Zheng He: Great Voyages Lecture

During three decades at the beginning of the 15th century, China dispatched a series of naval expeditions to Southeast Asia, India, the Persian Gulf and East Africa. These expeditions were on a huge scale, involving hundreds of ships and tens of thousands of men, and were intended to assert the prestige and political dominance of the youthful Ming dynasty among its Asian neighbors.

They were led by a remarkable group of eunuchs – men who had risen to power as castrated palace servants – of whom the best known and most celebrated is Zheng He. Though born into a Muslim family like several of his eunuch colleagues, Zheng He left a number of monumental inscriptions at Buddhist temples, and at shrines to the Chinese seafarers’ goddess, expressing thanks for divine assistance in the success of these ventures. The texts of these contemporary inscriptions, together with written accounts from the Ming court, and detailed maps of the routes taken by the Chinese navy, allow us to reconstruct Zheng He’s voyages and their impact on world history.

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Archives Photo of the Week: Mummy Bundles

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Two mummies from Uhle excavations, with a workman.
Penn Museum Image #18588

This week’s photo of the week comes from Pachacamac in Peru. The Penn Museum excavations at Pachacamac were led by Max Uhle, a German philologist and archaeologist who was continuing the work that he had undertaken for the Ethnological Museum of Berlin. Uhle’s explorations of South America lasted from 1895 to 1897. Featured in the image are two Incan mummy bundles excavated from the site. The Incas mummified their dead in multiple layers of textiles and leaves, creating a large bundle. They then placed a false head atop the bundle, usually made of carved wood or pottery.

Additional reading about the mummies can be found here:

The Mummies of Patchacamac by Stuart Fleming

Peru’s Mummy Bundles by Jarrett A. Lobel

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Archives Photo of the Week: Sphinx

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Sphinx of Ramesses II en route to Cairo
Penn Museum Image #243700

You may have to squint, but this week’s archives photo of the week is still important. This image is the only known photograph of the Penn Museum’s Sphinx en route to Cairo for shipping to Philadelphia. The photo was sent by Flinders Petrie to then museum director George Byron Gordon. The 15-ton statue of Ramesses II sailed to Philadelphia 100 years ago and the Penn Museum became home to the largest Sphinx in the Western Hemisphere.

In honor of the Sphinx’s arrival, the museum is celebrating it with Hijinks with the Sphinx. Come join us in celebration and you can see the Sphinx for yourself. Trust me, it’s less blurry than in the photo.

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Entering a New Phase of Life: 2012 New Acquisitions

This is the third entry in a series of posts on Collecting and Acquisitions.


For over fifty years, the Penn Museum was home to renowned anthropologist Igor Kopytoff (1930-2013), Consulting Curator in the Museum’s African Section.  I was never personally acquainted with Igor, however, I, like many other young anthropologists, came to know him by his innovative approach to consider the life of an object: Where does it come from and who made it? What has happened in this object’s life so far? What is a normal life for an object like this? (Kopytoff 1986: 67).

Briefcase (2012-29-2): When was this briefcase made? Was it ever used?

Briefcase (2012-29-2): When was this briefcase made? Was it ever used?

A quarter-century later, Igor’s words resonate as I catalog this year’s new acquisitions.  As a Registrar, I help record the ‘biographical’ information of objects and prepare them to enter into a new phase of their lives: the life of a Museum accession.

This is the story of an object that joins our permanent collection:

  • It gains a new identity: a unique Museum accession number is given to each object, so that we can identify it.
  • Its biographical information is entered into our Collections Database: birthplace, cultural affiliation, material, measurements, life events, important people (maker, collector), etc.
  • The object gets physically numbered: think of it like a semi-permanent tattoo.  We want the number to last a long time, but also be removable if necessary.
  • Has its picture taken: many objects in our collection are not photographed, but new accessions get the red-carpet treatment.
  • Moves into a new home: objects are stored in the Museum by geographical section and each Section Keeper is responsible for finding a place for incoming accessions to live.  Some objects are selected for our New Acquisitions display case.
  • Begins social networking: the object record is pushed to our Online Collection. Now, anyone with access to the internet has the potential to form a relationship with the object: to study it, become inspired, create knowledge, and add to the object’s biography.
Upper left: the museum accession number on the base of an object.  Upper right: object photography. Bottom: the New Acquisitions display case.

