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Middle East Galleries Tour

The Penn Museum began with the first American expedition to the Middle East. On this tour, explore six topics from the Museum’s Middle East Galleries – from the earliest temples in Mesopotamia to daily life in the Islamic Empire. Learn more about Queen Puabi’s royal tomb at Ur, how school children learned to write cuneiform, and how an Iron Age city became frozen in time.

Middle East Galleries Introduction

Archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania began excavating in the Middle East in the late 19th century. The Penn Museum now holds around 90,000 artifacts and more than 35,000 tablets, mostly collected during these excavations.

Early Dynastic Temples and Votives

Early city-states centered around a temple dedicated to a patron deity. Temples had economic and religious functions, employing thousands of people from priests to shepherds and weavers.

Puabi and the Royal Cemetery at Ur

Archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley discovered 16 royal tombs at the site of Ur in the southern Iraq. The most famous of these tombs held the remains of Queen Puabi, who seems to have ruled this important city in her own right.

Stele of Ur-Namma

This stone monument was erected by one of Ur’s most powerful rulers, Ur-Namma, who is depicted as a pious king and a builder of large public works.

Cuneiform Writing

The Penn Museum has one of the largest collections of cuneiform tablets in the world. Thousands of school tablets help scholars recreate how Mesopotamian scribes learned to write.


Around 2,800 years ago, the citadel of Hasanlu in northwest Iran was invaded and burned, leaving behind a well-preserved Iron Age city.

Rayy and the Islamic City

Buried beneath the modern city of Tehran lies the important archaeological site of Rayy, which functioned as the primary military and administrative center of the Islamic Empire’s eastern provinces.

Dig Deeper

Book a live Q&A session with a Graduate Guide and allow your family, group, or class to participate in a deeper discussion with one of our experts!

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