When what you see is not what you get

The museum is getting ready to install an exhibition on this year’s Penn Humanities Forum theme: Color. This alabaster head from South Arabia (30-47-17A) was selected for the exhibition to help illustrate how representations of human heads were achieved in stone in a variety of cultures and throughout time. When it first came to the Conservation lab, it was mounted in a wooden box.


Museum Object Number: 30-47-17

The box was clearly not part of the original statue and wasn’t doing the head any favors in presentation. We think this type of display mount dates to a time in the general 1950’s. Earlier displays tend to be more customized, and later displays are better documented. While the dating is not precise, it’s more than enough to know that the box will not be part of this year’s presentation.

Removing boxes like this one is not an unusual task in exhibition prep, but you never know what you might find under the wood. In many cases, there is a simple mechanism holding the object in place. Other times, you get a surprise like this:


The neck was set into a solid block of plaster with a bed of unidentified black putty at the bottom! Not what I was expecting! To make it even more interesting, there was a strip of plywood and a bit of paper board imbedded into the plaster on the front. The only upside to this discovery was that it gave me an excuse to break out the Dremel (our rotary power tool that we keep handy for tasks like this one)…


With a little cutting, prying, and chiseling, I was able to free the head and remove the residues. It’s now off to the mountmaker’s studio to get fitted for a new, age-appropriate, brass mount. Come visit the museum in late August to get a look at the head on display!


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Digging up gold

When Penn archaeologists opened Tomb 6A in Lapithos, Cyprus in 1931, they discovered gold ornaments almost immediately. According to Virginia Grace, who wrote about the tomb and its contents in the American Journal of Archaeology nine years later (vol. 44 no.1), the gold objects first drew the excavators’ attention because “one of them caught the candle-light of the man arranging for the first photographs” (Grace, 17). Although some of these finds were kept at the Cyprus Museum, the rest of the jewelry from this tomb (Early Cypriot II era or 2100-2000/1950 B.C.) and successive tombs was brought to the Penn Museum and remains here today.


32-27-385. Fragments of a gold ornament in the shape of a leaf from Tomb 6A.

The few precious metals are kept in a vault in Museum storage, and are rarely removed. Having the chance to look at them up close, and photograph them is a rare opportunity. They were especially awe-inspiring to view since, although extremely delicate, they are in good condition (such is the amazing lasting quality of gold). The tiny fragments pictured above form a leaf, and have incised lines and dot repoussé delineating the outline and stem that runs through the center. This kind of decoration would have been executed from the back.

Diagram of the gold leaf fragments drawn by Tatiana Proskouriokoff (Grace, Pl. XII).


32-27-385 gold leaf fragments, back.

Repoussé leaves were a common motif in Minoan tombs from Mochlos, and this leaf is one of the finds that suggest some kind of Minoan influence in Cyprus during this period. Other examples of Minoan gold leaves can be seen in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Last week I had the chance to show these images to an expert in ancient Minoan jewelry crafting techniques, Jane Hickman, whose name you may recognize because she works here at the Museum as Editor of Expedition magazine.  She had included some objects from Lapithos in her dissertation Gold Before the Palaces: Crafting Jewelry and Social Identity in Minoan Crete and understands a good deal about ancient jewelry making. In her dissertation, she noted a pair of antithetical gold hair rings or earrings found in Tomb 6A near the skull of a woman, which were probably once worn on each side of the face.  These gold pieces appear to have been unique in design to Cyprus. They were kept at the Cyprus Museum.

gold hair rings

Gold hair rings or earrings and their diagram (Grace, Pl. XII)

The more intricate gold pieces from Lapithos are later in date, belonging to the Iron Age, and Jane explained some of the common jewelry-making techniques likely used in their production. For example, this beautiful earring (below) consists of a hemisphere boss at the center that would have been made from a sheet formed over wood or metal. Around the top appears to be a twisted wire, and the larger balls at the bottom likely consist of two bosses bonded together.

32-27-578. Gold earring, front.

32-27-578. Gold earring, front.

