University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Welcome to the Penn Museum blog. First launched in January 2009, the Museum blog now has over 800 posts covering a range of topics in the categories of Museum, Collection, Exhibitions, Research, and By Location. Here you’ll hear directly from our staff and Penn students about their work, research, experiences, and discoveries. To explore the Museum's other digital content, visit The Digital Penn Museum.


We Dig Love: The Daily Dig, Valentine’s Edition

By: Tom Stanley

Is there any experience more powerful than falling in love? Most people would be hard-pressed to name an example. Love binds us together—it brings us joy and comfort, and sometimes sadness; it can also drive us to do extraordinary things, occasionally beyond the limits of common sense. And it’s been the driving force behind some […]

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Children Amongst the Caribou: Clothes for a Young Innu

By: Margaret Bruchac and Ben Kelser

The Penn Museum holds around 400 objects attributed to the “Naskapi” people and acquired by Frank Speck in 1930-1931.[1] The diverse collection includes games, charms, toys, hunting tools, snowshoes, paint brushes, and clothing made of caribou hide, among other things. Historically, the First Nations Innu (Naskapi) people of northern Labrador have long regarded migratory caribou […]

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Tlingit Raven Rattle: Transformative Representations

By: Margaret Bruchac and Kayla Holmes

Shark, Raven, Bird, Human. What does it mean to find these life forms intermingled within a singular piece, in the shape of a rattle? In Tlingit society, the interactions among these beings and the mythologies associated with them represent cultural interpretations of individual and clan relationships. Specific aspects of these relations and beliefs led to […]

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Choctaw Beaded Sashes: Crossing Histories

By: Margaret Bruchac and Erica Dienes

In 1901, during the Wanamaker Pan-American Expedition, Penn Museum Curator Stewart Culin purchased a selection of Choctaw objects from Louisiana.[1] The collection included two elaborately beaded red wool sashes—objects #38472 and object #38473—which were identified, in the Choctaw language, as ska-bo-chai.[2] The coiled designs evoke ancient motifs seen in Eastern Woodland Mississippian and Early Historic […]

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The Mysterious Beaded Collar

By: Margaret Bruchac and Leana Reich

The provenance story of this “American Indian beaded collar” (object # 2000-16-1) begins with a mystery: it was made by an unknown artisan for an unknown purpose at an unknown time, likely in the 19th century. In 1972, Robert W. Preucel received it as a gift from his high school friend, Tucker Hentz. Hentz noted, […]

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Blackfeet Moccasins: A Gift to Charles Stephens

By: Margaret Bruchac and Lilianna Gurry

This object study focuses on two pairs of moccasins, similar in structure and style, collected in 1891 from Blackfeet (also called Blackfoot) artisans.[1] The moccasins have a closed-toe design, cloth ankle flaps, leather ties, and beaded floral motifs. They were constructed using a one-piece pattern stitched together with a vertical seam at the heel before […]

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Lady Franklyn’s Quilled Mi’kmaq Box

By: Margaret Bruchac and Leana Reich

In 1912, the Penn Museum purchased a birch bark box (object number NA 3851) decorated with intricate quillwork from British collector and antiquities dealer William Ockleford Oldman. During the late 1800s to the early 1900s, Oldman sold thousands of ethnographic materials to private collectors and museums (including the British Museum and Museum of the American […]

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Investigating a Pipe Tomahawk

By: Margaret Bruchac and Kayla A. Holmes

  How does a tomahawk, as an object typically associated with violence, come to be connected to a smoking pipe used in rituals and ceremonies associated with peace? Who devised the idea of welding these different objects together to bring pipe tomahawks into being, and what are the cultural significances surrounding their presence? File these […]

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Moose Hair Embroidered Birchbark Trays: French, Native, or Both

By: Margaret Bruchac and Liliana Gurry

The intricate detailing on these birchbark trays was the first thing that caught my eye. It is difficult to fathom the amount of labor and intensive effort it takes to embroider such complex designs into a thin piece of wood. As seen in the images below, these three trays differ in shape, size, and content, […]

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The Salmon Basket & Cannery Label

By: Margaret Bruchac and Erica Dienes

This salmon basket from the land of the Tlingit and Yakutat people is a useful piece of art, woven from spruce root, grass, and maidenhair fern in a twined fashion, and originally made to carry lightweight materials. It shows minimal evidence of wear. In size and shape and weaving patterns, it closely resembles other baskets […]

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Native American Voices at the Penn Museum

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