The artistic, commercial and technical achievements of the Romans are evident in The Roman World gallery, which is filled with marble sculptures, including a highly unusual head from a cult statue of the goddess Diana as well as other deities, priests and men and women of the Roman Republic and Empire. Dominating the Roman World gallery is an internationally famous military relief, once part of a commemorative arch for the emperor Trajan, erected in 102 CE at ancient Puteoli near Naples. This monumental sculpture is also a prime example of Roman politics combined with Roman practicality—the opposite side of the marble block contains an earlier inscription honoring the emperor Domitian. Visitors can see how the inscription was painstakingly, but incompletely, chiseled off after Domitian's assassination and official disgrace by the Roman Senate in 96 CE. Gallery Highlights Mortuary Statue, Palmyra, Syria. Museum Object Number: B8904 Flask, Beth Shean, Israel. Museum Object Number: MS4946 Sculpture, Latium, Italy. Museum Object Number: MS3483 Learn More The Penn Museum's Mediterranean galleries highlight more than one thousand artifacts including marble and bronze sculptures, jewelry, metalwork, mosaics, glass vessels, gold and silver coins, and pottery from the Museum’s outstanding Mediterranean collection of more than 30,000 objects, which date from 3000 BCE to the 5th century CE. The Romans traced their mythical beginnings to the Trojan War and to Romulus, who supposedly founded the city of Rome in 753 BCE. It was the genius of the Romans to transform Greek ideals and the ways of their Etruscan forerunners into their own civilized and highly organized way of life. During the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE they absorbed many parts of Italy, including the Etruscan homeland. In the 3rd and 2nd century BCE they captured the Carthaginian controlled areas of North Africa, Sardinia, western Sicily and Spain, the Greek colonies of southern Italy and Sicily, the Greek homeland and the Hellenistic kingdoms. Under the reign of Trajan (98-117 CE), the Roman Empire reached its greatest extent. Roman norms embraced the empire, incorporating peoples of various races, language groups, and cultural backgrounds. The Penn Museum is fortunate to have one of the largest collections of Roman glass in the United States. Beautiful miniature engraved gems, jewelry and gold and silver coins reveal much of the artistic skills of the Romans through their exquisite detail and craftsmanship. Objects from the Museum's celebrated Roman glass collection--an exhibition of which recently traveled nationally—offer colorful and sparkling reminders of the sophistication of Roman taste and style. Amphoras from the 1950’s explorations of the renowned Jacques Cousteau off the coast of Marseilles tell part of the story of Roman maritime trade. Portraits of Roman women, perfume vials, jewelry and cosmetic implements fill out the theme of women in Roman society, while portraits of children and their toys offer insight into the lives of children in the Roman world. Objects from the houses of Roman men and women, their dining vessels and household decoration, such as painted wall plasters and mosaics, as well as utilitarian objects—the lead pipes that brought them drinking water—are seen in the section of The Roman World gallery on domestic life. The centerpiece of this part of the gallery is a 4 ft. x 2 ft. model of a Roman house of the type excavated at Pompeii and Herculaneum. Visitors can hear the "voice" of Vitruvius, a famous Roman architect, describing variations in housing design. Numerous bronzes, including several 19th century cast replicas of objects excavated at Pompeii and Herculaneum and given to the Museum by department store founder and Museum board member John Wanamaker in 1904, enhance the display of Roman domestic life. Roman World Gallery website The Real Story of the Olympic Games—A comprehensive resource about the ancient Olympic Games and reveals how similar our games are today Glassmaking in Roman Times—An exploration of several aspects of the history of glassworking throughout the six centuries of Roman domination of the Mediterranean world
The Mexico and Central American Gallery at the Penn Museum holds objects from the area encompassing most of southern Mexico, all of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and parts of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, known as Mesoamerica. Exceptional Mayan stone monuments from Piedras Negras in Guatemala and Caracol in Belize stand central in this gallery with hieroglyph inscriptions glorifying Mayan rulers. Most notable of the stone monuments is Stela 14 (758 CE) from Piedras Negras, whose inscription depicts the accession of Ruler 5 wearing an elaborate headdress featuring a Celestial Monster-head mask. Other highlights in this gallery include exquisite figurines crafted of jade or ceramic made by the peoples inhabiting the Valley of Mexico in the Classic Period. Gallery Highlights Figurine, Late Classic Maya, Mexico. Museum