University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Athropology


Author: Alessandro Pezzati

Tutankhamun Treasures: The First Tut Show Came to the Museum

From the Archives

By: Alessandro Pezzati

As the exhibition Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs travels around the United States before opening at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute in February 2007, the story of the first U.S. tour of the world’s most famous archaeological discovery provides a fascinating comparison. In 1961 the planned construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt […]


Mystery at Acámbaro, Mexico: Did Dinosaurs Coexist with Humans?

From the Archives

By: Alessandro Pezzati

Begining in 1950 stories of a large collection of strange ancient figurines surfaced in the American and Mexican press. Waldemar Julsrud, a German shopkeeper living in Acámbaro, Guanajuato, Mexico, had purchased from local excavators more than 33,000 clay figurines made by a previously unknown culture. Most astonishing, however, was that the figurines included representations of dinosaurs eating humans, […]


William Farabee, Martyr to Science

By: Alessandro Pezzati

William Curtis Farabee (1865–1925) is one of the great forgotten American explorers and anthropologists. He obtained his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1903, conducting his first expedition to Peru in 1909. In 1912, at age 48, he arrived at Penn to head the Amazon expedition, a three-year journey up and down the Amazon River and […]


Big Game at the Museum

By: Alessandro Pezzati

Natural history specimens collected by Arthur Donaldson Smith were on display in 1898 in the University Library, now the Fine Arts Library, which housed the Museum for a decade. At the time, the Museum was still defining its collection. Smith, a physician and big-game hunter from Philadelphia, traveled to Lake Rudolph (now Lake Turkana), eastern […]


Nippur and Hamdi Bey

By: Alessandro Pezzati

The 1889–1900 excavations at Nippur in Mesopotamia led to the founding of the Penn Museum. They were immortalized on canvas by the most famous painter of Ottoman Turkey, Osman Hamdi Bey, who, as an archaeologist and Director of the Imperial Ottoman Museum, knew of the subject first-hand. He made the painting for the University of […]


The Purchase, Theft, and Recovery of the Crystal Ball

By: Alessandro Pezzati

The Chinese crystal sphere, on display in the Harrison Rotunda, has been an iconic object in the Museum since 1927, when it was purchased by Eldridge R. Johnson in memory of Museum Director George Byron Gordon. The 55 pounds of transparent quartz crystal is supposedly from the collections of the infamous Qing dynasty Empress Cixi […]


John Cotter, Archaeologist of Philadelphia

By: Alessandro Pezzati

Though based in Philadelphia, the Penn Museum has often neglected the American past to search for places more distant in time and space. Charles C. Abbott and Henry C. Mercer excavated in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in the 1890s, as did J. Alden Mason and others in later years, but it was not until John […]


The Controversial Carleton Coon

By: Alessandro Pezzati

Carleton S. Coon (1904–1981) was a Curator and Professor at the University of Pennsylvania until his retirement in 1963. He had a colorful personality; he did not believe that scholars should be stuffy or pompous. That made him a fan-favorite on the Museum’s What in the World? television show. Coon was one of the last […]


Schmidt at Tepe Hissar

By: Alessandro Pezzati

In 1931 Museum archaeologists were the first Americans to excavate in Persia (Iran), at the site of Tepe Hissar, under Erich F. Schmidt (1897–1964). A German who came to the United States in 1923, he was the archetypal archaeologist: brilliant, fearless, and tireless, though he had suffered an injury when imprisoned in Siberia during World […]


Replicas of Famous Monuments of the Past

By: Alessandro Pezzati

Reproductions of famous monuments were an important part of the Museum’s educational mission in its early years, before the increasing number of original objects displaced the plaster and bronze replicas. In this photograph from 1905 are important plaster casts, including the frieze of the Parthenon. Bronze sculptures, reproductions of originals discovered at Pompeii and Herculaneum, […]


