University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Athropology

Region: Egypt

Childbirth Magic

photo of object
Deciphering Bed Figurines from Ancient Egypt

By: Charlotte Rose

Ancient Egyptians welcomed childbirth with ritual, using medico-magical spells, amulets, and various other objects to help ensure the survival of mother and child. Objects used in childbirth rituals took many forms. For example, a Middle Kingdom (2055–1650 BCE) magical birth brick discovered by the Penn Museum in South Abydos—used to support the mother during labor—depicts […]

Tangled Afterlives

How an Egyptian Papyrus Became the Mormon Book of Abraham

By: Paul Mitchell

After 2,000 years of repose, 11 mummified human corpses and a few scrolls of papyrus entombed at Thebes became entangled in the interwoven threads of an Egyptian autocrat’s ambitions, the American public’s fascination with displays of the odd and exotic, and the formulation of the United States’ most prominent homegrown religion. Life after death has […]

Secrets of Ancient Magic

The Power of Spells, Curses, & Omens

By: Kate Murphy & Cynthia Susalla

In ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome, practitioners of magic exploited symbolic words, images, and rituals to achieve desired outcomes through supernatural means. Using magical acts, they attempted to control supernatural powers— gods, demons, spirits, or ghosts—to accomplish something beyond the scope of human capabilities. The exhibition Magic in the Ancient World, now at the […]

Stewarding Collections in Times of Change

In the Galleries

The current academic year has seen the launch of an exciting period of renovations and updates for the Penn Museum and its neighbor, the University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS). UPHS began the demolition of Penn Tower, located directly to the south of the Museum, in preparation for construction of a new Patient Pavilion designed […]

A Season in Hell (with Apologies to Arthur Rimbaud)

The Annihilation of the Damned in Ancient Egypt

By: Joshua Aaron Roberson

“I will tear the veils from every mystery: mysteries of religion or of nature, death, birth, the future, the past, cosmogony, and nothingness.” – Arthur Rimbaud, Une Saison en Enfer, I, III (1873). Few mysteries fascinate humankind so deeply as that veil to which Rimbaud alludes: the gossamer barrier that separates “here” from “hereafter.” All […]

Webs of Power

Identifying Royal and Private Power in Old Kingdom Egypt

By: Leslie Anne Warden

The Old Kingdom (ca. 2600–2200 BCE) was the first major florescence of the Egyptian state. This period is often de ned in both scholarship and the popular imagination as a time when powerful, pyramid-building pharaohs controlled Egypt and dictated social, religious, and economic a airs. The role of the general population in forming and supporting […]

From Saqqara to St. Louis to Philadelphia

The Chapel of Kaipure

By: David P. Silverman

Having worked at the 1964 New York World’s Fair when I was a teenager, I thought that I knew a great deal about how things operated in such venues. Much later, I learned through my research at the Penn Museum, however, that, in addition to visiting exhibitions, tasting exotic foods, and buying souvenirs, one could […]


Celebrating a Centennial in Philadelphia

By: Jennifer Houser Wegner

We have had raised at Memphis a colossal sphinx of Rameses II about 11 feet long, 11 ton weight. The head has been much weathered, the body and inscribed base are perfect, of red granite… Would such a piece as this be acceptable for your Museum? With these lines, the renowned archaeologist, William Matthew Flinders […]

Abydos and the Penn Museum

By: Josef Wegner

Abydos in southern Egypt is one of the great sites of ancient Egyptian civilization. At the dawn of Egyptian history, ca. 3000–2800 BCE, Abydos was the burial place of Egypt’s first pharaohs. Subsequently the site became the primary cult center for veneration of Osiris, god of the netherworld. The archaeology of Abydos spans over five […]

Revealing a Hidden Tomb

A Look at Excavations inside the Tomb of Senwosret III

By: Josef Wegner

Beneath the sands of South Abydos is an astonishing monument: a gigantic tomb, one of the largest in Egypt, and a striking testimonial to the ancient Egyptians’ belief in the divine afterlife of their pharaohs. This is the tomb of pharaoh Senwosret III who reigned ca. 1878–1841 BCE, 5th king of the powerful 12th Dynasty. […]