Identifying the Celestial Beings

In my previous post I explained how we identified the Buddha in our Tejaprabha mural.  But what about the other figures?  If we take a close look at the mural we notice that many of the figures have different attributes. For instance, they may be holding something in their hand or have a mark in their headdress. These are clues to their identities. Take the figure (second in from the left) who has a white disk in her hair.

The moon with a white disc in her headdress.

The moon with a white disc in her headdress.

A quick look at the text that this mural is based on reveals that she is most likely one of the following celestial beings: the Sun, the Moon, the five planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) or Rahu and Ketu (representing eclipses).  We could reason that this is either the Sun or the Moon given their disc-like appearance.  If we look to her left we see an attendant holding a rabbit.  This is how we know that the female figure is in fact the Moon, as the rabbit is associated with the moon in Chinese mythology.

Attendant holing rabbit for the Moon.

Attendant holding rabbit for the Moon.

We can then work through each figure identifying them based on their respective attribute and corresponding iconographies.  To left of the Buddha there is a figure holding a pipa with a crow in her headdress. This represents Venus.  Across from her on the other side of the Buddha is Mercury, who has a monkey in her headdress.  The Sun is on the right side of the painting with a black disk in his headdress and he is flanked by Jupiter, who holds a plate of peaches. The two eclipsing stars, Rahu and Ketu appear on the right with a sword and a snake.

The Sun with a black disc.

The Sun with a black disc.


Jupiter holding a plate of peaches

Jupiter holding a plate of peaches


Ketu with a snake

Ketu with a snake

Noticeably absent from the mural is Mars and Saturn. Where did they go? If you draw a line down the middle of the Buddha we can start to speculate where these would have originally appeared since often times Buddhist paradise images such as this one were symmetrical. The left side of the mural looks a little sparse. While the Sun, with his black disc, is surrounded by Jupiter and Rahu and Ketu, the Moon doesn’t have any  major figures to her left. However, if you look closely you can actually just make out a sword right near the moon attendant’s shoulder. This is most likely the sword associated with Mars! He probably appeared with four arms to her left when the mural was complete. Where is Saturn? If I had to speculate he probably would have been right above the Moon’s head, mirroring where Ketu and Rahu reside on the right. It’s possible that this piece was already gone when the mural was moved out of it’s monastery. If the piece of the mural depicting Saturn still exists we would expect to find a figure that looks like an Indian ascetic with a bull symbol.

The other figures in the mural are either Bodhisattvas, attendants, or worshippers and speak to the devotional nature of the mural itself. In my next post I will turn my attention to our other mural showing Bhaisajyaguru, the Medicine Buddha, along with his twelve Yaksa Generals.

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A Queen, Dethroned (For Now)


Queen Puabi, The complete ensemble.

The centerpiece of the Museum’s Iraq’s Ancient Past: Rediscovering Ur’s Royal Cemetery exhibition, and indeed a highlight of our entire collection, is the headdress and jewelry of Queen Puabi. Dating to some 4,500 years ago, her elaborate adornments included earrings, wreaths, rings, a comb, and a hair ribbon made of precious materials like gold, lapis lazuli, and carnelian—as well as 86 individual strings of more than 1,600 magnificent beads. The whole ensemble comes together as a stunning display of ancient ornamentation, and a window into a funerary occasion that seems practically other-worldly from where I’m sitting.

Beginning in February of 2015, this set of objects—as well as several others from our Near East Collection—will be included as part of From Ancient to Modern: Archaeology and Aesthetics, a temporary exhibition at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW) at New York University. In preparation for this object loan, a handful of staff members here at the Penn Museum converged on our Iraq’s Ancient Past exhibition this past Monday, to embark on a day of deinstalling the Queen’s ensemble—as well as compensating for the absence with a different set of items from the same excavation site. I was there to snap photos of the action—click on any of the photos below to enlarge.

PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_003It goes without saying that this process requires great care and expertise, so Monday’s activity involved staff from a variety of Museum departments—all of whom I managed to fit into this photo. From left, we have Katy Blanchard, Keeper of Collections in our Near East Section; Matt Gay, Preparator and Mountmaker; Ben Neiditz, Chief Preparator; Bob Thurlow, Registrar, Traveling Exhibitions and Special Projects; Lynn Grant, Head Conservator; and Anne Brancati, Registrar, Loans. This shot, at about 9:30 am, jumps us into the beginning of the deinstallation process, during which the case over Puabi was to be listed off.

PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_006This stage is facilitated by hand-held suction cup lifters, which are essentially detachable handles that operate through the use of suction. Here, Katy prepares to slide her hand over the queen’s comb as an extra barrier between the object and the glass case being removed.

PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_012With the cover safely removed, Katy and Anne took a moment to admire the condition of Puabi’s beads.

PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_013Before the team got into the thick of the deinstallation process, Lynn brought in a bit of extra lighting from the nearby conservation lab.


It should be noted that Katy and Lynn were extremely well-prepared for the day’s events. Sure, they’re professionals and they always bring their A-game to work—but working with a set of objects as prolific as this can nerve-wracking, no matter how many times you’ve done it. So for good measure, both Katy and Lynn wore their special “Puabi handmaiden” t-shirts for the occasion.

PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_017By about 10:00 am, the team got to work removing pieces from the display, beginning with the queen’s belt—which features tubes of gold, carnelian, and lapis lazuli in ten rows of alternating colors.

PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_023Each piece has to be removed from the display individually—here, Katy removes of the queen’s earrings.

PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_028The objects go into secure boxes, with all 86 strings of beads sharing a box in sequential order.

PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_034I was pretty surprised at the quickness of this particular day’s deinstallation, which has lasted as long as several hours during previous instances. This photo, representing the removal of the final piece, was taken just 45 minutes after the glass cover came off.

PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_037With everything packed and ready to move, Lynn and Katy pushed everything through the Museum (we’re closed on Mondays) on its way to Near East Section storage…

PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_040…Where Katy proceeded to begin photographing objects. While our Online Collections Database features good information about objects associated with Puabi, and good photos of the queen’s ensemble as a whole, it is somewhat lacking in terms of photos of some pieces on their own (but not for long!).

Stage 1—Deinstallation complete.


PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_042Flash forward a few hours to 1:00 pm, back in the gallery. Pictured here, standing patiently by, is Queen Puabi’s stand-in—a handmaiden figurine, representative of one of the many attendants with whom the queen was buried.

PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_049Matt and Ben were back to help remove the base for Puabi’s display from the gallery, and to replace it with a smaller base for the handmaiden.

PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_050In comes the guest of honor…

PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_054..And the staff carefully hoists her onto her platform.

PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_062From there began the collaborative process of dressing up the handmaiden with her various adornments—starting with a gold hair ribbon…

PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_070..Followed by a beautiful frontlet, and a glimmering golden wreath…

PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_078…Until, in even better time than Queen Puabi took to deinstall, the handmaiden’s adornment was complete.

PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_085The team lifts the newcomer’s glass case into place…

PR_14_ReplacingPuabi_TAS_088…And there you have it. The Queen has been overtaken by her handmaiden—well, until July of next year. We hope you’ll come and see this newest addition to our offerings on display for yourself in the coming months. Or, if you’re visiting Manhattan early next year, stop by ISAW and say hi to Puabi for us—she’ll be on display there from February 12 through June 7, 2015.

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New Beginnings


Figure 1 Conservator Nina Owczarek – left, and Conservation Technicians Cassia Balogh – center and Stephanie Carrato, already hard at work in the new Conservation Treatment Studio while ductwork is being welded in the background.

In September 2014, the Penn Museum’s Conservation Department was able to move into our long-awaited new spaces. Funded by generous donors, including lead donors A. Bruce and Margaret Mainwaring, Charles K. Williams II, and Frederick J. Manning, the spaces were designed by Samuel Anderson Architects. In the newly renovated West Wing Conservation and Teaching Labs, we’ve come back to the space where the labs were first set up in 1966…but oh how we’ve grown and improved!

It’s taken us a while to get unpacked and organized and we still have some final details to finish up but we’re ready to show off the results.