Object Number: 54-6-6 Effigy Urn, Zapotec, Mexico. Museum Object Number: 29-41-726 Xipe Totec Figurine, Aztec, Mexico. Museum Object Number: 97-82-285 Learn More In parts of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, farming villages grew into towns and cities, tribal chiefs were made kings and emperors, trade networks became more complex, stone monuments and pyramids were erected, a calendar and writing system developed, and devotion to nature spirits developed into state ceremonies in honor of the gods and ancestors. Anthropologists recognize that civilizations such as those in Mesoamerica cannot develop without adequate agricultural surpluses. Excavations have documented growth of farming villages in the millennia before the first Olmec monuments were carved. Maize, beans, and squash became the domesticated staples of life, and these were supplemented by an enormous variety of fruits, roots, chilies, and other foods. The transformations toward civilization in Mesoamerica began in the Early Formative Period in several parts of the area. Perhaps the most famous of these early developments was the Olmec of Veracruz and Tabasco, with its earthen pyramids, great stone monuments, jade carvings, and exquisite figurines. When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, Mesoamerica was divided into the Maya area to the east and the Aztec-dominated area to the west. The Aztec had not conquered the Maya, but they depended heavily upon Maya trade to supply them with the luxury goods -- chocolate, cotton, tropical feathers, and jade -- which helped to bind together their powerful state. This economic interdependence between east and west can be traced back to the Formative Period and was especially evident by the Classic Period as well, when Maya centers such as Tikal flourished in the east and the much larger site of Teotihuacan near Mexico City prospered in the west. Maya Hieroglyphic Writing The earliest hieroglyphs in Mesoamerica date to about 600 BCE. The earliest Maya inscriptions date to 36 BCE. Thousands of Classic Period (250 - 900 CE) Maya texts have survived on stone, bone, shell, pottery, stucco and wood, while 4 Maya bark-paper books devoted to astrology, divination and ritual instruction have survived from the Postclassic period (900-1519 CE). The Maya were still writing in hieroglyphs at the time of the Spanish conquest in 1519; afterward they continued to write Mayan with the Spanish alphabet. Examples of Maya hieroglyphic writing can be seen in this gallery on large stone stelae and altars from Caracol and Piedras Negras, on painted pottery from Guatemala and on shells from a burial at Piedras Negras. It is made up of recognizable objects such as hands, birds and animals. These signs can be ideographs, representing the meanings of whole words, or they can be syllables, representing the separate sounds that make up a word. The illustration shows hieroglyphs as the whole words yax kin kan pakal, and as the separate sounds pa ka la and mu kaah that make up the king’s name, Pakal, and the word mukal, meaning “he was buried.” The 1566 Spanish manuscript of Diego de Landa is the only known document in which a message in Mayan hieroglyphs is repeated in alphabetic signs, making it the “Rosetta Stone” for deciphering Mayan hieroglyphs. In 1886 Ernst Foerstemann deciphered Maya numbers and dates from a Postclassic bark paper book kept in Dresden, Germany. In 1952 the Russian Yuri Knorosov showed that hieroglyphs could be read as phonetic syllables and in 1960 Tatiana Proskouriakoff was able to identify major events in the life histories of the ancient Maya rulers. By now, over ⅔ of the contents of Mayan inscriptions can be understood, thanks to the work of various scholars. Proskouriakoff’s breakthrough study proved beyond doubt that Maya monumental inscriptions did indeed record historical events. Prior to her work, Maya inscriptions were thought to consist essentially of only calendrical notations and rituals connected with calendrical phenomena. Careful analysis by Proskouriakoff, which began during her work with the Penn team excavating at Piedras Negras in 1936-37, showed that each of several groups of monuments contained a sequence of dates that were spaced at such intervals that they could correspond to the births, accessions, and deaths of a sequence of rulers. From her analysis Proskouriakoff identified the glyphs for events in each ruler’s lifetime and proposed a 7 ruler dynasty for Piedras Negras that is still largely accepted by epigraphers today. Although most subsequent epigraphic research is based on phonetic decipherment unrecognized by Proskouriakoff, her pioneering work was the foundation for the reconstruction of dynastic histories at Tikal, Palenque, Copan, Caracol, and other Maya sites. The stela that she used to decode these royal life histories was Stela 14 from Piedras Negras, which now stands in this gallery. Linda Schele was instrumental in analyzing the semantic and structural nature of the of the inscriptions, to reveal the history contained in them.
