealed the stone work of PG777. All of this information should help to locate the trench very solidly and a trench connecting the points is possible, though other information makes it harder to fit in.

Gockel's 1982 speculative map of trench locations in the Royal Cemetery area. (He uses RT for PG numbers here)

Gockel’s 1982 speculative map of trench locations TTE, TTF, and TTG. The trenches must actually run about 90 degrees to his placement since RT(PG)337 and RT(PG)580 are both in TTE.

The field report dated 31 December 1926 says: “Further to test the ground, I started a second trench roughly at right angles to the first and extending to the corner of the south-east gate of the late Temenos.” This is TTE. The south-east gate is rather confusingly in the south, not southeast, and on most maps is labeled only as the south gate. So, TTE should run at approximate right angles to TTD and include at least part of PG777, PG580, and PG337 (notably dug before mapping of graves was conducted and so Woolley’s placement of it on the overall map may not be completely correct). Both it and TTD are also said to run from the head of TTA.

My speculative map of trial trench locations across the site shown on the background map from Ur Excavations volume VI.

My speculative map of trial trench locations across the site shown on the background map from Ur Excavations volume 6.

TTF contains PG513, one of the only private graves numbered before 580 on which we have any locational data. This grave was cut down into the northwest wall of PG777 and thus gives us a boundary between TTE (PG777) and TTF (PG513). Putting all we know from these statements together, however, gives no completely satisfactory orientation. The most archaeologically sound procedure would be to dig parallel to a trench already existing (TTA) but this would cover the northwest wall of PG777 and would not lead to the southeast gate. Any other orientation would leave out the trench beginning from the head of TTA. Tentatively we can suggest the layout in the map above, but the exact location of these trial trenches may never be known. At least we have narrowed it down and can have some idea of where the unmapped graves were found in the overall cemetery area.

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Wampum Research: Notes from the Trail – 2014-2015

Margaret Bruchac, Stephanie Mach, and Lise Puyo at the Canadian Museum of Currency, in Gatineau, Quebec.

Margaret Bruchac, Stephanie Mach, and Lise Puyo at the Canadian Museum of Currency, in Gatineau, Quebec. Photograph by Margaret Bruchac.

In May 2014, three members of the “Wampum Trail” research team (Dr. Margaret Bruchac with research assistants Lise Puyo and Stephanie Mach) set out to follow a century-old trail left by University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Frank G. Speck. With funding from the Penn Museum and the Department of Anthropology, we made an ambitious list of wampum in museum collections to examine. We also received encouragement and guidance from Haudenosaunee wampum experts like Richard W. Hill (Tuscarora, Coordinator of the Deyohahá:ge Indigenous Knowledge Centre) and G. Peter Jemison (Seneca, Coordinator of Ganondagan Historic Site). Our goal was to chart the distribution of wampum belts into museums; along the trail, we discovered much more.

Our research and interviews took us into the collections of thirteen museums and five tribal nations across the northeastern United States and Canada, including: the Archives of Nicolet Seminary; Canadian Museum of History; Kanehsatake Mohawk Nation; Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center; McCord Museum; Museum of Currency; Ndakinna Education Center; New York State Museum; Peabody Essex Museum; Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University; Penn Museum; Tantaquidgeon Indian Museum; and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, among others.

Chief Curtis Nelson (Mohawk) and Margaret Bruchac with wampum belt recently repatriated to Kanehsatake Oka Nation, Quebec.

Chief Curtis Nelson (Mohawk) and Margaret Bruchac with wampum belt recently repatriated to Kanehsatake Oka Nation, Quebec. Photograph by Lise Puyo.