Figure 2. Moving in. Conservator Julie Lawson and Technician Stephanie Carrato unpack boxes – left; Leon Levy Project Conservator Tessa de Alarcon loads one of our new taborets (portable work supply stations) – center; Stephanie cleans our new cabinets – right

Samuel Anderson Architects designed Conservation spaces that have many new features with which we’re already in love. Our facilities include:

  • A fabulous new treatment studio with snorkel ventilation; an enormous fume hood that we can roll a whole cart into; vented solvent cabinets (no more being knocked over by fumes when opening the door); wonderful light; great workspaces; and a beautiful setting.

Figure 3 Three views of the Conservation Treatment Studio

  • A Prep Studio with lots of space for storage supplies, a large board cutter, and more workspace.

Figure 4 Three views of the Prep Studio

  • A dedicated space for record photography with snazzy pantograph lights, light rails for simulating gallery lighting conditions, and neutral grey walls. This can also be used for multispectral examination and imaging with our new Mini Crimescope.


    Figure 5 Our new photo space – left, and our Crimescope set up for action – right

  • A Seminar Room which houses our conservation library, treatment records, and has a large interactive screen for classes, meetings, and research sessions.
  • fig6

    Figure 6 Two views of the library/seminar room

Soon we’ll have our new Digital X-radiography Suite and our laser cleaning stations up and running.  Stay tuned!


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Ur Project: October 2014

Tomb Fit for a Queen (and King?)
Spotlight on PG789 & PG800
Royal graves that might or might not be linked

In December of 1927, Leonard Woolley uncovered a pair of tombs that would become two of the best known from the Royal Cemetery at Ur, inspiring many newspaper and magazine articles and sparking the public’s imagination. One of them held a body that wearing an inscribed cylinder seal, a name tag of sorts. The cuneiform signs gave her name and title–Queen Puabi–and she in particular has been the focus of much speculation.

I reported last month on Puabi’s golden headdress and I am continuing research into the circumstances of her find. (NB: in my last report I made an error–I said Puabi’s headgear weighed around 3kg, but the total weight of the gold and beads on her head, as reported by Baadsgaard 2008, is 2.215 kg. not including the amulets found near her head that may have been worn in the hair. You’ll hear anything from 5 to 10 pounds as the total weight of her jewelry, which depends on which objects you include in the overall analysis. If we include all the beads found on her body total weight is around 5kg–her beaded cloak alone weighs 2.2kg–and this is probably where people get the 10 lb. figure, not as the headdress, but the entire ensemble.)

One of the things I’m now investigating, or re-investigating really, is the interrelationship of Puabi’s tomb (PG800) with the closely related tomb (PG789) that Woolley claimed held her husband, the King. Paul Zimmerman (1998 Master’s paper and in publication in the Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur, Zettler et al. 1998) had already noted the discrepancies in measurements and did an excellent job of reconstructing the potential layout of the graves, but naturally we go back through these things as we digitize and try to understand the site.

PG789 formed the basis for royal tombs in Woolley’s typology, a stone built chamber containing the principle burial (the ‘king’ in this case, though the tomb had been looted and no king’s body was found here) surrounded by a death pit wherein were arranged sacrificial victims who went to their deaths to serve the royal personage in the afterlife. In PG789, the floors of these elements are at the same elevation, but in the neighboring PG800 (Puabi), the elevations differ by at least 1.7 meters.

Plan drawing of PG800 death pit and chamber PG800B (Woolley 1934, Ur Excavations vol. 2)

Plan drawing of PG800 death pit and chamber PG800B (Woolley 1934, Ur Excavations vol. 2)

That pesky third dimension ruins everything. In the top-down drawing of PG800, it all looks so clear. But in 3D, it is far from it.

When excavating, Woolley first came down on a death pit reportedly at 7 meters below the surface (A in the 3D model below). Beneath it, he found a stone chamber (B in the model). Then he dug away the upper pit and discovered a lower (C in the model). The depth here was reportedly 8.3 meters below surface. Finally, he ran into the wall of another chamber in the north (D in the model). The floor of this chamber was 40 centimeters lower than the first chamber. In the orthographic illustration shown below, the letters A-D show the order of discovery (E is a hypothetical death pit never discovered but which might exist). Woolley then put parts B and C together (as PG789) and parts A and D together (as PG800).

3D reconstruction of PG789 and PG800. Letters represent order of excavation, with E? hypothetical only.