Objects in the Japan Gallery at the Penn Museum richly and colorfully illustrates the development and diversification of Buddhism in Japan after the 6th century. This diversity is represented by a wide variety of pieces, including a spectacular black, red, and gold lacquered sculpture of Fudo, the fiercest of the deities who combat evil. A beautiful gilt statue of Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future, illustrates the artistic heights reached during the 6th century CE in China, an important period in the development of Buddhism. Gallery Highlights Statue of Guanyin, China. Museum Object Number: 54-6-6 Statue of Fudo, Koyasan Temple, Japan. Museum Object Number: 29-96-346 Statue of Buddhist Monk, JapanMuseum Object Number: 29-96-338 Learn More The Japan Gallery traces the development of Buddhism from China into Japan, touching on major schools of Buddhist thought, including Tendai, Pure Land, and Zen. These branches were based in Mahayana Buddhism which grew out of a shift in emphasis from the individual to universal salvation and elaborated on the idea of a bodhisattva, an enlightened being who postpones final Buddhahood in order to save all sentient beings. An altar based on those in the Shingon Buddhist tradition, provides a grand centerpiece for the gallery. The central golden Buddha seated on his gilded lotus is flanked on his right by Monju, bodhisattva of wisdom, seated on his lion, and on the left by Fugen, bodhisattva of goodness, riding his elephant. The Buddha came to the Museum through the generosity of the locally-owned department store, Strawbridge and Clothier, when they learned of our need for a large-scale Buddha image to complete the altar triad. The sculpture is a modern image produced by Thai craftsmen in a Japanese style. These figures are surrounded by hanging ornaments, lanterns, and a table replete with offerings. A smaller section of the gallery focuses on modern Japanese Buddhism including a family shrine for household use and statues that speak to the Pure Land tradition, the most popular school of Buddhism in Japan today. The small sculpture in the China section of this gallery also serves as an introduction to the Buddhist works of art on display in the China Gallery.
The Greece Gallery explores the ancient history and culture of Greece from the sub-Mycenaean period into the Hellenistic Age (3000 – 31 BCE) and is a part of the Classical World suite of galleries at the Penn Museum. Objects displayed in the Greece Gallery come from the Greek homeland, the early colony foundations of the Greeks, Etruscan tombs and outposts of the empire of Alexander the Great. The Greeks were pre-eminent merchants and their pottery represents the best archaeological evidence of the extensiveness of their trade and influence in the Mediterranean world. Highlights of the gallery include Attic Black Figure and Red Figure pottery vessels, marble and bronze sculptures, gold and silver coins, and architectural fragments. Gallery Highlights Decadrachm Coin, Siciliy. Museum Object Number: 29-126-41 Neck Amphora, Athens, Greece. Museum Object Number: L-64-180 Rhyton, Apulia, Italy. Museum Object Number: L-64-227 Learn More During the height of Greek civilization their city-states dominated the economy of the entire Mediterranean region. The Greeks were also energetic colonizers. From as early as the 8th century BCE Greek emigrants founded new settlements in Italy, North Africa, southern France, Asia Minor, and the Black Sea region. Alexander the Great (d. 323 BCE) conquered the east as far as India. His successors brought about an unparalleled expansion of Greek civilization in which Greek language and culture became the koine, the most common and acceptable way of life.