Joining in antiquity could have been performed using soldering (the melting of a filler metal at a lower meting point than the pieces being joined), or a technique known as copper diffusion bonding.  Diffusion bonding was developed in ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Etruscan and Minoan civilizations, but was lost after the Roman Era, only to be “rediscovered” in more modern times. It involves mixing a copper compound such as copper hydroxide with glue and water, which allows tiny granules or wires to be set in place with a fine-tipped brush and then placed in a charcoal fire to alloy the copper and gold. The granules, such as the tiny spheres at the bottom of the earring, are made by cutting wire into equally sized pieces, and setting them on a bed of charcoal and heating them. When the wire segments become hot enough, they melt into spheres, which were then rinsed and sorted by size. Watch how this process works with a jeweler named Fred Zweig here.

32-27-578. Gold earring, back.

32-27-578. Gold earring, back.

How segments were formed and attached can be better viewed from the back (pictured above). At the back you can also see that the very tip of the earring wire that would have gone through the ear has a small lip. It was likely fired and rounded so that it could pass through the ear smoothly. The granulation technique was also used on this pair of earrings, pictured below.

32-27-1203. Gold earrings from Lapithos.

32-27-1203A and B. Gold earrings from Lapithos.

You may notice that the color of these earrings is significantly lighter than the previous objects. Gold would not have been pure, and the color can indicate varying levels of copper or silver that exist in the metal. The lighter colored earrings above are likely to contain more silver, and the redder color of the other objects likely indicate more copper. You may also notice that the granules on 32-27-1203 are varying sizes, so slightly less care was taken with them when they were sorted, possibly indicating a smaller workshop. I love this pair of earrings because although so old, there is something highly modern and contemporary about their design, simultaneously simple yet delicate and elegant.

I hope you’ve enjoyed getting an up-close look at these beautiful pieces as much as I have.

My work on the Lapithos collection is the focus of a Kress Fellowship. This Fellowship is supported by a grant from the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation, funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation

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The Emergence of Ringo and Sobek

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.

Working with archival materials is not for everyone. Sometimes the tasks are tedious and monotonous. But even then, the old records and the Museum surroundings continue to be fascinating. Here is one such experience, imaginatively elaborated.

Rhonda Byrne possesses a mind that has the ability to transcend pessimism. In an earlier incarnation, it was able to infuse positivity into a physical manifestation that sold 19 million copies worldwide and was telepathically translated into 46 languages. It did in fact create a law of attraction. It was, and is, thought that Mrs. Byrne is neither a scientist nor a mystic. It seems likely to me that she is both. She identified a social question and invented a hypothesis based off of historical research and personal magnetism. Byrne ushered in an era of belief in the strength of the individual to be, to find themselves, their “true selves” through fatalistic self-visualization. 

And since this subject has been reported on, adapted into a cinematic documentary, and seriously received, I am no longer worried about being mocked. I am not self-conscious of the statement that I am about to make. Since I am the sole intern within the museum’s photographic archives, it is my burden to convince you.

I stayed in the storage room later than usual that afternoon, and caught sight of an oversized cockroach jumping about the cabinets. He did not see me, and so, I watched him. He would trek painfully over the towers of boxes and throw himself with all his force over adjoining shelves, head downward, legs pulled in tight. He looked like a miniature cannonball and his simulated force was just sufficient to get him to his intended destination. He refused to travel on any part of the floor; he had a great deal of trouble avoiding it. I assumed he knew about the adhesive bug traps. I never saw such a hardworking, determined cockroach in my life. After about an hour of this truly difficult voyage he fell before an anamorphic statue. Similar to the way a cat, at the end of the day, finds comfort in the vicinity of its owner.   

Feeling quite grand about my invisibility thus far, I crept closer to the critter’s idol, and overheard one of the most curious conversations I have ever had the privilege to eavesdrop on. I transcribe it here-as close to memory as my feeble mind permits- accompanied with a sketching of the curious characters that have left me awake this night, and I feel certain, many nights to come.