3D reconstruction of PG789 and PG800. Letters represent order of excavation, with E? hypothetical only.

Woolley says the roof of the PG800 chamber was flush with the upper death pit, making its height 1.7 meters, its floor 8.7 meters below the surface of the mound. But his measures are inconsistent.

Reported measures:

PG800 death pit = 7.0 meters below surface
PG789 death pit and chamber floor = 8.3 meters below surface
PG800 chamber floor = 8.7 meters below surface

PG789 chamber walls = 1.5 meters in height before vault begins
PG800 chamber walls = 1.4 meters in height before vault begins

The numbers can’t be correct since a 1.5 meter height of 789 walls from an 8.3 meter depth would make them rise to at least 6.8 meters below surface, meaning they would intrude on the upper death pit at 7 meters below surface. And then the vault would take up even more space. Since we know Woolley found the 789 chamber under the upper death pit 800, something has to be wrong.

So we look for more evidence. Woolley states that the upper death pit sloped as much as 50 centimeters but he doesn’t say where he took his 7 meter depth measure, so there could be as much as 1.8 meters between the two pits in some places. That still doesn’t seem to be enough to include the entire chamber, but at least it shows that there was more space even in Woolley’s reckoning. Furthermore, the Forestier reconstruction that Woolley included in publication shows people standing next to the PG789 chamber with its vault rising well above them. In this reconstruction, the total height would be around 2.2 meters.

Artist's reconstruction of PG789 death pit before the courtiers died. The chamber is seen in the background, taller than the people.

Artist’s reconstruction of PG789 death pit before the courtiers died. The chamber is seen in the background, taller than the people. (Artwork done in 1928 by Amedee Forestier)

Then we look at Woolley’s section drawing, a cross-section through the tombs, and see that he shows a distance between the two death pits, calculated from the scale he placed on the map, at approximately 2.2 meters. He also shows the vault of PG800 rising above the upper death pit line with its total height around 2.6 meters. This is substantially different from the reported height of 1.7 meters.

Finally, Zimmerman (1998) interprets a survey document found by Nissen (1966) in Woolley’s notes to indicate the height above sea level of PG789 at 7.65 meters. This would make it, in Zimmerman’s analysis, 8.95 meters below the surface, not 8.3 as reported by Woolley. Of course, the modern ground surface is not constant and we don’t know exactly where Woolley took his measures.

Zimmerman’s calculations seem much more plausible than Woolley’s direct reports. Woolley probably calculated from a base measure after areas had been excavated away, unable to re-measure, and the survey numbers are likely more accurate. The only problem with the recalculations is that it makes the PG800 chamber as much as 2.7 meters in height rather than the 1.7 that Woolley reported. This difference is quite noticeable in excavation since it is over the typical height of a person and climbing down into a pit 2.7 meters deep is much different than one only 1.7 meters. Nonetheless, Woolley’s own section drawing shows PG800 to be at least 2.5 meters tall, a good indication that it really was larger than he reported. Plus, the vaults of both tombs had largely collapsed, so the total height is an estimate at any rate.

Computer model of PG789 and PG800 with Woolley's section map to scale. Letters again designate sequence of excavation with E? never excavated.

Computer model of PG789 and PG800 with Woolley’s section map to scale. Letters again designate sequence of excavation with E? never excavated.

The conclusion we have to come to is that there was more vertical space between the death pits than reported in the publication of Ur Excavations volume 2. Furthermore, the chamber of PG800 (D in the model) probably doesn’t belong with the high death pit labeled PG800 (A in the model). In fact, there may well be another death pit below PG789 (E? in the model) that is at the level of PG800’s chamber floor and associated with that tomb. Woolley didn’t dig deeper here. He was convinced that Puabi outlived her husband and wanted to be buried next to him but with her servants placed above his grave. That seems a more complex reconstruction than the idea that Puabi had died before whoever was in PG789 and the death pit above 789 is a still later grave.

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Atlatl Battle

Cardboard Mammoth Created by Student Engagement Coordinator Stephanie Mach.

Cardboard Mammoth crafted by Student Engagement Coordinator Stephanie Mach.

