University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Heart Health Month at the Museum


By: Tom Stanley

February 5, 2016

There’s plenty to celebrate in February. February is Black History Month; it’s part of the internationally recognized Season for Nonviolence; it’s also the shortest month of the year, which is nice when you earn a monthly salary (same pay for fewer days of work), but not as nice when you’re paid hourly (same monthly bills, but fewer days to earn money to pay them).

February is also American Heart Health Month, part of an effort to bring awareness to the widespread issue of cardiovascular disease in America, and to ways in which it can be prevented or mitigated. There is a practically endless list of ways in which you can improve your heart health, but one of my favorites is going for a good, old-fashioned walk. And perhaps I’m biased, but I can’t think of many places I’d rather walk around aimlessly than the Penn Museum.

Our staff in our Public Programs Department agrees. So they’ve created a simple walking map through our third floor galleries, which amounts to a total of two tenths of a mile—meaning five repetitions equals one mile. Here’s the map, below.

Walking route of the Penn Museum's third floor galleries. One lap equals roughly 1/5 of a mile.
Walking route of the Penn Museum’s third floor galleries. One lap equals roughly 1/5 of a mile.

Looks like fun to me! I took my camera along for the walk, and kept my heart health on my mind as I browsed the objects on display in the galleries. Here are a few of the highlights.

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-Starting in Pepper Hall, my first stop along the walking route was in our Canaan & Ancient Israel Gallery. Among the objects on display in this gallery is a wine set, comprising the bronze strainer, juglet, drinking bowl, and mixing bowl pictured in the above photo. Wine, in moderation, can be beneficial for the heart, thanks to antioxidants originating in the grape skin. This strainer set from Tall as-Sa’idiyya in present-day Jordan dates to the 13th century BCE.

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-The walking tour leads us next to the Rome Gallery, where you’ll find this 3rd-century BCE Umbro-Etruscan terracotta votive set. A healthy diet is critical in maintaining good heart health, and this set includes a veritable feast of heart-healthy foods—including fish, poultry, bread (from whole grains), grapes, squash, and more.

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-The walking route technically skips by the Greece Gallery, but I can’t help but poke my head in anyway. Here, a section of the gallery focuses on some of the athletic endeavors of the ancient Greeks, including wrestling, boxing, track, and field. Like a healthy diet, exercise is among the best ways to contribute to a heart-healthy lifestyle. The piece you see here is a lekythos from the Archaic Greek period, circa 540-530 BCE, depicting a foot race; this piece was selected as the model for a U.S. Postal Service 2004 commemorative stamp issued in honor of the 2004 Summer Olympics games in Athens.

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-Continuing to the Classical World Gallery, we’re met by the impressive physical form of this seated god, likely Dionysus. This statue comes from the Roman Imperial period, and was restored in Italy in the early 17th century CE or before. We can only assume that Dionysus here did plenty of walking to get himself into such magnificent physical shape.

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-Walking back through the Etruscan Italy Gallery, you’re about halfway through the route. Pause for a moment to admire your new physique in these bronze mirrors! Just kidding—for one thing, you probably need a few more laps before you start posing for any fitness magazines. But for another, you won’t be able to see much in these mirrors, which date to between the 4th and 2nd centuries BCE, and which have oxidized far beyond the point of showing any sort of reflection.

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-Next we cross the bridge over the Museum’s inner gardens and into the Egypt (Mummies) Gallery. Here you’ll find an object that was of tremendous importance to heart health in ancient Egypt (or so many believed)—a heart scarab (pictured on the left), dating to the New Kingdom, circa 1539–1075 BCE. A heart scarab was placed within the wrappings of a mummified body, directly over the heart. On the side facing the body, the scarab is inscribed with a spell (visible on the right), which essentially instructed the heart of the deceased to keep its proverbial mouth shut. It was believed that the deceased would be judged by the gods as to whether he or she was worthy of a good afterlife; as such, the scarab’s spell was intended to prevent the heart from incriminating its bearer for any worldly misdeeds.

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-Walk a little further and you’ll encounter the wondrous Buddhist art of the China Gallery. My eyes are always drawn to this magnificent painted wooden statue of Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion, who is pictured here in a pose known as the “royal ease.” Guanyin listens to the prayers of the distressed, which is great, because stress can contribute to health issues like high blood pressure.

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-Last but not least, our walking tour leads us to the Iraq’s Ancient Past: Rediscovering Ur’s Royal Cemetery exhibition. Here you’ll find a musical instrument known as a lyre, this one made of silver; it fits nicely into our heart health walking tour, as listening to music has been found to trigger physiological effects that benefit the heart.

-After a few more steps, you’re back in Pepper Hall at the beginning of our little heart health tour. Congratulations, you’ve walked one lap! Four more and you’ll have walked a mile—and you’ll have probably discovered plenty of other objects that also could have made this list.

So my advice to you is to bookmark this map, drop in to the Museum sometime this month (or any month, for that matter), and take a stroll through our galleries for your own physical and mental wellbeing. Your heart will appreciate it!

Top image courtesy of the Penn Museum; all other images photographed by Tom Stanley. Learn more about maintaining a healthy heart at the American Heart Association’s website.


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