If the secret be to thinkRingo's Introduction
Then I have become that which I always knew I should be.
In a past life I was an anthropologist.
I have been returned to dust and dirt in the carapace of a cockroach.

Though I travel in a four-legged shell,
This metamorphosis has given me a new outlook on life.
A roach must look up to see things,
Pictures will inevitably be bigger,
Objects present themselves more forcibly,
My perception is my vantage point.

Thank goodness for friends like you Sebek.
I’ve tried communicating with my fellow antennae crawlers, but they were cockroaches in their past, and remain as such.
They do not wonder or probe.
They die stuck.
I will not get stuck.

Night after night- to you- I will divulge all I learn and know.
I hope you will not become jealous of my mobility,
That you will not make fun of me, because, we are both hybrids.
Provocative creatures.

Won’t you think yourself a pair of working legs?
Not plaster or papyrus.
Reincarnation isn’t for everyone, though.
So, I alone will have to acquaint you with this museum,
When the lights go out,
And the mammals have retreated to their dens.
Packed up with their theories and sense of free will.
I have yet to discover what purpose philosophy serves.
As a cockroach I have no use for it; do you?
Though you still won’t utter a sound (despite me liking you best) I find myself judging your story by your stand.   
At the end of a day, what left is there to do, but judge and speculate?

Why just today, I talked to a Mummy.
Following the beaten path I was lead to statues and art.
Stylized spaces free of death.
It was only when I took a wrong enough turn that I found the mortician’s lab.
So eager was I that I leaped onto the chest of the closest sleeping mummy
“Pardon me,” I said, “Do you like being objectified?”
It proved to be a female.
She gaped at me
I thought it might be because I was standing where her heart had been
But all she said was: “ Oh you of little consequence; we couldn’t all be Cleopatra in life. So why not in death?”
In Egypt, her name had been five consonants long, after immigration she had dismantled it to “T.”
She is still waiting for it to catch on.
Despite her loving her luminary eternity, I still recommended to her to not go through the process again.
The next time she died, I strongly suggested that she request to be cremated or composted.

Your silence thus far is not becoming Sobki.
Illusiveness never suited a god.
Particularly, for a Croc who actually knows something about time.
It must be in your blood
Well, I will wait for you to turn your head towards me, and then I will begin.
In the meantime, you must come to call me Ringo.

The Intern 

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Ur Digitization Project: June 2014

Combining Maps and More at Ur
Spotlight on Domestic Burials in Area AH
Observing patterns in spatial data at Ur with Geographic Information Systems

I’m always happy when I can demonstrate the value of our project. We’re working with old data on even older objects, spending a lot of time and money organizing and reconnecting them; why do we do it? Countless books, dissertations, reports, and articles have already been published about Ur. Isn’t it all done?

If you’ve followed these blog posts, you already know the answer is no, it hasn’t been all done—research is investigation and re-investigation, and access to both new and old data is essential if we are to look again into what we think we know. All of the current reports about Ur still do not come close to covering everything there is to cover about the ancient city. Furthermore, there is no complete bibliography of Ur. That alone is a worthwhile task, counting the countless to arrive at a list of books, reports and other writings about this most important site.

We are working on creating that list, but even when it is complete and even if we could put a digital copy of every article online (which we may not be able to do in many cases), people would still only have access to what we knew, or thought we knew. There is still much to learn by reading these reports, testing them against the data, or coming up with new theories based on the data themselves. But even the primary reports of the site do not list all the data. Many of the less-spectacular artifacts, the partial buildings, the damaged graves, and other information of the sort, was deemed less important than the more complete, and thus was never published, or only cursorily mentioned. This is why the field notes and field catalogues are so important.