Earlier this month, Penn students gathered at the Penn Museum to learn how to hunt dangerous big game just like their ancestors. Atlatl is a Nahuatl (Aztec) word for Spear-thrower, a tool used throughout the world, from the Middle Paleolithic up through today. First in a series of Making Workshops sponsored by the Museum’s new Academic Engagement Department, the event included pizza, power tools, colored markers, and pointy sticks.

The evening started with brief talks from an archaeologist and a mechanical engineer. Andean archaeologist Dr. Clark Erickson spoke about the use of the atlatl in prehistory, and how the archaeological record reveals strategies that these hunters would have used.  Dr. Erickson also brought out several atlatls from the Museum’s collection. Aerospace engineer Dr. Bruce Kothmann spoke about how the effectiveness of the weapon may be altered as the length of the atlatl and the spear are varied, and discussed how optimal design is often balanced against other human concerns, such as tradition and aesthetics.

Archaeologist Dr. Clark Erickson (top) and Aerospace Engineer Dr. Bruce Kothmann (bottom) speak about atlatls from their respective professional perspectives.

Archaeologist Dr. Clark Erickson (top) and Aerospace Engineer Dr. Bruce Kothmann (bottom) speak about atlatls from their respective professional perspectives.

Fueled by pizza and soda, the students then learned to craft their own atlatl darts for the hunt, complete with metal tips and fletching. Thus armed, the group proceeded to one of the Museum’s inner courtyards, where a lone cardboard mammoth had gotten separated from its herd.

Penn students and Museum staff crafting their own personalized atlatl darts.

Penn students and Museum staff crafting their own personalized atlatl darts.

The darts flew surprisingly well (though the store-bought darts were heavier, and thus had greater range and accuracy). The lone bull escaped unscathed for a time, before succumbing to a barrage of hits as the hunters found their range. In a flash of inspired historical analogy (of the kind that archaeologists are reticent to use), it was decided that when hunting as a group, prehistoric hunters must have attacked from the same direction, or they surely would have been quickly felled by friendly fire.

Penn Senior Monica Fenton launches a dart at the grazing mammoth.

Penn Senior Monica Fenton launches a dart at the grazing mammoth.

Join us on November 5th for our next Making Workshop Ancient Jewelry! Learn about adornment in the Classical world and make a replica from wire and precious stones, with Dr. Jane Hickman (Editor of the Museum’s Expedition magazine, and jewelry scholar) and Justine Frederick (Philadelphia Jewelry Designer).

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Borneo Odyssey – a “Live from the Archives” performance

Before a house in Borneo. Penn Museum image 16273

Before a house in Borneo. Photograph by Alfred C. Harrison, Jr.; hand-colored by Katharine Gordon Breed. Penn Museum image 16273

Early in September, during the HAIKU conference on Humanities and Science, the Penn Museum hosted a performance by Thai born visual artist Skowmon Hastanan, based on a collection of records from an early expedition to Borneo. Skowmon had been invited a year earlier to explore the archives to see if something sparked her creativity in an experiment in artistic use of primary source materials. She focused on the tinted glass lantern slides from what became known as the Furness, Harrison, and Hiller expedition to Borneo, 1896-1898. The expedition was a particularly colorful one, in which the three young men, all with connections to the University of Pennsylvania, traversed the globe in 1896, ending up in Sumatra and Borneo for a number of months.

William Henry Furness. Penn Museum image 139022

William Henry Furness.
Penn Museum image 139022

Aside from being extensively tattooed, the three also kept journals. But most interestingly to Skowmon, an obituary of Furness detailed his attempts to teach an orangutan to speak English.

Orangutan on the porch. Photograph by Alfred C. Harrison, Jr.; hand-colored by Katharine Gordon Breed. Penn Museum image 216299

Orangutan on the porch. Penn Museum image 216299

Catching this as a point of interest, Skowmon, together with her creative team, including Joel Holub, came up with a performance piece in which the orangutan speaks as if reading from a “learned report” on the Borneo trip, originally presented by Hiller at the American Philosophical Society. Furness’ ghost, in period costume and a pith helmet, shares the stage as a counterpoint, going through the artifacts collected in Borneo (a number of which can be found in the online collections of the Museum), recreated for the stage in facsimile by the artists for the performance. At the end of the slide show, in the pitch dark Harrison auditorium, the artists passed the facsimile artifacts—including decorated skulls— out to the audience, with small personal lanterns for illumination. Together with the lush original score and live musical accompaniment, the performance set a mood that was well received by the audience, numbering over 200.

