University of Pennsylvania Museum Receives Prestigious Grant for Conservation of Ancient Sumerian Metal Objects From Institute of Museum and Library Services

Artifacts are Part of Famous Museum Collection from the Site of Ur and the Royal Tombs at Ur in Iraq

02 AUGUST 2005, PHILADELPHIA, PA—More than 800 copper, copper-alloy and iron objects, all about 4,500 years old and excavated in the 1920s and early 1930s at Ur (a site in modern-day Iraq), and at the royal tombs of Ur , are receiving the conservation treatment and rehousing that they need, thanks to a competitive grant awarded to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology from the Conservation Project Support program of the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

“The gold, silver and artifacts with semi-precious lapis-lazuli and carnelian found at the ancient Mesopotamian site of Ur have long captivated the public, but to archaeologists and other scholars of this extraordinary ancient civilization, these more fragile artifacts, made of less resistant metals and in grave danger of further deterioration, are no less important,” noted Dr. Richard M. Leventhal, the Williams Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. “The Museum is delighted to be awarded this generous IMLS grant, which will allow us to stabilize these fragile, irreplaceable objects for generations of future study and interpretation.”

“I am proud of the role the Institute of Museum and Library Services plays in helping museums across the country care for their collections,” said IMLS Director Robert Martin. “The Conservation Project Support grants we make today will ensure that the rich and diverse culture and history in America's museums are available for a lifetime of learning for all and future generations.”

The two-year project, which began in July 2005, calls for the treatment and rehousing of 786 copper or copper-alloy objects, including utilitarian objects like small vessesls, spears and arrowheads, axes, knives, chisels, saws and tridents and ornaments and toilet articles such as rings, bracelets, pins, tweezers and razors. Also included in the project are 21 iron objects, including spear points, arrowheads and a small sword.

Treatments, which involve the use of chemicals to inhibit corrosion and, in select cases, extensive cleaning and repair, will be carried out by contract conservator Julia Lawson and the Museum's Senior Conservator, Virginia Greene. Rehousing of the artifacts, either in padded polystyrene boxes or in custom-made storage mounts, will be done primarily by the Near East Section Keeper (collections manager) Shannon White, in consultation with the conservators and Near East Section Associate Curator Dr. Richard Zettler.

The site of Ur where the artifacts come from, located near the city of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq, was one of the largest of ancient Mesopotamia. Occupied for almost 5,000 years starting at the end of the 6th millennium, Ur played a preeminent role in the political, religious and economic life of the region.

Ur was excavated from 1922-34 by a joint expedition of the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the British Museum under a permit granted by the government of Iraq. The Antiquities Law in force at the time allowed a division of finds with the excavators. The 7,100 objects at the Penn Museum form the largest such collection in the United States.

The federal Institute of Museum and Library Services Conservation Project Support (CPS) grants fund a wide range of projects to help museums safeguard their collections, including conservation surveys, training, research, treatment, and environmental improvements. These grants, which are awarded by a competitive peer review process and require a 100 percent match by the applicant, help museums undertake their most critical conservation activities. Of 189 applications for the year 2005, IMLS granted 49 awards, including $79,777 for the Museum's project.

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, located at 3260 South Streets on the Penn campus in Philadelphia, is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 400 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind's collective heritage. For general information, visitors may call (215) 898-4000, or visit the Museum’s award-winning website at


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