Upper left: the museum accession number on the base of an object. Upper right: object photography. Bottom: the New Acquisitions display case.

In 2012, we had more than 400 new accessions.  A number of objects provide glimpses into the world-views of Inuit artists, others are tied to the career of a well-known ethnomusicologist, and others yet, illuminate the history of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition hosted by St. Louis in 1904.  Last year’s acquisitions are highlighted online, where you can browse through photographs and flip through the biographical details we have recorded.

However there are some new acquisitions you won’t find online.  Those include photographs that were accessioned into the Archival collection, which are not yet on a public database; primate specimens accessioned into the Physical Anthropology department (for reasons of sensitivity the entire PA collection is off-line); and items accepted into the Education Collection, which are used by the Museum’s Community Engagement department.

Clockwise from top left: Swatow bowl (2012-17-1), Model of Barge (2012-28-1), Teapot (2012-30-2), and Mask (2012-29-1)

Clockwise from top left: Swatow bowl (2012-17-1), Model of Barge (2012-28-1), Teapot (2012-30-2), and Mask (2012-29-1)

We are currently working on a webpage specifically about new Museum acquisitions, which we plan to update yearly.  But for now, check out some of the highlights from 2012, and while you do, consider the life these objects lived before coming to the museum, the life they live now, and the social lives they have on the internet.

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Lantern Slide Salon: The Adventures of Furness, Harrison, and Hiller in Color

In its 125-year history, the Penn Museum has sent out anthropological and archaeological expeditions throughout the world.  Between 1895 and 1903, three young men affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania undertook several expeditions to the Far East.  Their principal destination was the island of Borneo, to traverse the interior of the island and collect ethnological objects and natural history specimens for the Museum.  But the travels of William Henry Furness III, Alfred C. Harrison, Jr., and Hiram M. Hiller did not stop there.  In five long trips over seven years they made their way around the world twice and visited at least twenty countries, mainly in East Asia, including India, Japan, China, Burma, Thailand, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and Russia.  They made ethnographic studies of the Dayaks in Borneo, the Naga in Assam, India, and the Ainu of Japan.  Upon their return they turned over to the Penn Museum their object collections, as well as a set of hand-colored lantern slides from their many travels.

Ainu young women dancing.  Hokkaido, Japan, 1901.  Photograph by Hiram M. Hiller.  Penn Museum image 216442

Ainu young women dancing. Hokkaido, Japan, 1901. Photograph by Hiram M. Hiller. Penn Museum image 216442

Now there is a chance to view these beautiful hand-painted glass slides at a Lantern Slide Salon presented by the Wagner Free Institute of Science in their famous auditorium, on the evening of October 10, 2013.

The Penn Museum’s portion of the show will include pictures from the travels of Furness, Harrison, and Hiller, as seen at Museum lectures in the 1890s and early 1900s.  Please attend.

Tegang, a Dayak from Borneo was the guide of William Henry Furness III, Alfred C. Harrison, Jr., and Hiram M. Hiller on their trip to the interior of the island, 1896-1897.  Photograph by Alfred C. Harrison, Jr.; hand-colored by Katharine Gordon Breed.  Penn Museum image 216350

Tegang, a Dayak from Borneo was the guide of William Henry Furness III, Alfred C. Harrison, Jr., and Hiram M. Hiller on their trip to the interior of the island, 1896-1897. Photograph by Alfred C. Harrison, Jr.; hand-colored by Katharine Gordon Breed. Penn Museum image 216350

 

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Archives Photo of the Week: Bhutia Girl

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“No. 53 Bhutia Girl” Tibet.
Penn Museum Image #151008

This week’s photo features an image collected by William Furness, III., Alfred C. Harrison, Jr., and Hiram M. Hiller. Between 1895 and 1901, the three men traveled across Oceania and Asia, collecting substantial amounts of ethnological, archaeological, and skeletal materials. Included in their collecting were many photographic materials, including this week’s photo of the week. This photograph shows a girl from the Bhutia people, a people of Tibetan ancestry. The image is attributed to Th. Paar, a photographer based in Darjeeling, India.