The Etruscan Italy Gallery tells the story of the Etruscan peoples, the first great rulers of central Italy (800 - 100 BCE), and their empire-building Roman successors (500 BCE - 500 CE). Highlights from The Etruscan World include exceptionally fine bucchero pottery, fired dark gray and black in shapes that recall luxury metalwork. There are grand carved sarcophagi and ash urns with detailed sculptured images of Etruscan men and women. Terracotta architectural ornaments from temples, some adorned with relief heads, evoke the intriguing world of Etruscan religion and mythology. Granulated and filigreed gold jewelry, as elegant today as in antiquity, give evidence of high technical skills. Gallery Highlights Crested Helmet, Narce, Italy. Museum Object Number: MS850 Terracotta Antefix, Caere, Italy. Museum Object Number: MS1801 Bronze Shield, Narce, Italy. Museum Object Number: MS2728 Learn More The Etruscans dominated the central part of the Italic peninsula during the late 8th through the 6th centuries BCE. Their economy depended largely on trade, and their commercial contacts favored the Greek colonies in Southern Italy and Sicily. They imported Greek pottery in great quantity, and, in fact, much of the Greek pottery preserved to us from antiquity was found in Etruscan tombs. Etruscans were influential in transforming Rome into an urban center in the 6th century BCE and Roman tradition identifies a family of Etruscans, the Tarquins, as the last dynastic rulers of Rome. Although their civilization was eventually eclipsed by Roman rule, their legacy lived on in Roman customs and culture. The Etruscan people and their long-lived civilization are known from contemporary Greek commentary-– much of which painted a decadent portrait of these people--and through their own sophisticated and remarkable art and artifacts, mostly unearthed from Etruscan tombs. The Etruscan civilization has received a significant renaissance of interest in recent years, as archaeologists and historians work to understand the Etruscans’ unique language and customs and to elucidate the Etruscan contributions to Roman culture – especially Roman numerals and the Latin alphabet, religious rituals, concepts of city planning and tiled roofs. Penn Museum’s Etruscan collection is among the finest in the United States and encompasses the full range of Etruscan culture from the 8th century BCE to the final days of Etruscan civilization in the 1st century BCE. Engraved gems, bronze statuettes, arms and armor, and terracotta vessels all point to a once-prosperous and influential culture. A brief audio segment invites the visitor to hear the unusual sounds of the Etruscan language. Six rare Etruscan inscriptions are on display in this gallery, with an explanation of the importance of the Etruscan language for understanding who these people were and where they came from. At the height of their civilization in the late 8th through 6th centuries BCE, the Etruscans gained wealth from their rich mines and lively trade with their neighbors, including the Greeks. The Etruscans greatly admired and collected Greek art and, in fact, most of the exceptional Greek pottery in The Greek World gallery comes from Etruscan tombs. This "intertwined" relationship between the Greeks and the Etruscans is a key theme of the new exhibition. The Penn Museum's Mediterranean galleries highlight more than one thousand artifacts including marble and bronze sculptures, jewelry, metalwork, mosaics, glass vessels, gold and silver coins, and pottery from the Museum’s outstanding Mediterranean collection of more than 30,000 objects, which date from 3000 BCE to the 5th century CE. Related Websites Etruscan World Gallery The Real Story of the Olympic Games A comprehensive resource about the ancient Olympic Games and reveals how similar our games are today Glassmaking in Roman Times An exploration of several aspects of the history of glass-working throughout the six centuries of Roman domination of the Mediterranean world
Visitors to the Egyptian Lower Gallery can view one of the finest collections of Egyptian architecture on display in the United States. Dominating this impressive gallery is the collection’s iconic centerpiece—a thirteen-ton, red granite Sphinx of Ramesses II, 19th Dynasty, circa 1293-1185 BCE. Surrounding it are the gateway, columns, doorways and windows from the best preserved royal palace ever excavated in Egypt. The palace was built for the New Kingdom pharaoh Merenptah (r. 1213-1204 BCE) at the city of Memphis in Lower Egypt. The Penn Museum is the only museum in the world to exhibit such a significant portion of an Egyptian royal palace. Gallery Highlights Gateway to the Palace of Merenptah, Memphis, Egypt. Museum Object Number: E13575A Stela of King Qa'a, Abydos, Egypt. Museum Object Number: E6878 Door Jamb, Memphis, Egypt. Museum Object Number: E17527 Learn More Visitors to the Lower Egyptian gallery are greeted with an enormous timeline which outlines the various dynasties which comprise the more than 3000 years of ancient Egyptian history. Opposite the timeline is a case dedicated to a discussion of early