During the salvage anthropology era (from the 1870s-1920s), wampum belts and other Indigenous items left tribal communities and entered the collections of different museums, often without clear records of their tribal identities or symbolic meanings. Over time, Indigenous meanings were often replaced by misleading stereotypes and idiosyncratic interpretations. In general, we found that misrepresentations of wampum (such as the notion that wampum belts are inherently unidentifiable) reflected, not the erasure of Indigenous memories, but the influence of processes that separated these objects from communities. In some cases, we found that data housed in one museum shed light on poorly identified wampum in another museum. Through close material analysis of a sampling of individual wampum beads, strings, collars, and belts, we recovered a wealth of lost information about these old objects. Through interviews with curators, scholars, and Native American wampum keepers, we also recovered new insights into wampum semiotics and display that reflect the evolving relations among Indigenous people and museums.

Close-up photo of old wampum shell beads from an unidentified New York archaeological site. Note the wide range of hole sizes, variations in color with the faded purple beads, and the striations, cracks, and weathering from exposure. Photographed by Lise Puyo in a private collection in Cornish, New Hampshire.

Wampum shell beads from an unidentified 17th century New York archaeological site. Photograph by Margaret Bruchac.

Detail of mid-18th century wampum belt showing the inclusion of a single blue glass bead in the original weave of shell wampum beads.

Detail of mid-18th century wampum belt showing the inclusion of a single blue glass bead in the original weave of shell wampum beads. Photograph by Lise Puyo.

The most intriguing insights emerged from our observations of the physical details of wampum construction. We found:

  • clear visual distinctions among different sizes and sources of shell beads (quahog, whelk, and conch)
  • anomalous beads (stone, bone, clay, glass, rounded beads, and painted beads) in historic shell bead belts
  • various weaving materials (sinew, hemp, leather, linen, and cotton) and distinct patterns of twining warp and weft
  • various treatments of warp and weft, including rubbing with dye (red ochre, vermillion, ash, and paint), and wrapping, knotting, or braiding of edges and ends
  • evidence of the re-use of older beads and leather warps in newer belts

All of these details bespeak artisanal, aesthetic, practical, symbolic, and cultural choices, and they reflect savvy Indigenous technologies that deserve more careful analysis. After examining more than 50 wampum belts and collars, we realized that we had only just scratched the surface. Current inventories indicate that there are more than 400 extant historic (pre-20th century) wampum belts in the collections of museums and Native American and Canadian First Nations tribes. Our hope is to recover as much data as possible on each of these objects, so as to restore their object histories, and reconnect them with each of their respective tribal nations.

Margaret Bruchac, Zhenia Bemko, and Sarah Parkinson looking out over the landscape of the Connecticut River Valley, an historic site of wampum production and trade. Photograph by Justin Kennick.

Margaret Bruchac, Zhenia Bemko, and Sarah Parkinson looking out over the landscape of the Connecticut River Valley, an historic site of wampum production and trade. Photograph by Justin Kennick.

With that goal in mind, and with additional support from the Penn Museum, in May of 2015 the Wampum Trail research team set out for another round of research in museums. This time, Project Director Margaret Bruchac was accompanied by graduate student Stephanie Mach, and by two new research assistants, Sarah Parkinson and Zhenia Bemko. Watch for upcoming reports on our new research findings along the Wampum Trail!

For more information about the Wampum Trail research, see the following:

Also check out the Wampum Trail Research Blog and Wampum Trail Facebook page for reports on our latest research discoveries and travels. 

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Portraying Nippur: Artist Osman Hamdi Bey’s Early Relationship with the Penn Museum

The Penn Museum is perhaps best known for its impressively large and varied collection of artifacts spanning practically the entirety of human existence, but recently visitors were given a special chance to step into the Museum Archives to learn about some unexpected items housed in the Museum—two paintings and the unique ties they have to the Museum’s earliest days.


Osman Hamdi Bey (seated) with original Nippur excavation director J.P. Peters

On Friday, May 22, I attended an “Unearthed in the Archives” public presentation hosted by Alex Pezzati, Senior Archivist at the Penn Museum, on Osman Hamdi Bey (1842-1910), renowned Turkish artist, archaeologist, and Ottoman administrator, and his unique relationship with the Museum. Currently, the two paintings by Hamdi Bey that reside at the Penn Museum can’t be found in the public galleries. I learned that each of the paintings holds a unique story, covering both their time within the Museum and outside its walls.

