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

February 11, 2019

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 of the greatest stories, both mythical and historical, from across the world.

As the Valentine’s Day season approaches, we here at the Penn Museum have decided to spend a week taking a close look at a particular selection of artifacts on display in our galleries—objects whose histories tell their own stories of love, tenderness, and (of course) fertility. And we’re doing so through our new Daily Dig program, which invites visitors for a casual, 15-minute exploration of an individual object each day, led by a Museum expert (such as our curators, collections keepers, conservators, educators, and graduate students).

The Daily Dig: Valentine’s Week Edition runs from Tuesday, February 12 through Sunday, February 17 at 1:00 pm each day. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the “lovely” objects that we’re inviting you to explore with us throughout the week.

On Tuesday, February 12, the series kicks off in our Greece Gallery with a look at a small figurine of Eros—the god of sensual love and desire, and the child of Aphrodite and Ares. Most people would probably be quicker to recognize him by his Roman iteration as Cupid, the baby-faced archer god whose arrows cause their target to fall in love. We’ll hear about Eros from Addie Atkins, a Ph.D. student in Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania; for those who can’t attend in person, this Daily Dig will be broadcast on Instagram Live courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania’s Instagram.

Terracotta Eros figurine, obj. L-64-159; Myrina (Greece), ca. 80 BCE–50 CE.
Photo by Tom Stanley.

On Wednesday, February 13, we’ll visit the neighboring Etruscan Italy Gallery for a close examination of objects from the Tomb 43 at the site of Narce, the final resting place of a warrior buried with these and many other personal items. Where’s the love connection, you might ask? In this instance, the love story is in the artifacts themselves—as they were carefully chosen by this warrior’s family as symbols of the things he loved in life and as memorials for those who cared for him. This Daily Dig will be presented by none other than Dr. Julian Siggers, Williams Director of the Penn Museum; once again, we’ll be broadcasting live for those who can’t be here in person, this time from the Penn Museum’s Instagram.

Bronze helmet and cuirass, obj. MS850 and MS851; Narce (Italy), late 8th century BCE.
Photo by Jenny Wan.

Thursday, February 14 is Valentine’s Day proper, led by Olivia Hayden, a Ph.D. student in Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World at Penn. She’ll meet visitors in our Greece Gallery for a look at the so-called “Benghazi Venus,” an artifact rich in history, mythology, and beauty. It depicts the goddess of sexuality and erotic love at the moment of her birth, wringing her hair as she rises from the sea foam.

Marble statue of Aphrodite (Venus), obj. 69-14-1; likely from Benghazi (Libya), ca. 150–100 BCE.
Photo by Jenny Wan.

Next, we take a trip to the Middle East Galleries on Friday, February 15 to learn about the so-called “Lovers” of Hasanlu, named for the affectionate position in which they were found during Penn Museum excavations in 1972. These two skeletons have laid together since roughly 800 BCE, after a spectacularly violent episode (possibly at the hands of the Assyrians or Urartians) left the settlement destroyed and its inhabitants brutally murdered. How romantic! This Daily Dig will be led by Dr. Page Selinsky, Publications Editor at the Penn Museum.

The “Hasanlu Lovers”—intertwined skeletons unearthed at Hasanlu (Iran).
Penn Museum image #97482, taken 1972.

We’ll stay in the Middle East Galleries on Saturday, February 16, and look to ancient literature for a story about marriage in Mesopotamia—specifically, from a clay tablet written in cuneiform, one of the world’s first systems of writing. Dr. Philip Jones, Keeper and Associate Curator in our Babylonian Section, leads the days investigation into this object, which describes a sacred marriage ritual between a king and a goddess that would ensure success and fertility for the land.

Clay tablet, obj. 29-16-81; Nippur, ca. 2000 BCE.
Photo by Jenny Wan.

We’ll round out the week on Sunday, February 17 in our Canaan & Ancient Israel Gallery, and hear about Judean pillar figurines such as the one pictured at center. These objects are mysterious in that their specific purpose has not yet been identified; they may have been representations of goddesses of fertility or love and worshipped in household shrines. Samantha L. Suppes, a Penn M.A. student in Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, is our presenter for the day.

Ceramic figurine, obj. 61-14-1318; Beth Shemesh (Israel), ca. 800–586 BCE.
Photo by Jenny Wan.

We hope you can join us for one or more of these casual talks, which are always free with general Museum admission; meet us in the galleries and come prepared with your questions about love and romance in antiquity. And if you can’t make it during Valentine’s Week, make plans to drop in for another Daily Dig in the future, and spend some time falling in love with our collection on your own time.