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.


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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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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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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The Kaskasian Beaver Bowl

By: Margaret Bruchac and Ben Kelser

This bowl, in the form of a wooden beaver with a bowl-shaped carving sculpted into its back, is identified as having been crafted by the Kaskaskian people in the Illinois Territory.[1] The bowl was one of two non-identical beaver bowls collected in 1795 by George Turner, who was then serving as a judge in the […]

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Fly, Eagles, Fly!

sphinx with eagles head

By: Margaret Spencer

So, I hear there is some kind of sportsball spectacular coming up soon, and that Philadelphia is going to be part of it. Something about a super bowl? Well, we here at the Penn Museum have a LOT of super bowls! Take a look at these: And if you want eagles, hey, we’ve got eagles!!!!! […]

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Butterfly Maiden Katsina: What Makes an Object Beautiful?

By: Margaret Bruchac

Object Analysis by Anastasia Hutnick Some Native objects can inspire awe in non-Native viewers, much in the way that one might respond to a fine work of art without knowing the cultural background of the imagery. The most intriguing objects (in my professor’s opinion) are those that “remind us of what came before” and that […]

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Living Tradition: The Penobscot Root Club

By: Margaret Bruchac

Object Analysis by Malkia Okech Two Penobscot root clubs collected by A. H. Gottschall (object # 97-84-2123 and 97-84-2124) came to the Penn Museum from the Academy of Natural Sciences in 1936. Adorned with intricate carving and paint, root clubs are a long-standing tradition of the Penobscot tribe located in Maine.[1] Although we know nothing […]

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Moundbuilders: A Physical Reflection of Cultural Significance

By: Margaret Bruchac

Museum Exhibition Review by Katherine C. Ku At first glance, the “Moundbuilders” exhibit can seem unassuming. It is not particularly large or flashy, but is rather gracefully reticent. Though it doesn’t demand one’s attention like the other parts of the Penn Museum (like, say, the Sphinx or Queen Puabi’s headdress), it contains multitudes, offering meditations […]

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