Though not purposely didactic, from one angle the meaning of the piece is a critique of the ethos of collecting, especially in the 19th century, as well as on scientific (or Western) views of other cultures and animals.

Performers included: Jeff Gottesfeld as Furness, Joel Holub as the orangutan, Eric Schnittke as the archivist/lantern slide projectionist, Skowmon Hastanan (artist in residence) as the assistant. Composer and pianist: Theodore Kersten, Stephen Gauci: Flute and clarinet. Stage assistants: Carmen Guzman y Lombert, Nina Simoneaux and Minou Pourshariati. Video and sound engineer: Katia Berg. Thanks are offered to the Events department, Tena Thomason and Rachelle Kaspin for their indispensable work, and to Alessandro Pezzati for his archival knowledge and support of the project, and to the Haiku conference and Dr. Beckman for her extensive support as well.
See also the previous post on the expedition slides of William Henry Furness III, Alfred C. Harrison, Jr., and Hiram M. Hiller, by Senior Archivist Alessandro Pezzati

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Ur Project: September 2014

Gold Fit for a Queen (or) How to Wear a Headdress
Spotlight on Puabi’s headdress (museum numbers B17711, etc.)
Display of jewelry on model heads

Royal Cemetery grave PG800 was excavated in December of 1927 (announced in a telegram of Jan 4, 1928). It contained the burial of a woman identified by a cylinder seal at her shoulder as “Puabi” (originally read Shub-Ad) followed by the word NIN, meaning “The Lady.” The presence of the title with no reference to a husband “The King” might well mean that she ruled as Queen in her own right.

Whether or not she ruled as regent, co-regent, or not at all, she was certainly adorned like a queen. The summary description of her headdress alone takes up a page or more in Woolley’s publication Ur Excavations 2: The Royal Cemetery. Gold ribbons criss-crossed about her head, four wreaths of gold leaves sat atop (B17711), and gold rings hung down over her forehead. Large gold earrings (B17712), carnelian, lapis and gold beads as well as a large gold comb with gold flowers (B16693) completed the ensemble. The total weight of this gold and semiprecious stone crowning jewelry was over three kilograms.

Model head created by Katharine Woolley for display of Puabi's headdress. Penn Museum Archival Photo 191121

Model head created by Katharine Woolley for display of Puabi’s headdress. Penn Museum Archival Photo 191121.

Woolley believed that it all sat atop an exaggerated hairdo, likely a padded wig. He removed the gold ribbons from the ground intact, retaining as closely as he could the measurements of the hair on which they would have sat. It amounted to a hefty 38cm—more than twice the typical diameter of a skull from ear to ear. His wife made a model head and wig onto which the jewels were placed and originally displayed in the 1928 exhibition at the British Museum, before the artifacts were sent to Penn. Since Puabi’s skull was badly preserved, Katharine based her reconstruction on a plaster cast of a skull from the nearby site of Tell el’Ubaid.

The reconstruction of the face, head, and hairstyle led to some controversy, however.

Penn’s Babylonian Section Curator, Father Leon Legrain, felt the model didn’t look anything like Sumerian sculpture, which he believed was a more accurate depiction of personal appearance in the minds of the Sumerians themselves. For example, artwork almost always showed eyebrows meeting in the middle over the nose, whereas Mrs. Woolley’s reconstruction showed separated eyebrows.

Model head created by Leon Legrain for display of Puabi's headdress. Penn Museum Archival Photo 8312.

Model head created by Leon Legrain for display of Puabi’s headdress. Penn Museum Archival Photo 8312.

In 1929, Legrain set about making his own model head, on which the jewelry would be displayed at Penn for a few years. He based his model on a particular sculpture, known as “la femme a l’echarpe,” housed in the Louvre. The Penn museum has a plaster cast of this artifact, museum number B15573, obtained in 1924. The original comes from the site of Tello (Girsu) in the time of Gudea of Lagash, some 500 years after Puabi, which was one of Woolley’s many objections to Legrain’s reconstruction. But Legrain felt it was the best model of feminine features in the ancient Near East, saying in a Museum Journal article for winter of 1929: “She has the high cheek bones, large nose, and large eyes under powerful eyebrows of a true oriental beauty.”