Pezzati began our talk in the Museum’s historic Archives, a portion of the Museum many visitors do not see during their time here; public access is typically by appointment. The room that houses the Archives was originally constructed in 1899 to serve as the Museum’s library. As I walked down a long, narrow hallway and passed through the Archives’ heavy iron doors, I felt like I stepped back in time. Black wooden shelves line the perimeter of the room at two levels, connected by beautiful spiral staircases to a balcony that wraps the room. Box after box fill the shelves, holding the documentation behind the Museum’s excavations and expeditions, providing information on the Museum’s practices throughout its history, and having an historical intrigue all their own.

"At the Mosque Door"

“At the Mosque Door”

Before talking about Hamdi Bey’s works at the Museum, Pezzati provided our group with a brief background on the beloved artist. Hamdi Bey was an art expert and painter from Istanbul (former Constantinople) then in the Ottoman Empire (now modern-day Turkey), whose passions for both art and archaeology laid the groundwork for his unique relationship with the Penn Museum. As founder of both the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul and the Istanbul Academy of Fine Arts (now known as the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts), Hamdi Bey developed the profession of the museum curator in Turkey.

I learned that “At the Mosque Door” was in the Museum Archives since the department was set up in the late 1970s, known to some scholars but not the general public. It was purchased by the Museum in 1895 after being displayed in multiple exhibitions, as a way to incur favor with Hamdi Bey, and obtain a share of the finds from the Museum’s earliest excavations in ancient Nippur, located in present-day Iraq.

Several distinct figures appear in the painting’s foreground, but a closer look supports the consensus that many of these figures are in fact the artist himself!

The painting’s journey to Philadelphia began when Hamdi Bey created the piece, along with one other, to be shown at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. However, before making it to Chicago the painting was shipped to France in 1892 for inclusion in the Palais de l’Industrie. After its time in Chicago, the painting made its way to Philadelphia where it was eventually acquired by the Penn Museum.


The group views “The Excavations of the University Museum at Nippur, Mesopotamia” in the office of the Museum’s Williams Director.

Next, our group was offered a unique treat as Pezzati led us to the office of  Dr. Julian Siggers, the Willams Director of the Museum, to view and discuss the second painting by the artist. “The Excavations of the University Museum at Nippur, Mesopotamia,” painted in 1903, depicts the Penn Museum’s late 19th century excavation of Nippur, a Mesopotamian city. It was this excavation that led to the founding of the Penn Museum.

Although Hamdi Bey was not present at the excavation, he recreated the scene using an 1893 photograph of the site taken by John Henry Haynes, the excavation’s field director and an early archaeological photographer. However, the painting is not an exact copy of its inspiration. Hamdi Bey made several deviations from the photograph, including changing the image’s borders and adding several lone figures, including Assyriologist and friend Hermann Vollrath Hilprecht, who oversaw the excavation’s progress. The painting remained in the Hilprecht family until it was loaned to the Penn Museum in 1930 and ultimately donated in 1948.

As compelling and integral as these two pieces are to the founding of the Penn Museum, “At the Mosque Door” flew under the radar in the Archives for several years, until Museum staff was presented with an exciting new initiative to dig deeper than ever into the artist’s history.


The photo behind the painting: “The Excavations of the University Museum at Nippur, Mesopotamia” was inspired by this image of an excavated temple.

“[T]he signature and date were clear, and it was cataloged accordingly in our inventories.  It wasn’t until the Nippur painting came up from Near East Section storage, circa 1989, that the Archives staff delved more into Osman Hamdi,” Pezzati said. “It was finally Dr. Robert Ousterhout, after being presented with these works, who envisioned that [“At the Mosque Door”] could be restored and exhibited again.”

