In honor of the important national holiday today we highlight an ancient artifact [reel to reel tape!] from our audio-visual collections…
Report on the We-Uns. Author: Robert Nathan Originally aired: 11 November 1956 CBS Radio Workshop.
“Plot synopsis: Archaeologists in the year 7956 explore the abandoned ruins of the long-dead civilization of North America, and attempt to decipher the meanings of its strange artifacts. Based on a short story, [by Robert Nathan] ‘Digging the Weans’, first published in Harper’s Magazine, in November 1956.
A quote: ‘I dare say we will never know anything more about the Weans, but we now know enough to evaluate them as a minor culture, with a rudimentary religion, devoted to a god named “Oscar,” who was worshiped by “rocking” and “rolling”. [The above synopsis quoted from oldtimeradioreview.com]
“In Americanist studies the first thing that had to be done was to introduce the idea of time, to get people to admit that the types could change over time.”
-Max Uhle, May 15, 1923
Max Uhle at Pachacamac, Peru, with view of niched walls P and Q, seen from the west. 1896.
Today, March 25th 2015, marks the 159th birthday of the German archaeologist, Max Uhle, who excavated in Peru for the Penn Museum from 1895 to 1898. Called the “Father of Peruvian Archaeology,” Uhle is best known for introducing the chronological sequencing of differing strata to pre-Columbian and American archaeological research. His work in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile helped establish the framework for the chronological periods now recognized in Andean pre-history studies.
Max Uhle grew up in Dresden, Germany and studied linguistics as a doctoral student focusing on medieval Chinese grammar, an interest he never again explored. According to his biographer, John Howland Rowe, this period in his early career occurred at a high point for Peruvian research with the publication of Das Totenfeld von Acón in Peru (The Necropolis of Ancon in Peru), which inspired Uhle to pursue Andean archaeology.
After extensive work at museums in Dresden and Berlin, Uhle finally embarked on his first field expedition at the age of thirty-six, an overland trek by mule from Buenos Aires through northwestern Argentina and Bolivia. In the last decade of the 19th century, Uhle conducted ethnographic, linguistic and archaeological research projects throughout South America, sending his reports and findings back to the Berlin Museum. He was instrumental in mobilizing political and popular support to stop vandalism at the site of Tiwanaku, in northern Bolivia, and his attention to the preservation of prehistoric monuments extended throughout his career. Beginning in 1895 the Penn Museum came to sponsor Uhle’s work in Peru, surveying and excavating around Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, and the sites of Ancon and Pachacamac in Peru.
Caballitos or reed boats of the fishermen at Eten, Peru. Photograph by Max Uhle, 1896. Penn Museum Archives
Uhle’s observation that the artifacts he found had gradual changes (in design, style, materials) in differing strata signaled that cultural changes were occurring over time. Put simply, that artifacts of similar style found in one layer (considered contemporaneous) were either older or earlier than the artifacts found in the strata above or below. His conclusion seems obvious to us today, but Uhle was actually helping to lay the foundations of modern Andean studies. This chronological sequencing allowed American archaeologists to construct a timeline of pre-Columbian Andean history.
Uhle’s year-long excavations in Peru at the sacred site of Pachacamac, some 25 miles south of Lima, yielded one of the Penn Museum’s largest collections of ceramics, lithics and well preserved organic remains including textiles, wood, basketry, shell, feathers, and other materials. The ancient site, a destination for Andean pilgrims to worship their central, creator deity, Pachacamac, contained temples, pyramids, palaces, plazas, and the oracle of Pachacamac. When the Inka empire moved into the area in the mid-to-late 15th century, they recreated Pachacamac as an administrative center, building a Temple of the Sun and various buildings to support the new imperial presence at the site.