As a demonstration of just how much was not covered in the reports, let’s look briefly at graves in area AH. Edward Luby at SUNY Stonybrook wrote a most interesting dissertation in 1990 showing that Woolley only published 94 of at least 173 graves he found in this area of about 7,000 square meters–this means that only around half the discovered burials were ever published. If you read Woolley’s final reports and don’t have access to Luby’s dissertation, you might well think that 94 was the total number of burials in AH. And if Dr. Luby had not gotten access to the field notes through the British Museum, he might have thought that as well. Even though his research and analysis was very good, we can now represent it in an even more dynamic fashion with Geographic Information Systems, and we can check the data, re-plot it, and reunite it with artifacts from the field catalogues.

Burials in Domestic Area AH. Those in red are listed in UE 7.

Burials in Domestic Area AH. Those in red are listed in UE 7.

Here is a rough display of the overall distribution of graves from the area. In this case, each dot represents a grave of some type. These are not the royal tombs that Woolley wrote so much about, but burials beneath the floors of houses, primarily of the Old Babylonian period (roughly 1700BCE). Sometimes they were vaulted chambers wherein many family members were buried, other times they were simple pit inhumations, pot burials, or larnax burials (a larnax is a clay coffin of sorts, much in the shape of a bathtub, often turned upside down over the body).

When the burials are coded into a Geographic Information System, their locations are connected to a database of other kinds of information, so we can select and display specific groups: type of burial, burials containing particular artifacts, ones that have been looted, ones that are facing a particular direction, or any other coded condition from the notes. In the above example, the yellow dots represent graves that were not published in Woolley’s final Ur Excavations volumes, or that were so vaguely mentioned as to be unidentifiable without the field notes (these are graves that did not receive an LG number in the list of graves at the back of UE 7). Among these are some where even the exact location is in question—but the database also records how confidently we can assign location and on what information that location is based. Eventually we will move from dots to outlines of known graves where they are confidently placed and will add maps of the bones and artifacts

Burials in Domestic Area AH. Yellow dots represent infant burials.

Burials in Domestic Area AH. Yellow dots represent infant burials.inside the grave wherever it was recorded to that level of detail.

As an example of distribution analysis (plotting items of particular types and looking for patterns) I show another image at right. In this case, the yellow dots represent infant burials. Woolley did not always record age or gender of the skeleton (he did not have a physical anthropologist with him and he did not save many of the bones) but he did record infant and child graves separately. Almost all of them are pot burials, i.e. the body was placed inside a pot and buried beneath the floor. And with these burials, we see a definite spatial pattern. Some houses have a large number of them, typically appearing in a small room behind the domestic chapel (there is a thin blue circle around groupings in the image at left). Not all houses had their own chapel, but many did, and this was the place to bury those who died at such an early age. In Area EM there is one house with more than 30 infant burials.

Infant mortality was likely quite high at Ur, but whether there is sufficient data to analyze the proportion remains to be seen. Indeed, there is a great deal we can learn from this and other data, so long as access is provided. Our project holds the express aim of providing that access.

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Identifying the Tejaprabha Mural

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the mural depicting Tejaprabha Buddha originally came into the museum and was published with the central figure identified as Sakyamuni Buddha.  However a few years later someone noticed that one of the figures on the left was holding a small book with an inscription on it.  It was thought this could shed some light on the identities of the figures in the mural. Unfortunately, some of the characters were illegible and so it was hard to make out what the book actually said.

Sutra Detail

Detail of a Bodhisattva holding a sutra

In an article by Helen Fernald she writes that a J.E. Lodge [John Ellerton Lodge] was able to make out the characters after some experimental photography. They read:


An abridgment of: 佛說熾盛光大威德消災吉祥陀羅尼經

Translation: Buddha’s teachings concerning the dispelling of calamities

Translated into Chinese by Amoghavajra (471-771 CE)

This is actually the title of a sutra, or Buddhist teaching.  Once we know the title of the sutra it becomes fairly easy to  get the rest of the text.  There are multiple online repositories that have compiled the Buddhist canon for scholars and lay people alike.  They are almost always in Chinese or Japanese but once you work your way through them you can see what the sutra is about and make out who is being depicted in the mural.   Aschwin Lippe published the complete name of the sutra in English:

“Sutra Spoken by the Buddha, [giving] the Mantra of the Gold-Wheel Buddha-head of Great Virtue,Tejaprabha Tathagata, Which Dispels All Calamities.”¹

Sutra close-up2

Close up showing the near illegible characters

So now we have the name of the Buddha, Tejaprabha mentioned in the sutra title and visible in the middle of the mural.  But who else is in the mural?  A small excerpt from the sutra was translated by Alexander C. Soper which describes who should perform ritual rites to the Buddha in order to avoid cosmic calamity:

Practice of the rites described therein is recommended for “all monarchs, their great ministers and dependents, and the common people as a whole, who may suffer the oppression of the sun, moon, five planets, Rahu, Ketu, comets, (or other) portents and malign stars.”²

The rest of the figures fall into place now, the sun, moon, five planets, and Rahu and Ketu all of whom surround Tejaprabha in his paradise.  Now we just need to identify each celestial figure based on their iconography.  A task I will tackle in a later post.


¹Lippe, Aschwin. “Buddha and the Holy Multitude.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 23, no. 9, part 1 (May, 1965).

²Soper, Alexander C. Hsiang-kuo-ssŭ: An Imperial Temple of Northern Sung.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, v.68, no. 1 (Jan-Mar.1948).

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Hot pepper and ice – and the earliest photograph of soccer north of the Arctic Circle

The 2014 FIFA World Cup has begun in Brazil this afternoon.  Since it is being played in a tropical country this year, the Penn Museum Archives thought it fitting to show what is most likely the earliest photograph of a soccer game played north of the Arctic Circle.


Iñupiat children playing soccer on the ice, Point Barrow, Alaska. Photograph by E. A. McIlhenny, 1897-1898.
Penn Museum image no. 143224

Taken at Point Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost spot in the United States, in 1897-1899, by Edward Avery McIlhenny, this image clearly shows a number of Iñupiat children playing with a ball on the ground.  Can we say for certain that it is soccer?  We’ll leave it to readers to decide.

Edward Avery McIlhenny was an accomplished ornithologist, though he is best known for being the son of Edmund McIlhenny, the founder of the Tabasco Sauce Company, which E. A. inherited and is still in operation today on Avery Island, Louisiana.  Below is a letter from McIlhenny to Stewart Culin, director of the Penn Museum at the time, written on the company letterhead.


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I Spy with My Little Eye…

One of the most amazing aspects of Buddhist murals condition survey is that it does not get boring. We are constantly discovering more details and quirks. While a regular, sharp-eyed museum visitor can see many of these details, some are impossible to truly appreciate without being fifteen feet tall and two feet from the mural. Take for example the design on the instrument being held by a female figure to the left of the Buddha in Tejaprabha and Assembly (C492).

Pipa Girl

Anyone can see there is a pattern on its surface, but this Chinese lute (also called a pipa) is simply too high off the ground for anyone to discern the small and intricate design.

Lute Design comparison

Left: Detailed close-up image of the pipa in C492.
Right: Digital illustration of the design.

However there are many other details, some right at eye level for many of our visitors, which go unnoticed due to the overwhelming nature of the murals. Towards the center of C492 the tiered base on which the Buddha sits has what appears to be a winged monk incorporated into the design

Monk in Base comparison

Left: Close up image of the design as visible on the base of the seat of the Buddha in C492. While a figure is clearly visible, some of the detail is not clear due to deterioration.
Right: The same image as to the left with the clearest lines highlighted.

This could be a human-headed bird referred to as a kalavinka or karyobinga. There is similar imagery depicted in a related mural at the Royal Ontario Museum.

C:Scratchpad 056

This section of The Paradise of Maitreya wall painting on exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto includes a kalavinka as part of the heavenly scenery.

Fabrics worn by the figures in these murals were also meticulously executed. They could easily be simple solid colors and no one would consider them less than ornate, yet in many cases there are layers of clothes that are decorated as if to represent embroidered fabric. If you look closely you can see a figure and a lion in the example below from Bhaisajyaguru and Assembly (C688).