Since its “rediscovery” in the Archives, “At the Mosque Door” has certainly made up for the years it spent resting behind those iron doors. Along with “The Excavations of the University Museum at Nippur, Mesopotamia,” it was first put on display at the Penn Museum’s own “Archaeologists and Travelers in Ottoman Lands” exhibition before appropriately traveling back to Hamdi Bey’s homeland for an exhibition named “Osman Hamdi and the Americans” in Istanbul’s Pera Museum. Finally, the latter of the two works found its permanent home in the Williams Director’s office.

While the Penn Museum is known for its excavations that span the world over, its collection of works by Hamdi Bey prove that sometimes great treasures are more close by than we think, just waiting to be “unearthed in the archives.”

Hannah Effinger is an intern in the Public Relations Office.

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The Spirit of Aloha and Meaningful Knowledge

In which members of the Penn Hawai’i Club tour the archives, make plans for speaking in the fall for Second Sunday Culture Films, and later visit with Oceanian Section Keeper Adria Katz.

In early June two students from the Penn Hawai’i Club visited with Adria Katz, Keeper of the Oceanian Collections, to view the Hawai’ian collections of the Penn Museum. The trail that led to this visit began with the Museum Archives, where we were pulling together speakers for next fall’s Second Sunday Culture Films series, and were happy to meet Penn Hawai’i Club member Alexander Simafranca.

The series opener will be two films about traditional Hawai’ian culture as expressed in a current day context. One film is about a legendary woman, Rell “Kapoliokaʻehukai” Sunn, who brought women’s surfing back to Hawai’i after many years of repression by missionary activity. The second film is about the traditional Hawai’ian acceptance of people between two genders, something akin to the two spirits traditions of Plains people. [Film program details, below].

alex nicole adria and ukeleleAfter meeting in the Archives, Alexander asked about seeing the Museum’s Hawai’ian art and artifacts as well. (All Pacific collections have been in storage since the Polynesian Gallery was taken down in 2009.) Alex, fellow Hawai’ian club member Nyckolle Lucuab, and I arranged to meet Adria in the Mainwaring storage wing.


The first object that Adria pulled was a ukulele, dated to the late 1800s. The students studied it closely, noting that it was smaller than the ukuleles they were used to seeing. (It is probably a soprano ukulele, which usually measures around 51 cm long.) There are three scenes etched into the top of the sound box, one of which Alexander immediately recognized as Diamond Head, the volcanic mountain which can be clearly seen from Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. There are also sketches of a well-known pier and a rising sun with an ocean liner in the foreground. “G.C.S. Aug. ’89” is inscribed on the side, as well as the monograms CFP and UP [U Penn?] on the top. Inside the sound box is a sticker with the name of the maker, Manuel Nunes, one of the earliest ukulele makers in Hawai’i. Nyckolle noted the familiar address of his place of business: 46 Hotel Street, Honolulu H.I.

The students then viewed some pestles (some of which they recognized as having been made on the island of Kauai), a carved bird that looked like an ‘iwi bird, and a sinker, in which Alex spotted veins of olivite, making it likely that the volcanic stone originated on the Big Island. Next were old wood poi bowls (umeke poi), made of kou wood (Adria looked this up later) and with multiple native mends. Also viewed were pieces of bark cloth, and – the grand finale – a feathered cape and cloak. Nearly every object that we saw provided wonder to us all and was illuminated by comments from Alexander and Nyckolle.


The film series also benefits from the profound cultural knowledge of its speakers. For the October Hawai’ian program, we are very grateful for the contributions of Alexander, a graduate of the internationally known Kamehameha Schools (Kapalâma Campus) which specializes in the dissemination of traditional Hawai’ian culture, as well as Penn Museum’s Bill Wierzbowski, Keeper of the American Collections and an expert in two spirits traditions.

To get in the spirit of Hawai’i and aloha, save the date for the season opener of Second Sunday Culture Films

Details:  Sunday, October 11, 2015, 2 pm

Two films expressing the spirit of aloha, traditional Hawai’ian values.  Speakers: Bill Wierzbowski, Penn Museum, and Alexander Simafranca, The Penn Hawai’i Club.