Upon finishing his excavations, Uhle returned to Philadelphia to write up his results with the help of his translator and wife, Charlotte Dorothee Grosse, working together in their apartment on the 3400 block of Sansom Street. Shortly after his return, in 1900, the Uhle’s transferred to the University of California, where many of his papers and collections are held by the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum. In the early part of the 20th century, Uhle took on a number of positions in South America, including general director of the Museo de Historia Nacional in Peru, president of the the Sociedad Chilena de Historia y Geografía in Chile, and chair of Ecuadorian Archaeology at the Universidad Central in Quito, Ecuador. Uhle returned to Germany in 1933, where he continued to publish until his death at the age of eighty-eight in 1944.
Uhle’s 1903 volume on his Pachacamac excavations, published by the University of Pennsylvania, has been called the “finest single-site archaeological report in Americanist studies of its time” (Willey 1991: xii), and continues to be influential in the field. His incredibly detailed and accurate plans of the site were the basis for a 4D reconstruction and flyover by students in Prof. Clark Erickson and Prof. Norm Badler’s collaborative anthropology/digital media design course Visualizing the Past/Peopling the Past. In 2011, a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported two post-graduate fellows in a project to conserve, photograph, and rehouse 3,600 textile and ceramic objects from the Pachacamac collection (a process they documented in a series of blog posts).
Filmed in the 1950s, the archival footage below shows the site of Pachacamac obviously not by Uhle himself, but you can still get a sense of the site from this later footage.
Calling all lovers of objects from ancient to modern world history!
Introducing the Penn Museum Object Bracket Challenge
For the month of March the Penn Museum is now the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology AND BRACKETOLOGY! We’re asking you, the public, to vote for your favorite objects in our first ever Object Bracket Challenge! We narrowed down the playing field from roughly one million objects to a field of 64 excellent objects from our world-class collections. It is now your job to crown a champion!
You can pick your favorite object by the culture that created it. Or by its form and function. Maybe go by its historical significance throughout human history. Or just because it is your favorite color! Anyway, it is all up to YOU!
Submit a bracket by Monday, March 23, 2015, to be eligible for a Grand Prize with a retail value up to $250)! Based on our special algorithm, the bracket to earn the most points will be crowned our grand prize winner on April 7, 2015. There will also be second and third place winners, as well as Sweet Sixteen and Final Four runner-ups (who will be awarded prizes based on a random selection amongst the runner-ups). Prizes include Behind-the-Scenes Tours of the Penn Museum by our Collections Keepers and Curators, gift cards to the Pepper Mill Café, and some serious Penn Museum swag. Plus, every submitted bracket gets a $2 off admission coupon to the Penn Museum! (Promo code expires December 31, 2015)
Here are the rules:
Go to penn.museum/bracket and drag and drop your selections through all six rounds of the Object Challenge. Choose carefully, cause once you drop, you can’t go back (unless you refresh your browser and start over).
Submit your bracket! Please only one submission per person. There are two options:
If you want to submit your bracket to be eligible for prizes and receive $2 off admission to the Penn Museum, you must supply your name, your email, and agree to our Terms and Conditions.
If you’re just playing for fun, check the box to submit your bracket without including your name and email.
You’ll receive a copy of your filled out bracket in an email from the Penn Museum. Check your spam folder if you don’t see it in your inbox.
Brackets submitted for prizes will be accepted till midnight on Monday, March 23, 2015. Just for fun brackets are accepted anytime!
Check back to see how your bracket fared for the Sweet Sixteen reveal on Thursday, March 26, 2015, and the Final Four reveal on Thursday, April 2, 2015.
Prize winners will be announced on Tuesday, April 7, 2015.
Want to do more than crown your favorite object as the 2015 champion? Consider “adopting” it by donating to the Penn Museum to support the preservation, storage, and management of our prized artifacts.
In case you’re not familiar with In the Artifact Lab, the concept is pretty simple: it’s a combination of an exhibition and a working conservation lab. In the glass-enclosed lab, members of our conservation staff work primarily with objects from the Museum’s Egyptian collections—analyzing, cleaning, and stabilizing them—in full view of our visitors. Projects are documented and investigated further on the In the Artifact Lab blog. Throughout the rest of the exhibition space, objects are displayed that have either been treated by our conservators, or are still waiting for their moment under the microscope.
