University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Athropology

Region: Asia


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 […]


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 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 […]


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, […]


The Silk Road – Chronology of Selected Travelers

By: Daniel C. Waugh

136–125, 119–115 BCE. Zhang Qian, emissary sent by Han Dynasty Emperor Wu Di to the “Western Regions,” who supplied important commercial and political intelligence. 629–645 CE. Xuanzang (Hsuan-tsang), Chinese Buddhist monk who traveled through Inner Asia to India, studied there, and once back in the Chinese capital Chang’an (Xian) was an important translator of Buddhist […]


Marco Polo’s Travels: Myth or Fact?

By: Daniel C. Waugh

In his own lifetime and even today, Marco Polo’s account of his travels has been branded a falsification. A late medieval reader might have asked how it is that there could be such wonders about which we have never heard. Why is it, the modern critic muses, that Marco so often seems to get the […]


The Silk Roads in History

By: Daniel C. Waugh

There is an endless popular fascination with the “Silk Roads,” the historic routes of economic and cultural exchange across Eurasia. The phrase in our own time has been used as a metaphor for Central Asian oil pipelines, and it it common advertising copy for the romantic exoticism of  expensive adventure travel. One would think that, in […]


The Luohan that Came from Afar

Research Notes

By: Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt

Among the myriad objects of world art, there are always some that continue to captivate the viewer and haunt the researcher. The tri-color glazed clay Luohan statue from Yi County (Yizhou), about 50 km southwest of the city limits of Beijing, is such an object in the Penn Museum. The mysteries that engulf this Luohan—a […]


Before the Silk Road

Book News & Reviews

By: Mandy Chan

The Prehistory of the Silk Road by E. E. Kuzmina. Victor H. Mair, ed. (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007). 264 pp., 73 illustrations, cloth, $65.00, ISBN 978-0-8122-4041-2 Few regions in the world have captured popular imagination as much as the “Silk Road,” the overland trade routes that connected the great cities of Xian and […]


Ancient and Modern Foods from the Tarim Basin

What in the World?

By: E. N. Anderson

Walking through the exhibition Secrets of the Silk Road, one is amazed at the well-preserved mummies and colorful textiles. But perhaps the objects that we can identify with most are the food items that may have been meant to nourish the dead in the afterlife. Is that a spring roll? A wonton? Yes, and they are […]