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Ur Digitization Project: September 2013

Excavation of the ancient city, 1930-31 Season
Spotlight on Domestic Area AH
Reconstructing original house numbers and the process of their excavation

One of the great accomplishments of the Ur excavation was the large extent of domestic architecture it revealed. Many early archaeological efforts focused almost exclusively on monumental structures and grandiose tombs. Woolley certainly uncovered his fair share of these, but he also looked into the mass of the city itself, the more common abodes and day to day activities.

A view down Straight Street (Division Street) in the 1930-31 season. UPM Archive photo 191883

A view down Straight Street (Division Street) in the 1930-31 season. UPM Archive photo 191883

In the 1930-31 season, Woolley uncovered nearly 8,000 square meters of domestic space in an area he dubbed AH, which stood for Abraham’s Housing. This was a reference to the biblical connection of Ur of the Chaldees with the patriarch Abraham, though no real evidence of anyone of that name or similar was found. If Abraham had lived here, though, it would likely have been in the early second millennium, the approximate period of the best preserved houses in AH.

When Woolley published the houses, he numbered them by their doors onto streets, which he named after contemporary English streets for the most part (see my blog post on street naming and domestic areas at Ur). Yet, the field notes show the excavation designators Woolley assigned as he went. Such house numbers are not always recorded, however, and many different pieces of evidence have to be used in the attempt to overlay them on the published map.

The best anchor point is AH House 3, which was later designated No. 1 Church Lane and No. 1 Straight Street (it has two entrances, one on each street). House 2 is nearby, at No. 3 Straight Street as indicated by field notes, but House 1 is not directly correlated in the notes. Instead, there is a mention of a clay tablet, U.16087, found on the street between House 2 and House 1, which locates House 1 pretty well. In fact, in the original excavation area of those three houses, the street was called Division Street. It is yet another point of confusion when reconstructing the original work that not only houses, but also streets were often renamed. It makes sense, however, that the only street they’d found at that point early in the AH dig, one which split their houses neatly, would be called Division. The realization that Division Street is Straight Street helped to place other numbers back in their correct positions and to show that the original Shop Street is not the same as the published Store Street. It is Niche Lane, as shown by its relation to Division Street.

Much of the renumbering is due to further analysis and understanding of the architecture prior to publication, which is clearly an important step. The original numbers were meant to be temporary, not necessarily cognitive units. When we have a correlation, such as House 27 = No. 1 Broad Street, we can’t be sure that the original designator covered exactly the extents of the walls of the published house. The location of doors and true extent of walls of the OB period were often not discovered until trenches were dug more completely, and what we end up with is 27 original house numbers covering 53 final publication houses, or on average 2 published houses to each original number.

In another case, two original numbers fell into one final published house number. The evidence shows that both House 8 and House 13 refer to No. 15 Church Lane, in the far north of the excavation area. It seems unlikely that two early house designators would cover one later one, but the reason becomes clear if we follow the numbers. Woolley and his excavators initially proceeded in two parallel swaths, one west of the other, both heading north, and the ends of these swaths converged on the same building.

The following animated gif files show the progress of excavation. Numbers in red are securely located (within the general region) by evidence in the notes or catalogue cards. Those in blue are less secure due to lack of evidence, but the red anchor points tend to show that the blue points do belong where they are placed (Note: you will need to click on the image to see the animation).

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Area AH published map with animated progress of house numbers 9-13

Area AH published map with animated progress of house numbers, Houses 1-8

Area AH published map with animated progress of house numbers 1-8

House 8 field notes indicate some excavation farther north of the north wall, probably in another house that Woolley did not completely excavate and did not report in the final publication. There are, however, a few graves from that area that are on maps. In fact, it appears that House 8 was known as Dead House due to the number of graves there.