Griffin illustration comparison2

Left: Close up of a general’s robe in the lower left portion of C688.
Right: Digital illustration of the remaining original lines.

So next time you are in the Rotunda, take a longer look at the little things. You may find something that even we haven’t noticed yet!

Acknowledgements: Work on the Buddhist Mural Conservation Survey in supported by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and Michael Feng and Winnie Chin Feng.

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Looking for a good book this summer?

“There is a temperate zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and labor, that summer reading belongs.”

-Eyes and Ears, 1862
Henry Ward Beecher

Now that the summer vacation season is upon us, it is time to draw up a summer reading list for those sun-drenched days at the beach or for those random afternoon thunderstorms. Since there are so many books out there and so little time, I asked the staff, keepers, and curators of the museum for some recommendations. They did not disappoint! The following list includes both fiction and nonfiction books and all are related to the fields of archaeology and anthropology.

Naomi Miller a Consulting Scholar in the Near East Section offered a few great classics from Agatha Christie alongside some other entertaining works of fiction an non-fiction.


  • Murder in Mesopotamia, by Agatha Christie, a classic roman à clef
  • They Came to Baghdad, also by Agatha Christie, which has more Middle East atmosphere than MiM
  • Come Tell Me How You Live, for Agatha Christie fans, her memoir.
    [As most archaeologists know, AC was married to Sir Max Mallowan, Near Eastern archaeologist, and she accompanied him on digs]
  • Gilgamesh, the King, by Robert Silverberg (about a guy who thinks he’s a god, but he’s not crazy)
  • Guests of the Sheikh, by Elizabeth Fernea, described by a colleague as a memoir about what goes on in a harem (that’s an oversimplification, but still…)

DM_motelStephen Lang, the Lyons Keeper of Collections in our Asian sections enthusiastically added, Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay.  From reading some reviews, this book sounds like a hilarious novel that follows an amateur archaeologist who, in 4022, finds a “sealed” hotel room from 1985 that he interprets to be a burial chamber, complete with an inner chamber (or bathroom).


Jane Hickman, editor of Expedition magazine, suggested a recent publication of the Women’s Committee. Culinary Expeditions: A Celebration of Food and Culture which used the museum’s collections as inspiration for the recipes. As a cookbook that nourishes both the mind and the belly, it delves into the ancient history of familiar dishes like hummus, succotash, spring rolls, and more!

MC_timelineJim Mathieu, who does too many things here at the museum to list, added Timeline by Michael Crichton as recommended summer reading.  In addition to being a thriller with a complex plot, Timeline plays with concepts of experimental archaeology and time-travel that allow archaeologists to “witness” the ancient events they study.


Shawn Hyla, our resident “IT guy” who just finished a degree in archaeology at Penn, reflected on all of the books he read in pursuing that degree and offered, Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and The Battle for Native American Identity. Shawn chose it because the book offers a detailed look inside the archeological process while tackling a complex and controversial topic.

Finally for my reading list! Since my background is in history, I am not well versed in the methodology of anthropology or archeology. So I’ve searched out a few “crossovers” for myself this summer. I tried to identify books that will bridge my interests in food and cultural history with anthropology and archaeology.

    • RE_dayscloseAt Day’s Close: Night In Times Past by A. Roger Ekirch.  Because a history of the Western world’s troubled past with the nocturnal hours is utterly fascinating.
    • The Comanche Empire by P. Hämäläinen. I read, actually I skimmed, this book in grad school, but was so impressed by the depth of research and methodology that it deserves a more thorough read.
    • The Noodle Narratives: The Global Rise of an Industrial Food into the Twenty-First Century by F. Errington, T. Fukikura, and D. Gewertz.  This book is about the development of instant noodles and the cultures that created, adapted, or adopted them to satisfy their own circumstances, either as symbols of poverty, modernity, or transformation.

So if you follow our recommendations or choose your own, let us know.  Leave a comment on what you thought or what other books you are reading!

Happy summer reading to all!

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Archives Photo of the Week: Mustache.