Egypt -- the predynastic and early dynastic periods -- when the foundations of Egyptian history, culture, language and religion were established. Along the wall in this area of the gallery is the partially restored black basalt stela of one of Egypt's earliest rulers, King Qa'a of the 1st Dynasty (who ruled approximately 2915-2890 BCE). Nearly 5000 years old, this stela supplies a rare example of the monuments erected by the earliest Egyptian kings in front of the low mud-brick structures that marked the royal burials at Abydos. The decoration consists of the serekh, a schematic representation of the niched façade of the palace, in which the king's name is inscribed. Atop the palace sits the falcon god Horus, of whom the king was believed to be a living manifestation. Conservators are hard at work in the enclosure at the east end of the gallery, conserving individual painted limestone blocks from the tomb chapel of Kaipure, a high-ranking official from Egypt’s Old Kingdom period (ca. 2415–2289 BCE). Each block will be cleaned and stabilized and then remounted with a modern support system in our new Egyptian Galleries currently being planned. You will be able to walk into the tomb chapel as it looked over 4,000 years ago. The conservation of the Kaipure Chapel has been made possible through the generosity of John R. (“Rick”) Rockwell (W64, WG66, PAR), and through a grant from Antiquities Endowment Fund of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE). The Palace of Merenptah The other half of the gallery is dominated by architectural elements from the palace of Merenptah. Merenptah was the 13th son and eventual successor of the famous Ramses II. The palace, excavated by Clarence S. Fisher, one of the Egyptian Section's early curators, between 1915 and 1923, originally stood beside the temple of the Memphite creator god, Ptah. A water color and model of the throne room displayed nearby depict an artist’s concept of the original appearance of the throne room. The exhibited elements of the palace provide insight into the religious, political and social beliefs of the Egyptian people. For the Egyptians, the palace served as a metaphor for the universe: the floor, decorated with floral and faunal motifs, represented the earth, while the towering columns with their floral capitals seem to grow toward the heavens. The hieroglyphic symbols on the lower portion of the columns depict the inhabitants of the earth giving praise to Merenptah, while the upper portions show the king presenting offerings to the gods. On the massive gateway at the eastern end of the gallery, the king is seen in a ritual pose expressing domination over Egypt's enemies, an image that occurs on royal monuments from the time of Egypt's first king (ca. 3100 BCE) throughout pharaonic history. The stone doorways are topped by images of the winged sun disk, and remains of the original gilding-the earliest example ever found in situ on an Egyptian building-are still visible on one of the doorways. The palace, which housed the king during religious festivals, originally stood in the vicinity of the Memphite sanctuary of the god Ptah, the patron of this city. Merenptah’s palace was originally decorated floor to ceiling with painted, inlaid and gilded images and symbols proclaiming the power of the king and his associations with the divine. The palace of Merenptah contained not only public ceremonial rooms such as the throne room and vast columned hall, but also private areas for the king and royal family, including bedrooms and bathrooms. Not long after the death of Merenptah, the virtually intact palace complex suffered a great fire, and columns, doorways, and other well-preserved stone architectural elements were buried in a bed of ash and mud which remained undisturbed until the time of excavation. The Sphinx of Ramesses II Displayed along with the palace’s architectural elements is our sphinx, which also comes from the site of Memphis, though it was excavated by the Egyptian Exploration Fund, under the direction of the famous archaeologist, Sir William M. Flinders Petrie. The sphinx, a lion with a human head, represents the Egyptian king as protector of his people and conqueror of the enemies of Egypt. Penn Museum’s sphinx, the largest in the western hemisphere, weighs approximately thirteen tons. It is carved of red granite, which originated at a quarry in Aswan at Egypt’s southern border. In an incredible feat of ancient engineering and transport, this single massive block of stone was shipped on the Nile River from Aswan to the Ptah Temple at Memphis, 600 miles north. During much of its post-pharaonic history, this statue was buried up to its shoulders; only the exposed head was attacked by windblown sand, which eroded the facial features and the royal false beard. The inscriptions on the chest and around the base give the five names of Ramesses II. His son and successor, Merenptah, added his own cartouches to the shoulders of the sphinx after his father’s death. Learn more about the Sphinx in The Sphinx That Traveled to Philadelphia The Story of the Colossal Sphinx in the Penn Museum.