Indeed, Woolley and crew often used other designators, like Rail House, Doll’s House, and Dead House, to designate certain areas of the excavation. It is not often clear which particular houses these refer to except in the case of the so-called School House, which is House 27, No. 1 Broad Street. The Khan (No. 11 Paternoster Row) may be House 22, but that is unconfirmed. In fact, most of the numbers 20 and higher are almost never documented so as to be at the moment impossible to locate accurately. We can only say with certainty that they are in the south of area AH. They appear on the last image below in an order that may be close, moving from anchor points like House 18 and 19 over to another anchor point at House 27, but cannot be taken as accurate. They are shown in light blue because there is so little evidence for them.

Area AH published map with all house numbers; those in light blue are particularly uncertain.

Area AH published map with all house numbers; those in light blue are particularly uncertain.

So why is any of this important?

The Ur project is reconstructing Woolley’s excavation process in order to understand his work more completely and in order to visualize the uncovered objects in their original locations wherever possible. We can’t reassess Woolley’s work or Ur itself without evidence of his thought process and work progress, and that evidence is to be found in his field notes and early reports. This material is vital for researchers who wish to delve more deeply into the site and come to a better understanding of it through its excavation. And without a correlation of original House numbers to published numbers, artifacts and other evidence from the original notes cannot be placed back into their mapped contexts.

 

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“Arms Raised in a V”

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Museum Object Number: 61-1-2

I’ve been a fan of TED Talks for a while and somewhat recently I watched Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are. One of the things that struck me in the talk was the expression of power she refers to as “Pride”. The pride expression as Amy Cuddy describes it is “arms up in a V with the chin slightly lifted” and was demonstrated by Usain Bolt winning an Olympic race. Dr. Jessica Tracy, whom Amy Cuddy references in her talk, notes that the pride expression is cross culturally recognized and possibly universally recognized.

Almost immediately when I heard this I thought of two things, one was a lyric in the Pearl Jam song Jeremy, which I made the title of this post, and my second thought was the Penn Museum object 61-1-2 which is pictured to the left and quite coolly captured in this Penn Museum video.

Amy Cuddy talks about how universal and old these non-verbal expressions of power are and here is a pottery figure from Veracruz Mexico dating back to 500-700 AD, possibly proving her point. Elin Danien, of the Penn Museum, notes that this imposing figure has characteristics which may suggest that this figure represents a shaman. In many cultures, a shaman can be looked at as powerful and important  as they can heal and interact with the spirit world.

Over a thousand years ago, someone in the Las Remojadas culture fashioned this figure and knowingly or unknowingly depicted them in a classic non-verbal symbol of power and pride. With all the changes in technology over the centuries it’s neat to see something that links us to our ancestors which hasn’t changed.

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Animal Imagery from Kourion Cyprus

I finished up my part in the Digital Kourion project over the summer and to end it I wanted to highlight some of my favorite objects that I photographed from this unique collection.  These photos are now online as part of the Penn Museum’s Online Collection Database (Kourion).

One of the things I found particularly interesting is the various ways that zoomorphic imagery is incorporated into objects.  This includes obvious things like figurines such as this bronze mouse (54-28-5) and this bronze stag (54-28-206) both from the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates at Kourion.group1

But it also includes vessels with animal shapes such as this faience Hedgehog aryballos also from the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates (54-28-6), and this zoomorphic vessel from Kaloriziki, a subsite of Kourion (49-12-665).  Zoomorphic is used to describe ceramics where the shape of the vessel resembles an animal form.

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49-12-665_group

There are also examples with subtle animal imagery, such as this pitcher with eyes to each side of the spout (49-12-803) from Kaloriziki.

49-12-803Group

Another example is this geometric patterned vessel with a drawing a snake on one side (49-12-859) also from Kaloriziki.

49-12-859_Group

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Archives Photo of the Week

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Excavation at Tikal, Guatemala, 1962
Penn Museum Image #148801

This week’s photo features an image from the Penn Museum’s excavations at Tikal in Guatemala. William Coe, former curator of the American Section at the museum, captured the excavation of an upside-down face sculpture in Structure 34 of the North Acropolis at Tikal. This image is featured in Archivist Alessandro Pezzati’s book Adventures in Photography: Expeditions of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

 

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