Biomolecular Archaeology and the Museum of the Future

Over the past 25 years, the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory has collaborated with scholars, museums, departments of antiquities, and other institutions in more than 30 countries around the world. Among others, our work has been supported by:

American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts American Philosophical Society
American Research Institute in Turkey Annenberg Foundation
Cornell and Harvard Universities
The DuPont Co.
Dupont Merck Pharmaceutical Co.
European Union
Fulbright Foundation
Henry Luce Foundation
Italian National Research Council
Jerome Levy Fund
Kaplan Fund
Metropolitan Museum of Art
National Science Foundation
National Endowment for the Humanities
National Geographic Society
The Robert Mondavi Winery
Rohm and Haas Co.
Thermo Nicolet Corp.
The Wine Institute

Recent research support and collaborations include the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau Laboratory, Exxon-Mobil Corp., Firmenich Inc., and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

The highly interdisciplinary nature of Biomolecular Archaeology is both its strength and its weakness. It can easily fall between the cracks of more traditionally defined disciplines. Your financial assistance is thus essential in assuring that our research laboratory, the only museum-based one of its kind in the country, prospers and expands.

The museum of the future and the Penn Museum, now in the process of installing new laboratories, have much to gain from the rapidly developing field of Biomolecular Archaeology. By applying the best that modern science has to offer, we will be able to conserve our archaeological artifacts for future generations, at the same time that we answer the crucial questions of our bio-cultural origins.

As we move forward in the 21st century, we welcome your support of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health.

Molecular Archaeology has come of age in the last 25 years.  The Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory  at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, with its world-class collections, has been at the forefront of these developments.  Ancient foods, perfumes, dyes, and other organics, which could only be imagined from ancient writings, can now be detected by highly sensitive instruments in the laboratory.  Molecular Archaeology promises to open up whole new chapters relating to our human ancestry and genetic development, cuisine, medical practice and other crafts over the past 2 million years.

Under the leadership of Patrick E. McGovern, the Penn laboratory has developed scientific techniques for identifying ancient dyes (Royal Purple and indigo), foods, and beverages.  Its innovative research led to the re-creation of the first-ever ancient feast based on the chemical evidence—the “King Midas” funerary banquet—as well as the discovery of the earliest wine and barley beer from the Near East.  The laboratory reported finding the earliest alcoholic beverage in the world—a mixed beverage incorporating wild grape, rice, hawthorn, and honey from China, dating back to 7000 B.C.–as well as some of the earliest chocolate and medicinal wines.

The museum of the future and the Penn Museum in particular, now in the process of installing new laboratories, has much to gain from this rapidly developing field, the “wave of the future” in archaeology.  Yet, funding for Biomolecular Archaeology falls between the cracks of the more traditionally defined disciplines.  Your support is thus crucial in assuring that this research facility, the only museum-based one of its kind in the country, prospers and expands.  As we move forward in the 21st century, our major needs for a Center of Biomolecular Archaeology, specially dedicated to the study of ancient wine and cuisine, are these:

Endow new Center for Biomolecular Archaeology $2 million
Endow Chief Scientist/Director’s position $1.5 million
New scientific instruments:

  • Small Gas Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometer (Hewlett-Packard 6890 GC with Mass Selective Detector 5973 and Data Station)
  • Liquid Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometer (H-P 1100 with UV detector)
  • Diffuse-Reflectance Infrared (Thermo-Nicolet Nexus 4700 with Centaur microscope)
Service contracts $50,000
Collaborative research   $50,000
Graduate Student fellowship  $50,000
Annual operating base for equipment maintenance, conference travel, collecting samples, etc. $25,000