Adding to this experience, our conservator on duty opens a window to the lab twice a day for 30-minute Q&A sessions, giving visitors a chance to ask questions about the ancient objects in the lab, and the work being performed on them. Numerous projects are underway in the lab at any given time, so our conservators have grown accustomed to answering all kinds of unique and interesting questions from the public.
Next Wednesday from 11:00 am to 12:30 pm (Eastern Standard Time), two of our chatty Artifact Lab conservators (Head Conservator Lynn Grant and Project Conservator Molly Gleeson) will be branching out even further, during an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit.com. This will work essentially the same way as their daily open-window sessions—only this time, the window is open to the entire Internet-going public.
Project Conservator Molly Gleeson (at left) and Head Conservator Lynn Grant (at right), looking forward to answering your questions about artifact conservation.
Lynn and Molly are looking forward to answering as many great questions as possible during this session… and this is where YOU come in. If you’d like to ask a question (or several) about the fascinating conservation work underway in the lab, or about artifact conservation in general, here’s how you can participate:
Look for our thread to be posted at 10:45 am, with the title ““We are museum conservators working with ancient Egyptian artifacts in full public view, at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia. Ask us anything!” (hint: if you don’t see the thread at first, click “new” at the top to sort threads by date posted.
Once you’ve found the right thread, you can post your questions for our conservators by commenting on the original post. You need to be logged in to comment, but creating an account is easy and free.
Post your question(s) for our conservators, and starting at 11:00 am, they’ll do their best to answer everyone’s inquiries—or at least, as many as they’re able to address in 90 minutes.
So mark your calendar for Lynn and Molly’s “Ask Me Anything” session next Wednesday, March 11 from 11:00 am to 12:30 pm. Even if you don’t have any burning questions of your own, you might learn a thing or two as our conservators respond to inquiries from other curious “Redditors” around the world.
31-17-403 after opening the crate and pulling back the burlap
Like the first skeleton, this one was originally excavated in a deep pit intended to investigate the earliest levels of the ancient city. The first came from Pit F, nearly 50 feet below the surface of the mound. The second came from Pit Y, around 45 feet down. Overall documentation on the second skeleton is not nearly as complete as the first, however.
The minimal documentation recorded on receipt showed only that one skeleton was ‘stretched’ and the other was ‘flexed.’ The Ubaid period skeleton 31-17-404 is indeed extended, lying on its back with hands at its pelvis. The second skeleton, 31-17-403, is lying on its side with its knees bent and its hands near its mouth. Woolley took several photos of the first skeleton and the process of waxing it, but he did not report preserving a second skeleton. He did, however, take a field photograph of what he called the best preserved example of the flexed burial type. This was the very skeleton he preserved, which is shown by overlaying the field photo on a modern image of our skeleton for an exact match.
The published version of the field photo is labeled JNG/361, which stands for Jemdet Nasr Grave number 361. Jemdet Nasr is the name of a site that lends its name to a particular time period, but there is much debate today about its temporal extent. In fact, the majority of Woolley’s late JN graves are most likely Early Dynastic I period and the earlier are most likely Uruk period.
Field photograph of the Uruk skeleton before waxing
The original field photo is labeled PG1834. This number comes at the tail end of the sequence of assigned PG numbers (which end at 1850) and in fact Woolley renumbered many of the series from PG1818-1846 into JNGs because he had gone deeper than the main burials in the Royal Cemetery or believed the burials to be earlier.
Sorting out these re-numberings is a big challenge but one that’s vital to understanding the sequence of burials and the progression of the dig. As Woolley went deeper in the Royal Cemetery area (PG), he decided to uncover the earliest levels of the city and thus he continued to dig down from the base of some of the PG graves. These areas then became test pits and he made a good number of them over the latter years from 1929-1933. Pits A through E were located in the Royal Cemetery area, but Pit F was located north of there (and it was the findspot of the extended Ubaid period skeleton).
Woolley closed excavations in Pit F in January of 1930 and by that time he had already decided to dig even deeper in the Royal Cemetery in order to compare to the results of Pit F. To do this, he jumped ahead in his lettering scheme and created pits Y and Z in an area of many of the PG1800 graves.