A Telegram of Discovery from Ur

By: Alessandro Pezzati

On January 4, 1928, the Museum received a telegram from Leonard Woolley announcing his great find of the tomb of Queen Puabi, at that time translated as Queen Shubad. Not wanting to attract undue attention (because telegrams were transcribed by individuals), the message is written in Latin. The translation in pencil, below the Latin text, […]


Now a Major Motion Picture: Penn Museum’s Film Collection is Online

From the Archives

By: Alessandro Pezzati

The pervasiveness of moving images in human communication today is indisputable. Film and video fill our theater, television, and computer screens. It is rare, however, to see in this mix a collection of travel films from all over the world, dating back to the 1920s. Through a partnership with the Internet Archive, the Penn Museum is […]


Furness in Borneo and East Asia

By: Alessandro Pezzati

William Henry Furness III, scion of a notable Philadelphia family that included architect Frank Furness and Shakespearean scholar Horace Howard Furness, traveled to Borneo on behalf of the Penn Museum in 1896–1897, together with Alfred C. Harrison, Jr., and Hiram M. Hiller. The purpose was to obtain ethnographic collections for the Museum but also to […]


The Importance of Conservation at the Museum

By: Alessandro Pezzati

In the early years, restoration or reconstruction work was carried out by curators and their assistants, whether it was baking tablets, mending pottery, or fumigating textiles. Later, artists were brought in to do the work, such as Paul Casci, who came from Florence in the 1910s as a restorer. He also made casts for sale […]


The Eccentric Maxwell Sommerville

By: Alessandro Pezzati

Maxwell Sommerville (1829–1904) was one of the most colorful characters associated with the early days of the Museum. The first and only Professor of Glyptology (the study of engraved gems) at Penn, he had become wealthy through publishing and pursued collecting in two disparate areas: engraved gems and artifacts of Buddhist worship. When conducting tours […]


The Accidental Mayanist: Tatiana Proskouriakoff

By: Alessandro Pezzati

Of all the brilliant minds that have lit up the firmament of ancient Maya studies, there is none that arouses as much admiration, inspiration, and outright devotion as Tatiana Proskouriakoff (1909–1985). Born in Russia, she came to the United States with her family in 1916 and stayed after the Russian revolution broke out. She obtained […]


Moroccan Pottery in the African Collection

By: Alessandro Pezzati

Talcott Williams, one of the early officers of the Museum, was an editor of the Philadelphia Press for 30 years. He is best known for becoming, in 1912, the first director of the School of Journalism at Columbia University, built and endowed by Joseph Pulitzer. In 1897–1898 he traveled with his wife to Morocco to […]


An Angu Funeral in New Guinea

By: Alessandro Pezzati

Born in 1919, Ward Goodenough is a world-renowned linguist and anthropologist, who has studied the connection between language and culture in the Pacific islands for half a century. In 1951, when newly arrived at Penn, he traveled to New Guinea to seek out an area of study. The reconnaissance took him to the interior where […]


Eckley Brinton Coxe, Jr.

Patron Saint of the Museum

By: Alessandro Pezzati

His frail body sheltered the spirit of a courteous gentleman of high culture and lovable and gentle character. There are many who feel that in his death a man of rare quality and parts has passed away — an American gentleman of the truest and highest type. From the Bulletin of the American Institute of […]


George Byron Gordon and the Chinese Collection

By: Alessandro Pezzati

George Byron Gordon (1870–1927) was born of Scottish-English ancestry on Prince Edward Island, Canada. After obtaining his Ph.D. at Harvard, he joined the Museum staff in 1903 as Stewart Culin’s replacement. He soon impressed University administrators with his work ethic and vision; in 1910 he was made Director. Gordon oversaw the largest period of growth […]


The Present Meets the Past: Edith and Sasha Siemel

From the Archives

By: Alessandro Pezzati and Darien Sutton

People we had known only from old photographs and letters suddenly came to life with Edith Siemel’s visit to the Museum Archives. Edith’s husband, Sasha Siemel, a renowned hunter, had been the central member of the Matto Grosso Expedition of 1931, which, with the participation of the Penn Museum, set out to film a documentary in […]