Plaster cast of Musee du Louvre object known as 'la femme a l'echarpe'. The cast is accessioned at the Penn Museum as object B15573.

Plaster cast of an artifact from Tello. The cast is accessioned at the Penn Museum as object B15573 and formed the basis of Legrain’s model head reconstruction.

The hairdo on the Tello sculpture scales up to much less than Woolley’s measures for Puabi’s coiffure, but Legrain suggested this was because the ribbons ran from front to back rather than side to side and that they held a fold of hair raised at the back. Even in this position, his model didn’t have enough room for all four wreaths and he called into question whether Puabi could have worn them all at the same time. Woolley responded by saying that the question was moot. Whether she could have worn them or not, she was unquestionably buried with them on her head.

There are a number of interesting letters showing the disagreement between various parties in the question, with the Penn Museum director, Horace Jayne, trying to remain impartial. That he was not fond of model heads and their controversy is shown by his final word, in a post-script of a letter dated December 23, 1932: “P.S. Legrain’s head of Queen Shubad is abandoned. We have the coronets and comb separately shown. It is a considerable improvement.”


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Ringo’s Newest Production

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:


Some of the vermin have begun to talk.
Mosquitoes are thinning out;
Ants are abandoning their hilled houses;
Flies, always buzzing about their personal business, are dwindling;
And bees- industrious laborers- no longer swarm into regimented formations.
There won’t be any left of us if we continue at this rate.
A counter measure must be crafted-
A cease and desist blockbuster.

We shall start with,
A catchy digitization.
Interactive traps that suspend our classroom in cyber space-
Above textbooks or critical thinking;
Our space: the architecture of a wireless next generation.
What this may lack in legitimacy, we will most assuredly make up for in scale.
Reconstruction is unavoidable.

The roof necessitates dissembling for the laser light show,
Artifacts will undoubtedly be laid off,
Replaced by more interactive prop pieces.
And the Middle East’s exhibition hall wall requires bulldozing, so as to fit the simulator.
It’s true to life depictions have a museum enhancement guarantee.

We need to bigger the bill, so as to heighten the return.
The investment to our survival: sensationalism;
Just the right IOU for lingering interest problems.
Relevancy and authenticity shall no longer hang in the balance of what: “we think.”
Under this new age-
Public interest Totalitarianism-
Accessible elements must be provided for so as to ensure continued foot traffic.

Our first production?
Return of The Raiders.
After a brief word from our sponsors within the simulator,
Visitors shall emerge into a dystopian exhibit hall that is adorned with a Leondaro Da Vinci and Van Gough consumed in a lingering inferno.
À la mode old men in an otherwise destroyed classicism.
Confronted with droids hovering in a cross-galactic battle with pint-sized wizards,
Guests are meant to feel that they’re at the precipice of significance.
At which point, through the use of telescreens, we steer them to their only mode of transportation:
A time-beaten yellow submarine;
Piloted by our own Dr. Jones.
After an annotated underwater archaeological pillage, our company still infused with the glitter of piracy,
By way of the subterranean aquarium,
Complete their adventure in the gift shop.

What say you Sobek?
What are your opinions on my own force of creation?
Yes-you are very right my insightful friend-
I must included a dinosaur fossil,
For the sake of authenticity.


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Self-guided walking tours for visitors to Gordion, Turkey

Jane, me, and Beth checking the view from Tumulus P. Photo by Carolyn Aslan.

Jane, me, and Beth checking the view from Tumulus P. Photo by Carolyn Aslan

In earlier posts (August 3, 2012 and August 8, 2014), I mentioned the Gordion “ecopark” project’s goal of preserving regional biodiversity, the historical landscape, and the archaeological site itself. One part of the project concerns visitor education.

I first visited Gordion as a tourist in 1983 and began archaeobotanical fieldwork there in 1988. I have returned most years since then, and never tire of the landscape—cultural, historical, and botanical. In an attempt to share some of my appreciation for the place, I have put together a few self-guided tours that may encourage visitors to go beyond the local Museum and the excavated remains.