In Pit Y he found a few graves of the flexed type, including JNG/361. He used the same technique of pouring wax on the body that he had with PFG/Z (Pit F, Grave Z, the Ubaid period skeleton 31-17-404). Our biggest problem, however, comes from conflicting data he recorded. In his chart of burials he tells us that the body in JNG/361 was lying on its right side. The skeleton we have, which matches the position and condition of the field photo skeleton, is lying on its left side. Either Woolley mistakenly wrote right when he meant left, or he mis-wrote the number of the JNG grave. For example, JNG/351 is said to be lying on its left side. Whatever happened, there is clearly a mistake somewhere. Verifying the exact mistake is almost impossible. It seems most likely that this really is JNG/361 since the photo is labeled as such. Woolley probably noted that the body was facing to the right as we look at it and wrote it down as on its right side.
Associated with the burial of JNG/361 were four pottery types. Two of them are not overly diagnostic, but the other two are rather clearly late Uruk types, which gives us a date around 3300BCE. It is a very rough date that could be off by as much as 200 years either side, but it shows us that this body is at least 1000 years later than the Ubaid one, which we have roughly dated to 4500BCE.
Burial practices are typically quite tenacious, unchanging for long periods of time because they are usually centered in deeply held beliefs. At some point in the 1000 year interval here, the method of burial as reflected in position of the body changed. In fact, most burials at Ur are flexed and on their side, like this one, but the very earliest burials of the Ubaid period were not. In the old days of scholarship, such a change would typically be used to suggest an influx of new people, an overthrow of a current population by some other. This is not necessarily the case, however. There may have been some outside influence, but that does not mean an invasion or overthrow.
In fact, both the Ubaid and Uruk cultures were rather far-reaching. Characteristics of the Ubaid culture are found throughout much of Mesopotamia and Uruk even more so. The Uruk in general is thought of as the proto-state period, when state government was arising and managing increasing numbers of people. This is the time when Ur and many other places were becoming what we today would consider true cities. Yet both Ubaid and Uruk peoples relied on far-reaching trade networks to bring in much needed materials. Along with these almost certainly came new ideas.
The shift in Ur between the times of these two burials is a fascinating one and we hope that the remains of the two individuals can give us more insight into that change. The Uruk period skeleton in particular is the focus of a current class in the Living World in Archaeological Science, where Penn undergrads and grads are working with Penn scientists to reveal more on its physiological condition and cultural significance. Thus far, x-rays have shown a good deal but it remains difficult even to determine the gender due to the positioning of the body and the wax and soil covering. The students are discussing these difficulties and trying to determine ways to investigate the body in spite of them. They are also learning about just what kind of information we might be able to obtain and the various scientific techniques that could result in much more. Read more about it in this article at the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Beneath the Surface exhibit has positioned the film records of the expedition to Sitio Conte prominently within the exhibit. We asked Clark Erickson, the lead curator of the exhibit, what the films mean to him as primary source materials in the history of archaeology, and especially of this site.
The video advances my agenda of “peopling the past” and “visualizing the past” for the exhibit and is an incredible archival testament about the practice of archaeology in 1940. Over the weekend, I spend an hour watching the loop over and over with the grandson and granddaughter of J. Alden Mason and the son and daughter of John Jr. who was on the dig as a high school student. They were excited and nearly drawn to tears seeing their ancestors in the film doing their archaeological work. *
Penn student Monica Fenton is writing her Senior Honors Thesis on Sitio Conte (she was one of the student curators for BTS). We noticed that the film records important contextual information that is not documented in the formal still photography of the excavation team. We hope to capture stills from all the film of pans over the archaeological objects in situ to help relocate and establish associations with individual bodies in Burial 11 and other burials at the site.
It is often a source of wonder that recordings such as these, casually taken in their day, can become significant to later researchers. What are we creating today that will have resonance to future researchers?