The Pennsylvania Declaration

From the Archives

By: Alessandro Pezzati

Forty years have passed since Penn Museum Director Froelich Rainey presented the famous Pennsylvania Declaration, giving our Museum the distinction of becoming the first in the world to stop collecting archaeological objects obtained through the looting and plundering of ancient sites. Many other museums have since followed the Penn Museum’s lead, and bad publicity arising […]


Jim Thompson, the Thai Silk King

From the Archive

By: Alessandro Pezzati

Younger generations may not know Jim Thompson (1906-1967?), but in the 1950s and 1960s he was famous throughout the world asa Thailand’s “Silk King,”  and as an arbiter of international taste. Born of a wealthy Delaware family, Thompson graduated from Princeton and attended the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture. Though he never completed his degree, […]


Looking Back – Minturnae

By: Alessandro Pezzati

The city of Minturnae, 50 miles from Naples, was built by the Romans in 295 BC as a fortified commercial center along the Appian Way. By the 20th century AD, the remains of several temples, a theater, an elaborate fountain, and baths were still visible, as well as the Minturnae aqueduct which ran from the […]


The Excavation of the Hieroglyphic Stairway at Copan

From the Archives

By: Alessandro Pezzati

The ancient Maya city of Copan is a jewel of a ruin, a beautifully proportioned city situated in a verdant valley, comprised of soaring temples and enclosed courtyards, and adorned with intricately carved stelae. Within the site stands a unique monument of the ancient world, the Hieroglyphic Stairway of Temple 26, completed in 755 CE. […]


Looking Back

By: Alessandro Pezzati

Alfred P. Maudslay (1850–1931) was a British explorer credited with the first systematic excavations of Maya ruins. Between 1881 and 1894 he carried out eight expeditions in the Maya area, working at sites such as Tikal, Quirigua, Copan, and Yaxchilan. The results of his work were published between 1889 and 1902 in the Biologia Centrali-Americana. During the course […]


A Brief History of the Penn Museum

By: Alessandro Pezzati and Jane Hickman and Alexandra Fleischman

The founding of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology was part of the great wave of institution-building that took place in the United States after the Civil War. It was an outgrowth of the rising prominence of the new country and its belief in the ideals of progress and manifest destiny. The 1876 […]


From the Archives – The Missing Piece

By: Gareth Darbyshire and Alessandro Pezzati

Organizing collections of records to make them available for research is not straightforward. The ease or difficulty in sorting through a large number of documents is directly related to whether the creator of the records maintained a discernible filing system and how carefully he or she weeded out the records without research value. Owing in […]


Edward Sapir and Tony Tillohash

By: Alessandro Pezzati

Although Edward Sapir (1884–1939) is a famous figure in American anthropology and linguistics, his early career at the Penn Museum is less well known. Sapir only spent a short time here, between 1908 and 1910, but it had a profound impact on his work. Known as one of the principal figures in the early development […]


From the Archives

The Discovery of the Palace of Merenptah at Memphis

By: Alessandro Pezzati

Memphis, Egypt was one of the largest cities of antiquity. According to tradition, it was founded by the mythical king Menes, the first pharaoh and unifier of Upper and Lower Egypt, ca. 3000 BCE. It was the capital throughout the Old Kingdom, and was only rivaled by Thebes and Alexandria many centuries later. It was […]


The First Century of the Harrison Rotunda

From the Archives

By: Alessandro Pezzati

The Harrison Rotunda, consisting of the Hall and the Auditorium, turns 100 this year. The iconic dome of the Penn Museum is an architectural wonder of monumental yet exquisite proportions. Ancient Roman construction methods reinterpreted by the Guastavino engineering firm were employed to achieve the all-masonry Rotunda, with upper and lower chambers, each surmounted by […]


