University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Athropology

Region: South America

From Plague to Profit

Photo of weaver
Chambira Weaving in Amazonian Peru

By: Daniel Bauer

Global integration, through tourism and conservation efforts, has shaped resource use in rural Amazonia. The chambira (chahm-BEE-ra) palm (Astrocaryum chambira), once a plant that was considered by locals to be a nuisance, has gained value and economic importance in numerous communities throughout the Peruvian Amazon. Use of the chambira represents an alternative livelihood strategy for […]

John Alden Mason

photo of Mason
Life of a Renaissance Anthropologist

By: David A. Schwartz

This is the story of Dr. John Alden Mason (1885–1967), one of the last of the great generalist anthropologists of the 20th century. We know him at the Penn Museum for his work in anthropological linguistics in Mexico, and as an archaeologist of the Americas who excavated at Piedras Negras in Guatemala and Sitio Conte […]

Mummies Beyond the Grave

An Introduction to Mummy Studies around the World

By: Janet Monge

Over 20 years ago, I got hooked on mummies. It began when we first x-rayed the many South and North American mummies that are part of the Physical Anthropology Section collections at the Penn Museum. This led to a drive to glean even more information from the mummies. For several years, on Sunday mornings at […]

Frozen Mummies of the Andes

Photo of author with mummies
Human Sacrifices in the Sacred Landscape of the Inca

By: Johan Reinhard

The Incas are renowned for massive carved stone structures, the construction of thousands of miles of roads, and the establishment of one of the greatest empires in the ancient Americas. However, one of their achievements remains especially impressive. In just over sixty years (ca. 1470–1532 CE), they constructed stone structures on nearly 100 mountains ranging […]

The Excavations at Sitio Conte

Beneath the Surface

By: Lucy Fowler Williams

The Penn Museum’s excavations at Sitio Conte began in 1940 with an invitation from private landowner, Miguel Conte. Since discovering a Pre-Columbian cemetery on his property in 1927, Conte had encouraged professional archaeologists to help record the history of the ancient Coclé people who once lived there. Associate Curator J. Alden Mason took the lead […]

A Treasure Among the Sherds

Beneath the Surface

By: Lynn Grant

The treatments done by Penn Museum conservators usually relate to a current exhibition or loan. For our interns, however, we often seek out specially challenging or interesting projects that might otherwise not be treated. In the spring of 2009, when Beneath the Surface: Life, Death, and Gold in Ancient Panama was just a glimmer in […]

Peopling the Past

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Making of Beneath the Surface: Life Death and Gold in Ancient Panama

We are often asked about the planning that goes into the design and construction of an exhibition—questions that are answered and decisions that are made well before an exhibition opens to the public. On February 7, 2015, Beneath the Surface: Life, Death, and Gold in Ancient Panama will open at the Penn Museum. This 2,000-square-foot […]

In the Galleries – Black Bodies in Propaganda: The Art of the War Poster

Propaganda has long been used to mobilize people in times of war. Black Bodies in Propaganda: The Art of the War Poster presents 33 posters, most targeting African and African-American civilians. These carefully designed works of art were aimed at mobilizing people of color in war efforts, even as they faced oppression and injustice in […]

Expedition to the Amazon

The First Documentary Film with Sound

By: Kate R. Pourshariati

For almost 80 years, the 49-minute film Matto Grosso: The Great Brazilian Wilderness lay in the Penn Museum Archives, waiting for the day when it would be rediscovered and identified as the first “sync sound” documentary film ever created. This film—part adventure movie and part documentary—was restored and digitized by archivists in 2010. The original […]

Postscript – November 2013

Matto Grosso’s path to obscurity may have been set by several factors: it was not feature length, it was not a financial success, and, most importantly, it was not easy to categorize, as it was a mix of science and adventure. After early screenings it became a forgotten Museum artifact. Now, having completed a restoration […]