Place in the middle

Place in the middle

A Place in the Middle (Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson, 2014, 30 min). A young girl who dreams of leading her school’s all-male hula troupe is inspired by her transgender native Hawai’ian teacher, who knows what it’s like to be “in the middle.”


Rell Sunn surfing

Rell Sunn surfing

Heart of the Sea (Lisa Denker, 2002, 50 min). Called a “love poem to Hawai’i’s matriarchal heritage,” this documentary tells the legend of surfing pro and cultural heritage and breast cancer activist Rell “Kapoliokaʻehukai” Sunn.



(Thanks go to Adria Katz for the visit, her notes, and research).

Photos by Kate Pourshariati

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Shades of the Soil: Searching for Archaeological Features

The Smith Creek Archaeological Project is a new Penn Museum research project, conducting its first season in the field during the late spring of 2015. The Penn Museum’s Social Media Coordinator, Tom Stanley, is blogging about the project.

Archaeology is all about using material remains to learn about people and cultures of the past. In our last post, we discussed some of the artifacts that our team at Smith Creek has discovered during this year’s field season—which have included clear indicators of human activity, such as pottery sherds, arrowheads, food remains, and more. But as I’ve discovered, there’s more to a site than its artifacts.

The archaeological features on a site can tell a great deal about the ways in which it was used, and more broadly, about some of the things that happened there. Typically, features are elements that are not easily removed from their context (as opposed to a potsherd or animal bone that can be dug out and picked up by hand). More specifically, they appear to us as differences in soil, identifiable largely due to their contrast with the color or texture of the soil surrounding them.

Meg’s shadow points to an archaeological feature in the south plaza. Photo by Tom Stanley.

Meg’s shadow points to an archaeological feature in the south plaza. Photo by Tom Stanley.

For a first example, let’s go to Mound A. The mounds themselves can be considered archaeological features, but more specifically, we want to look at the stratigraphy of Mound A, as viewed from inside our excavation unit there. Along the eastern slope of the mound, the team dug this unit almost 3 meters down, revealing a staggering array of soil color levels along the way.

Chandler digging in the excavations unit at Mound A. Photo by Tom Stanley.

Chandler digging in the excavations unit at Mound A. Photo by Tom Stanley.

These soil colors represent various moments in the lifetime of the mound. The wider bands of color show individual stages in the mound’s construction, which as you can see, was not performed all in one fell swoop. Instead, the mound was created one level at a time; the color of each level changes based on the source of the soil and the types of activities that took place on it. One layer was made with baskets of soil from one spot nearby, while the next was made with a different type of soil from another spot, and so on. Between these episodes are mound surfaces, the platforms where prehistoric activities took place. Knowing about the artifacts and features on these surfaces is very important to help us understand how the mounds were used. Very thin layers of soil on top of these mound surfaces are also visible; these are evidence of erosion, as a weather event like a storm caused a portion of the surface soil to erode and leave a trace behind, almost reminiscent of rings in a tree.

“Mounds are like onions. They have layers.” Photo by Tom Stanley.

“[Mounds] are like onions. They have layers.” Paraphrased from Shrek.  Photo by Tom Stanley.

Let’s head to Mound C for a good example of another type of feature, called a midden. A midden is essentially ancient accumulation of trash—a collection of discarded materials such as food waste, broken pottery vessels, and, in our case, really anything that might have been tossed off the side of a mound by a human standing on top of it. In the case of Mound C, we believe its base to be largely surrounded by midden hidden beneath the top layers of fill; to help prove that, our excavation unit is dug on the edge of the mound rather than in the center. In this excavation, we have found both midden zones sitting on mound surfaces, and the flank midden we were hoping to hit at the bottom. These midden deposits are different in terms of color and in texture as well.

A view from above of the midden at Mound C. Photo courtesy of the Smith Creek Archaeological Project.

A view from above of the midden at Mound C. Photo courtesy of the Smith Creek Archaeological Project.