Looking Back

By: Alessandro Pezzati

“The Historic Fans of the Pope Now at the University of Pennsylvania” Thus was announced to the arrival, on December 28, 1902, by the Philadelphia Pess, of two rare artifacts at the Penn Museum: a pair of eight-foot fans, which until then had been carried before the Pope in ceremonial processions. This publicity photograph shows […]


Gold Medals & Grand Prizes

World's Fairs and The Penn Museum

By: Alessandro Pezzati

The 1876 Centennial International Exposition in Philadelphia—the first world’s fair held in the United States—was an international success and demonstrated the rising prominence of the U.S. in the world. The intellectual fervor of the time eventually led to the founding of the Penn Museum in 1887, the first global institution at Penn. The Museum made […]


Jessie Tarbox Beals: World’s Fair Photographer

From the Archives

By: Alessandro Pezzati

In January 1905, photographer Jessie Tarbox Beals stopped at the Penn Museum on a tour of East Coast cities. She hoped to sell a set of ethnographic portraits taken at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, held the year before in St. Louis. George Byron Gordon, then Assistant Curator of General Ethnology, had attended the Fair. The […]


The Art of Archaeology

From the Archives

By: Alessandro Pezzati

The 1839 invention of photography was revolutionary, and instantly useful to archaeologists, changing the nature of documenting the past. Yet reproducing color in photographs remained a technological and costly challenge, and before color photography was developed by Kodak in the 1930s, the Penn Museum hired artists to draw materials for publication and exhibition. Year of […]


William L. Potter and Joanne S. Truckel Photograph Collection

New Acquisitions

By: Alessandro Pezzati

The Archives is the administrative memory of the Penn Museum, as well as the repository for the scientific records of the institution’s many field expeditions worldwide. By virtue of its impressive photographic and art collections, the Archives also functions as the de facto Museum curatorial section for prints, drawings, and photographs. Many of these items, […]


John Franklin Daniel III: The Director Who Never Was

From the Archives

By: Alessandro Pezzati

In December 1948, John Franklin Daniel III and Rodney S. Young surveyed the site of Gordion, one of the fabled cities of antiquity. Little did either of them know that this would become the Penn Museum’s largest and longest excavation. The year before, Froelich G. Rainey had been appointed Director of the Penn Museum, and […]


Stewart Culin and the Study of Games

From the Archives

By: Alessandro Pezzati

Self-trained anthropologist Stewart Culin was eclectic in his interests. A master of exhibition design and a collector of ethnic and folk arts from many parts of the globe, Culin began his career as a young man by following his father around Philadelphia’s Chinatown. While Mr. Culin conducted busi- ness, Stewart learned Chinese and developed a […]


Banana Recipes from West Africa,1937

From the Archives

By: Alessandro Pezzati

Henry Usher Hall (1876–1944), Curator of the General Ethnology Section from 1915 to 1935, undertook two expeditions for the Penn Museum in dramatically distinct areas of the world: he was in Siberia in 1914–1915, at the beginning of his career, and in Sierra Leone, West Africa, in 1936–1937, at the end of it. Due to […]


Looking Back

By: Alessandro Pezzati

George Byron Gordon met Suzanne Rognon Bernardi (later Jeffery) in 1905 while in Alaska for the Penn Museum. Bernardi was a teacher from Indiana, who taught at the U.S. Government School in Kingegan, Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, from 1901 to ca. 1906. Kingegan is the westernmost settlement in North America, an Inuit whaling village […]


Museum Exhibitions, 1890–1990

archival photo
From the Archives

By: Alessandro Pezzati

Known Worldwide for its pioneering fieldwork, the Penn Museum surprises the visitor with its beautiful building, extensive collections, and impressive exhibitions. Since its founding in 1887, the Museum’s building has continued to grow and evolve, and so have its displays. Our new archival exhibition, currently on display through Mediterranean Gallery, ca. 1905. PM image 22425. […]