Other Sitio Conte film footage may be seen here:
*Mr. Mason sent us the following note this week “Being in that exhibit, seeing the items and the inspired three tiered display of the burial ground … I felt like I was completing the circle. Finally, all those stories and my grandfather and father’s roles in it came to life. You can’t imagine what a shock and joy it was to see the film footage (some in color – new to the time) of grandfather, circling around the dig, pipe in mouth, carrying equipment, bending down to take a closer look at the progress, picking away at the earth with his trowel, looking pensive, interacting with the team, and getting on with the job. How amazing to look at pictures, burial ground maps, the working tools, the trip medicine chest, expedition journals and his portable typewriter (portable!?! funny to see this clunky machine in comparison to smart phones and what we use and have available today). Moreover I was astonished by the film scenes of my father, as a lanky, floppy blond haired 17 year old, busily moving and organizing sacks of field work. This was a young man I recognized but did not know until that moment. To be followed by a new perspective and much clearer mental picture and understanding of what all those stories meant and now even looked like. Magical!”
Vew of the Sakarya river that flows west of ancient Gordion, and continues to give life to the villagers
About 100 years ago the earliest known inhabitants of the Yassıhöyük village arrived there from different regions of Anatolia, and settled near the banks of the Sakarya river that flowed through the ancient settlement of Gordion.
Iron tipped wooden plough used until 1960s for manual agriculture
The early subsistence base was animal husbandry supplemented by farming cereals with horse and iron-tipped wooden plough, a threshing board with flint, pulled by oxen, to separate grain from straw (as known from the Neolithic era), on an average of one hectare of land (2.5 acres). This simple technology lasted until 1950s.
Herds taken through harvested fields in early morning
Starting in 1920s the the early settlers moved away from the river, to higher ground toward the ancient settlement, to escape the malaria epidemic. They were joined by immigrants, as far away as Romania, Bulgaria and Bosnia, who were settled in the region.
In time, itinerant shepherds from the mountainous northern region of the Bolu province migrated in winter months to graze their sheep and goats on the wide open steppeland.
shepherd with felt coat
Several varieties of Angora goats
Several varieties of Angora goats
Several varieties of Angora goats
Herds taken through harvested fields in early morning
With abundant rain and snow, the vast open land provided grazing for large herds, among them the Angora goat (tiftik keçisi), that was favored for its milk and its mohair wool.
The itinerant shepherds spent 6 months with their large, not-so-friendly-to-strangers sheep dogs of Kangal breed that wear iron spiked collars to protect the flock from wolf packs.
Sheep dogs for a large flock
Up until 70 years ago the sheep and goat population was 250,000 in YH and in the region of eastern Sakarya river valley. An important product of the animals was the dung cakes used for fuel. A major decline in caprine population the last 15 years was reversed, due to government subsidies extended to shepherds to encourage production of milk and wool.
Cow dung cakes drying in the sun for use as fuel
After drying, it is piled up in a shed in courtyard
Today, many of the “itinerant” shepherds have become landed farmers, practicing mixed agriculture and animal husbandry. Those who are not landowners keep exclusively sheep and goats.
Wed. Feb. 7. Ash Wednesday. In spite of “Carnival” yesterday, all men at work by 7:10. Much [?] at this hour, calm & not hot. Got very hot during day. Lothrop had chicha party for men after work. Cook is apparently dissatisfied & threatens to leave frequently. Muse have good talk with him & settle things. Did a little cataloging at night.
-J. Alden Mason, Diary, February 7, 1940
It was back to work for the team after their Carnival (or what we call Mardi Gras) celebrations the day before. It seems even though it was Ash Wednesday, the party didn’t stop. It was a tradition for the visiting excavation teams to throw a “chicha” party at least once for the men during their stay. The Lothrops were leaving soon for good and perhaps this was their good-bye party.
Speaking of parties! Let’s take a break from the daily grind of the Panamanian Expedition and jump ahead in time several months and then years.