At our third unit in the south plaza, where there is no mound, we were particularly interested in the various features we’d be able to find—knowing that some had been identified here during a small excavation by a local avocational archaeologist named Joe Collins some years back. Sure enough, our 2 meter x 4 meter unit yielded a whopping 31 features of various shapes, sizes, and origins.

David the proud supervisor with his bounty of features. Photo by Tom Stanley.

David the proud supervisor with his bounty of features. Photo by Tom Stanley.

The largest feature we identified in the south plaza unit was identified as a pit. This is essentially an ancient hole that was dug in the ground long ago, and refilled with trash and eventually, soil. Further study of the materials identified inside the pit will give us an indication of why it was created in the first place.

An excavated pit in the south plaza. Photo courtesy of the Smith Creek Archaeological Project.

An excavated pit in the south plaza. Photo courtesy of the Smith Creek Archaeological Project.

But more plentiful in this area was evidence of postholes. These appear as generally circular discolorations in the soil, and are indicative of standing posts that had once been inserted into the ground for one purpose or another. Often, the purpose was to serve as posts for standing structures—particularly if you find several postholes arranged in line with one another, as if to form a wall. But not all postholes represent evidence for structures; at Feltus, the nearby Coles Creek mound site at which Meg and David each worked for several years, some of the postholes were found to have been filled with unique materials, including (in one particular case) the bones of a young bear interred with the remains of human infants, pipe fragments, and a variety of other materials. This may suggest a religious or ceremonial role for the creation of the feature, and so our team is being very careful to excavate the postholes at Smith Creek in such a way that will allow for extensive analysis of the soil contained therein.

A close shot into our unit in the south plaza. Visible postholes have been circled to help them stand out in the photo. Photo courtesy of the Smith Creek Archaeological Project.

A close shot into our unit in the south plaza. Visible postholes have been circled to help them stand out in the photo. Photo courtesy of the Smith Creek Archaeological Project.

Our team is excavating these features by digging “windowboxes.” This is done by bisecting the posthole, and digging a rectangular box that extends from the center of the feature to beyond the end of the feature. This box is dug beneath the lowermost portion of the posthole, and creates a “window” of sorts that allows our diggers to see how wide and deep the feature extends, before removing the feature altogether to closely analyze its soil for any objects within.

Features 17 and 18 in the south plaza, as viewed through a windowbox. Photo courtesy of the Smith Creek Archaeological Project.

Features 17 and 18 in the south plaza, as viewed through a windowbox. Photo courtesy of the Smith Creek Archaeological Project.

Dig a little deeper into the archaeological features with David as explains further.

All of these discoveries will allow us to learn more about the chronology of the site’s creation, as well as help to determine which portions of it were being used for what. And ultimately, this information will help us to form a better understanding of the Coles Creek culture, and how it relates to later periods in Native American history in the Lower Mississippi Valley.

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Travel Day(s): No Sleep Till Ben Gurion – Jeremy Cohen

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.

3:29 am EST/9:29 am Rome/10:29 am Tel Aviv-Yafo

For anyone who has not yet experienced a long international flight, I genuinely recommend it. It helps, of course, to fly economy—or, in a clear and sensible gesticulation toward my major, a seat in Clássica. Such is the dual-language, Rome-hubbed, inexpensively transatlantic Alitalia’s cheerier moniker for dense, eight-to-a-row, best-in-Airbus seating.

As much as I (tell myself I) enjoy the process of travel, there is a destination in mind: Tel Kabri, an archaeological site located just a few kilometers from the Israeli resort city of Nahariya. (Both are about a half-hour drive north of Haifa.) At Kabri, every other year for the past decade, Professor Eric Cline of George Washington University has led a team of colleagues, post-docs, and students (undergraduate and graduate) from U.S. institutions and the University of Haifa on coordinated excavations of a pre-biblical, Minoan-era Canaanite palace. I’ve studied the historical background of the ancient Mediterranean and biblical worlds, in theory and at a distance; this summer, for four weeks, I mean to be one of them.