Before I went to Gordion this summer, I already had a general idea of what the tours should include:

The question was, how to give easy-to-follow directions and just enough information to be interesting, but not so much that people would spend more time reading than actually looking around them. From the beginning, my plan was to field test the routes and information. My first drafts were overthought and overcomplicated; Gordion colleagues were quite happy to set me straight on that score (I hope I am not forgetting anyone: Dave Bescoby, Beth Dusinberre, Emily Miller, Jane Gordon, Carolyn Aslan, Canan Çakırlar), as seen in the photograph above.

Gordion is particularly rich in ancient monuments: over 100 burial mounds dot the landscape. The land between the mounds is equally important. Herding and farming have been practiced for millennia, but suburban and agricultural development threaten the area. If the sole measure of value is economic, much of what I love about Gordion will be lost, but in the interim, I hope that the economic value of tourism can exceed that of destructive alternative land uses, like excessive irrigation agriculture. Tourism alone will not save the place. The local population, too, has to value the natural and cultural heritage of the region. To that end, Turkish versions of these tours are under development .

The tours are designed to be used at the site itself; if you are planning a trip to Turkey, do visit Gordion.

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The True North Strong and Free: Summer Research with Canadian Tree Planters

I arrived to northern Ontario not knowing a single person I would meet. This wouldn’t be the first time in my dissertation study of tree planters that I was to introduce myself to a room full of strangers, telling them that I’m an anthropologist and that I come in peace.  And, in fact, this time was pretty easy.  The first time was in a cheap hotel in Monterrey, Mexico, surrounded by 150 Mexican guest workers waiting for a H2B visa en route to the United States. That was difficult given the fact my Spanish was still weak and the rumor had already started I was a government agent.  The second time was slightly easier, introducing myself at 11 PM in a hay barn to a group of American planters who were enjoying the little leisure time they had.  It was still hard – it’s never easy telling someone you are there to observe them – but at least there was no language barrier.

So this June I found myself in Heart, Ontario, on a school bus with 45 Canadian planters, most of whom were college kids on summer break.  I quieted down the school bus and explained that I was a PhD student from the US who studies tree planting and that I would spend a week with them to learn more about how and why they do the job. Saying I was a student is key. It puts people at ease more than almost any other line.  Most people warmed up to me quickly, and some even approached me, asking if I could interview them on camera. That said, I did encounter one problem, itself a familiar one that happened when spending time with American planters too: people who assumed I was an undercover cop or a narcotics officer.  I am loathe to claim a connection with Sadaam Hussein but we can agree on one thing: it is really hard to prove something that doesn’t exist.

The work of research in Canada went well. I left with a better understanding of tree planting and new Canadian friends.  In the United States, Latin American workers, both imported guest workers and undocumented immigrants who permanently reside in America, have mostly replaced the native workforce that planted trees in the 70s and 80s.  These workers plant out of necessity. It is a difficult job. Each person plants thousands of saplings a day, and these immigrant workers typically sleep in motel rooms a long drive from the worksite.  There are some Americans who do this work, mostly white Americans in their 20s and 30s, who enjoy the lifestyle and freedom that migrant work affords them.  But in Canada, the native workforce doesn’t plan on making a lifestyle out of it.  Most people choose the work cause it’s a way to make money during the summer when they’re not in school, as well as a rite of passage where they work hard, party hard, and leave knowing they can do this difficult labor.

I understand the appeal for the Canadian workers. The crew I was with would come to spend almost 7 weeks in the wilderness, away from cell reception and surrounded by flies and mosquitoes.  It reminded me of summer camp, except replace boating and wood shop with arduous agricultural work.  This meant it also had the same sense of camaraderie and liminality.  I left happy (and grateful!) to have had this research experience, as well as tempted myself to return one year as a worker and not a researcher.

One last note of interest: I was featured on the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s radio and tv stations, as part of a piece done by a French-speaking journalist. You can see me at 33 seconds into this piece:

Boarding the bus after a day of work

Boarding the bus after a day of work

On the bus returning to the campsite.

On the bus returning to the campsite.

Planting a tree.

Planting a tree.


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