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Middle East Galleries

Included with General Admission
Main Floor

Ram in the Thicket

Gallery at-a-glance

  • See the magnificent gold and jeweled objects unearthed during some of Penn’s earliest excavations, including the 4,500-year-old crowning jewelry of a Mesopotamian queen.
  • Trace the story of how ancient Mesopotamian societies gave rise to the world’s first cities—cities which often remind us of our own.
  • Learn about the origins of writing on clay tablets and cylinder seals—even touch replicas of these materials used long before the invention of paper.


The Middle East Galleries tell a story common to all humanity. Ten thousand years ago, in the fertile crescent of the Middle East, the most transformative point in our human history was set in motion: the domestication of plants and animals prompted the shift from hunting and gathering to farming, establishing the first settled societies. Villages developed, then towns, then cities, accompanied by social and technological developments like writing and mathematics. Following a central theme of the “Journey to the City,” the Middle East Galleries vividly illustrate how the first settlements led to the first cities, and how our modern urbanized world can be traced to developments in ancient Mesopotamian societies.

The story of the ancient Middle East is one that the Penn Museum can tell uniquely well: the Museum was founded in 1887 to house artifacts from its expedition to Nippur, the first American-led archaeological project in the region. Since then, the Museum has excavated an unparalleled constellation of sites in the Middle East, where active research continues today. The Middle East Galleries highlight the Museum’s pioneering research, with updates as we make new discoveries each year.

95 percent of the material on display in the Middle East Galleries was excavated by Penn archaeologists, including world-renowned objects like the “Ram in the Thicket.” The Galleries explore how archaeologists found and interpret such fascinating artifacts.


Bull Headed Lyre

The Kings Lyre

This gold bull’s head decorated the front of an ancient Mesopotamian lyre. It was found in the King’s Grave at Ur (modern-day Iraq), resting on the bodies of the king’s attendants. Those who buried it would have believed that the music of the lyre accompanied the deceased on their journey through the underworld. A scene on the decorated front of the lyre shows the instrument being played in a funerary feast.

Ancient Wine Jar

This pottery wine jar from more than 7,000 years ago is one of the oldest known wine vessels in the world. It was excavated by Penn archaeologists from a house at Hajji Firuz Tepe (Iran), where it was set into the kitchen floor along with five similar jars. A reddish residue inside the jar contains traces of ancient grape wine.

Bull Headed Lyre

Winged Genie Relief

This very large carving of an apkallu (winged genie)stands at the center of the third room in the Middle East Galleries. Apkallus were legendary sages who lived before the flood and taught people the arts of civilization. This carving and many others like it lined the walls of the Assyrian ruler Ashurnasirpal’s palace at Nimrud (in modern-day Iraq) to protect the king, purify the palace, and ensure the fertility of the land.

the middle eastern gallery

Take a Virtual Gallery Tour

Explore our galleries from anywhere around the globe. Led by Penn Museum Graduate Guides with PhDs or master’s degrees in archaeology and anthropology, these virtual tours will open up your world with extraordinary artifacts on view and in storage.

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