This is what an archaeologist looks like...

This is what an archaeologist looks like…

For now, though, I am that person awake and working while the plane’s silent majority tries to sleep. The cabin is darkened artificially; through a slightly open window, across a dozen seat backs, I see the sun rise over the Atlantic. Archaeological discovery, and the sun’s first tentative rays, I think to myself, constructing the sort of awful metaphor only viable in a witching hour: slow, yes, sure too, and shimmering across the waters of… uh… humanistic discovery? Lest I become too inspired, an observant stewardess mercifully shuts the window.

Yes, this airline’s attendants make up in southern European charm what they may lack in comprehension of the finer, inevitably sardonic elements of Northeast Coastal American English. My naive, halfhearted attempt to order a vegan entrée results in cheese-adorned (yet endearingly warm!) pasta. Thankfully, it was flanked by more palatable (and less allergy-inducing) cucumber-tomato-lettuce insalata and fruit, erm, assortamiento. Earlier, the woman who checked my 19.4 kg (under the limit!) suitcase assured me that my luggage would be transferred properly. “Do I need to pick it up in Rome?” I ask. “Tel Aviv,” she intones, in an accent best compared to the date-fruit: rough in texture, sweet by intention, and of undeniably Mediterranean provenance. I can only hope (knocking crossed fingers on wood) that my suitcase makes it to Ben Gurion when I do, and not four days later, as happened to my family (flying the same Italian airline on the same connecting route) some eight years ago.

In fact, within twenty-four hours of arrival, I’ll be on a bus headed north. No longer a precocious (read: obnoxious) twelve-year-old, accompanied by family, I’ll be making a Shabbat-morning walk to a Tel Aviv station alone. Once at Kabri, I’ll really need what’s in my checked suitcase: handy trowel, thick textbook, field notebook; clothes that are lightweight, long-sleeved, and open to receiving a plethora of dirt stains; the afternoons run into the high twenties, Celsius, and my Black Sea skin pigmentation loses to direct sunlight every time. Pens, books, and a versatile towel, of course, I carry in my backpack for ubiquitous access. (N.B. I welcome endorsements for “savvy traveling” on LinkedIn.)

Despite being able to fall asleep (book on lap and mouth hanging open) during my one-and-one-half-hour JetBlue jaunts between Boston and Philadelphia, my journey has thus far been restless. Naturally, one tiny cup of the airline’s delicious coffee—appearing suddenly in the hands of every attendant, poured from tall pots devoid of brand or mark—makes the entire seven-hour-forty-minutes worthwhile, and bearable. (Full disclosure: I’d read online that Alitalia’s coffee is the best part of its flying experience, so confirmation bias is likely.) I hope that, with a terminal change and a two-hour layover at Rome’s international airport, I can find a decent (and likely overpriced) cup of espresso. Better yet, I hope I can find someone who’ll take dollars—or sheqalim.

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In among the Hills: Prepping for the Excavations at Oglanqala – Petra Creamer

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.

Just like every year, the summons to the field is upon us! My first year at Penn as a graduate student in the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World program (AAMW) was supremely rewarding, and I’m thrilled to have the Penn Museum’s generous support in rounding it off with a summer of survey and excavation! I cannot wait to feel dirt under my fingernails once again as my team and I strive to unearth new and exciting features, objects, and hopefully, insights.

Oglanqala and its surrounding areas.  The Araxes River separates Naxcivan from Iran.  (Taken from Ristvet et al. 2012.  “On the Edge of Empire: 2008 and 2009 Excavations at Oglanqala, Azerbaijan.”  American Journal of Archaeology.  Vol. 116, No. 2.)

Oglanqala and its surrounding areas. The Araxes River separates Naxcivan from Iran. (Taken from Ristvet et al. 2012. “On the Edge of Empire: 2008 and 2009 Excavations at Oglanqala, Azerbaijan.” American Journal of Archaeology. Vol. 116, No. 2., Pages 321-362.)