Portrait of George Byron Gordon, Museum’s first full-time director from 1910-27.
Penn Image #162272

The Penn Museum Archives is home to the archival collections of the directors of the museum. As you might guess, we have quite the fondness for them. None are more dear to me than George Byron Gordon and for one reason: that glorious, magnificent, noble mustache.

Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum from 1910 until his death, Gordon joined the staff of the Museum in 1903 as Assistant Curator of the Section of General Ethnology. He oversaw the largest period of growth in the history of the Museum:  three wings were added to the original 1899 Museum building, including the Harrison Rotunda, the Coxe Egyptian Wing, and the Administrative Wing. The collections saw a multifold increase, as well as the Museum’s involvement in the field. He organized many expeditions worldwide for the Museum. Gordon was the first to establish regular courses in Anthropology at the University. He also established The Museum Journal.

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Dispatches from Iraqi Kurdistan: Banahilk

Hello again from Iraqi Kurdistan! It’s been almost two weeks since my last post. In that time, we’ve been very busy getting the project started. When people think about archaeology, they don’t envision archaeologists sitting in government offices and drinking tea. However, this is a common and necessary activity across all digs in the region, especially when a dig is just beginning. Each year it’s necessary to visit all of the important people, make sure that everything is in order, and set-up the house before the rest of the dig staff arrive. Since RAP is only in its second year, we’ve had more than our fill of these activities. We’ve been hard at work finding a house, buying equipment, and taking care of our residency cards. Although the process can sometimes be exasperating, we’ve gotten quite a few good stories out of it. However, Daniel Patterson, a fellow Penn team member, has written a post for this blog on these adventures, so I won’t steal his thunder.

Gird-i Dasht

Gird-i Dasht

In addition to running around, we’ve also begun excavations at two sites: Gird-i Dasht and Banahilk. Gird-i Dasht, a large mound in the Diyana Plain near Soran, is the primary site that we’re here to excavate. So far, we’ve only been there two days, so I’ll have more to say about that later. Alongside Gird-i Dasht, we’ve been working for a week at Banahilk at the request of the Soran Directorate of Antiquities. Patty Jo Watson previously worked at the site over the course of 10 days in 1954 as part of the Iraq-Jarmo project. Her excavations uncovered pottery and other remains from the Halaf period, which dates to the 6th millennium BCE. People have also been living and working there much more recently. During the British Mandate (1928–1932), the British built an airbase nearby, which was also used by the Iraqi Army after Iraq achieved independence. During Watson’s work in 1954, occupation around it was more sparse. However, during our visit to Banahilk last year, we discovered that almost all of the site is now under houses. Further, some of it had been bulldozed in order to level it out for further construction. This year, we were asked to work around the edges of the site in order to determine the depth of deposit and where to prohibit further construction.

The remains of a bulldozer cut at Banahilk

The remains of a bulldozer cut at Banahilk

We currently have one operation active at Banahilk, a 3×4 meter trench on the north side of the mound. This trench is in an area where the mound was bulldozed, removing later occupation from the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE. Beneath the surface debris, we’ve spent most of our time digging through a series of Halaf trash deposits rich in pottery, chipped stone (including obsidian), and bone. The Halaf period is well-known for its painted pottery, which can be both very fine and elaborately decorated. The material from Banahilk does not disappoint. There is a range of both monochrome and polychrome decoration, including different types of cross-hatching and diamonds with dots within them. The pottery is even more impressive when one realizes that all of it was made by hand. Wheel-made pottery doesn’t appear in the region until the 4th millennium BCE.

Like Watson, our time at Banahilk will not be very long. Only the one operation is planned for this season. However, there is the possibility that a joint project between Salahaddin University in Erbil and the University of Barcelona will return to Banahilk to more thoroughly explore what remains of the site. This is fortunate, because our excavation and survey in the area indicate that parts of the site are still relatively intact. Hopefully we’ll be hearing more soon about the light that this site can shed on life in early villages along the hilly flanks of the Zagros Mountains.

The excavation team at Banahilk

The excavation team at Banahilk

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