When Mason returned from Panama to the Museum in April of 1940, they came back with crates and crates of gold adornments and plaques embossed with animal-human motifs, pottery, tools, and weapons. The objects were quickly accessioned and put on display by June, 1940. We don’t have many records or any photographs from the first installation of the Sitio Conte collection, but we do have an eye-popping newspaper clipping from June 16th. In it, Chiquita Beck of Philadelphia poses with many of the gold ornaments on an alter in the Mesoamerican Gallery. What a different time this was in the Museum!
That was 75 years ago. Today, February 7, 2015, marks the opening of a new exhibition at the Penn Museum, Beneath the Surface: Life, Death, and Gold in Ancient Panama. While you can no longer recline on our treasured objects or wear the priceless gold adornments of the Coclé chiefs, you can learn more about this mysterious and complex society. Come explore the rich culture of the Coclé people. On exhibition are large golden plaques and pendants with animal-human motifs, precious and semi-precious stone, ivory, and animal bone ornaments, and detail-rich painted ceramics. Beneath the Surface runs from February 7, 2015 to November 1 , 2015.
Mon. Feb 5. Warm, happy, rather clear. 9 diggers & foreman. Lothrop & I troweled on large area of broken pottery & [?] in w[est]. end of trench. Merrill surveying. Photo’d skeleton & cache in Tr I & [?] took up broken broken pottery. Corning washing & selecting sherds. John [?] [?] rolls of canvas on main house. Found first small gold plaque which Corning treated with gum arabic. Many men with hangover, tomorrow is Carnival. Victor left at 11, making 8 men plus Eulogio.
-J. Alden Mason, Field Notes, Feb. 5, 1940
Some of Mason’s writing is difficult to read. Words unable to be deciphered are marked with [?] in the transcription above.
Mason’s daily journal entry generally describes the weather, who worked on what, and the day’s main activities. On a typical day, they worked from 7 am to 4 pm with an hour break for lunch at noon.
The “9 diggers & foreman” were from the local area. They received $1.00 a day, the foreman $1.25. In later writings, Mason described them as such: “Most of men belong to one family, Ramos. 4 brothers & many other relatives. Clannish, but don’t fight with outsiders, that is with workmen from other fincas.” The foreman at this early point was Eulogio Ramos, eldest of the brothers and “more or less the patriarch of the region.” Sam Lothrop told Mason that Eulogio was a “‘witch’ (brujo), [and] that everyman on the job would quit if he gave the order, etc., and that he must be employed as foreman or favored person at higher salary.” Mason did employ him as the foreman until he began to doubt his “authority and influence” later on and let him go with no trouble. The worker, Victor, who “left at 11″ worked mainly on running errands because he had a horse and lived the closest.
Merrill’s field notes for Feb. 5, 1940.
Includes surveys of both Trench I and Trench II. The photographs from each page are included below.
Fig. 1. Looking W. Feb. 5, 1940 Trench 2 General View Photo C-5
Fig. 2 Trench 1 Two skeletons Burial or Grave 3
Fig. 3. Same (as Fig. 2) with grid but not vertically down
Fig. 4. General View Feb. 5, 1940 Trench 1 looking N
Sun. Feb. 4. Pleasant quiet warm day, first quiet day in ten days. Most of us up a half hour late. Merrill spent whole day on his drawings. Lothrops took a little trip up river to see Verrills site and found two new ones. The Cornings spent most of day straightening up equipment. John M. took things easy. I spent morning housecleaning my tent and distributing general equipment I had in there, and in afternoon until 5:00 went over paper accounts and got everything filed and in order. Talked over maps[?] with Merrill & began a letter in evening.
-J. Alden Mason, Field Notes, February 4, 1940
Sunday, Feb. 4 was a day of rest for the excavation team. Now that the initial work of setting up camp is over, we get a glimpse of what camp life is like during their downtime.
Someone we haven’t heard much about this whole time is John M., Mason’s son, who tagged along for the whole of the expedition. John Jr., was a senior at Tredyffrin-Easttown High in Berwyn in 1940, but had taken the school year off to join the expedition as a “general helper.” Below is a photograph of John Jr., taking things easy indeed!