The focus of my summer will be the Iron Age site of Oglanqala in the Naxcivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan. Excavations at Oglanqala are part of the joint American-Azerbaijani Naxcivan Archaeological Project, with participants from many different institutions. Oglanqala is located roughly 15 km from the Iranian border in the northern half of the Serur Plain, the most fertile valley in Naxcivan. One of the most notable features of the site is its Iron Age fortress; this, combined with its strategic position high on a hill overlooking the valley, most likely allowed Oglanqala to control both the plain and a mountain pass further north along the Arpacay River. This will be my first season excavating at this site, and I’m extremely excited to see the site and landscape, experience Azerbaijani culture, and learn how to camp in a tent for two months without going insane! (I’ve been camping before, but more to the tune of eight days, not eight weeks – this will be interesting, to say the least.)

The settlement at Oglanqala was founded in the Early Iron Age around 1000 BCE. Five levels of occupation have been identified at the site, spanning from its establishment to medieval times. Its location is especially interesting to us because it was settled on the fringes of several empires, including the powerful and widespread Achaemenid Persian Empire. We are interested in exploring this relationship between the Serur Plain’s sites and the empires which undoubtedly interacted with the area. The excavation and survey in the area aim to answer questions we have about the origins, operations, and collapse of a series of 1st millennium BCE polities in the Serur Plain.


Oglanqala was right at the edge of multiple empires, which makes it an exciting place to excavate! (Taken from Ristvet et al. 2012. “On the Edge of Empire: 2008 and 2009 Excavations at Oglanqala, Azerbaijan.” American Journal of Archaeology. Vol. 116, No.  2, Pages 321-362.)

This summer, I will be arriving in Azerbaijan on June 9th as part of the survey team under Dr. Emily Hammer (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago). Surveys in previous years have worked to map the surrounding areas of Naxcivan and the sites contained within it, while also working to measure and map Oglanqala. We will be expanding that work this year with two weeks of active surveying to gather as much information on the surrounding area as possible. After the survey is over, I will then be joining the rest of the Oglanqala team at the beginning of the second week of excavations. This season we will be focusing on uncovering parts of the local settlement and its houses surrounding the fortress, and might also continue work on the site’s Iron Age cemetery.

The internet will be a rare luxury while camping on the hillside, but I will continue to give updates on the site and my experiences in Azerbaijan (whether related to archaeology or not!). Right now, however, I have to finish packing…

ONE of the two huge suitcases I am bringing. Also absent is the Total Station I’m in charge of!

ONE of the two huge suitcases I am bringing. Also absent is the Total Station I’m in charge of!

To learn more about the site and past excavation seasons, please check out, which gives a much more comprehensive overview of the site than I could fit here. Excavations at Oglanqala are led by Dr. Lauren Ristvet (University of Pennsylvania), Dr. Hilary Gopnik (Emory University), and Dr. Vǝli Baxșǝliyev (Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, Naxcivan) as part of the joint American-Azerbaijani Naxcivan Archaeological Project.

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Eskimo Soccer

In conjunction with the 2015 Copa America, and especially the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the Penn Museum offers this photograph to the soccer world. Last year, I found this photo of soccer amongst the Eskimo of Point Barrow, Alaska, taken by ornithologist and Tabasco sauce heir, Edward Avery McIlhenny in 1897-1898. That photograph shows a likely game of soccer, but it is hard to tell.

After continuing a search through McIlhenny’s photographs (actually, while looking for something else), I found incontrovertible evidence of a soccer player: a girl in furs, mittens, and boots, with an unmistakable leather soccer ball on the ice in front of her.

Eskimo girl with soccer ball.  Point Barrow, Alaska.  Photograph by E. A. McIlhenny, 1897-1898.

Eskimo girl with soccer ball. Point Barrow, Alaska. Photograph by E. A. McIlhenny, 1897-1898.


May soccer continue to bring enjoyment around the world.

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Beneath the Surface at the Penn Museum