The Penn Museum’s finest examples of Egyptian sculpture are exhibited in the Egypt (Mummies) Gallery including carved relief, stone coffins, and exquisite three-dimensional sculpture. These magnificent works of art are a testament to the superb craftsmanship of artists and sculptors throughout Ancient Egypt’s long history. In the center of the gallery is an imposing seated statue of Ramesses II from the temple of Harsaphes. Originally carved in the late Middle Kingdom, the statue was usurped from an earlier ruler and refitted with a head in Ramesses' likeness. A noteworthy feature of this statue is the disproportionately small head (due to the re-carving of the original), the reconfigured cartouches identifying Ramesses, and the noticeably worn portion of the base near the pharaoh's feet. Non-priests, who were not permitted in the temple, used this area to leave offerings for the gods. Gallery Highlights Mummy Mask, Egypt. Museum Object Number: 53-20-1A Jar, Egypt. Museum Object Number: E14368A Statue, Abydos, Egypt. Museum Object Number: 69-29-1 Learn More Aross the gallery is an assemblage of small-scale sculpture, including inlaid bronzes of the Egyptian's primary god of the afterlife, Osiris, and the warrior goddess Neith, patron deity of the site of Sais. Bronzes of deities such as these were produced in large numbers during the Late Period and Greco-Roman Period (664 BC-642 CE), when they were used as votive offerings in the gods' temples. Further along is a series of statues portraying non-royal officials. Found in tombs, statues of this type provided a resting place for the ka, or life force, of the deceased person in the tomb. The elegant seated statue represents an official of the Old Kingdom (2625-2130 BCE). The well-preserved paint gives the statue a particularly life-like appearance. The next piece, a seated statue of an unnamed man enveloped by a long cloak, is characteristic of the sculptural style of the Middle Kingdom (1980-1630 BCE). Ramses II On stylistic grounds, it is believed this statue was carved in the Middle Kingdom and usurped by Ramses II (1290-1224 BCE), whose names are in the deep-cut inscriptions on the throne and bases. An inset false beard has been lost. For artistic reasons, the bull's tail on the back of his kilt is shown as though hanging between his legs. A sculptor's error is visible in the inscription on the left side of the throne, where the duck and sun disc in the title "Son of the Sun," were reversed and had to be recarved. Ramses II, Egypt, Herakleopolis (Temple of Herishef), ca. 1250 BCE Ramses II is also immortalized in the massive limestone head from a monumental statue located at the gallery's rear left corner. This unusual sculpture was originally part of a statue 15 to 20 feet high that stood at the entrance to a temple at Abydos, the cult center of Egypt's principal funerary deity, Osiris. Much of the original paint is preserved, demonstrating the rich pigmentation of Egyptian sculpture in antiquity. The door socket located at the exhibit's rear center provides a powerful psychological glimpse at the Egyptian's attitude toward their foreign rivals at a very early point in their history (3000-2900 BCE). Depicted in hard black stone is an enemy who lies on his stomach with his arms bound behind him. A wooden temple door turned on a pole, which fitted into the circular depression in the captive's back. In this way, it symbolically crushed the enemy of Egypt beneath its weight. The prisoner's face, with the corners of his mouth drawn down, seems to express contempt. The door socket is one of the Museum's earliest examples of Egyptian art, fashioned centuries before the pyramids and prior to the establishment of the unified Egyptian state. Visit the Egypt: A New Look at an Ancient Culture website This website offers an overview of the Penn Museum's excavations and takes visitors on a virtual tour through the Egyptian Galleries and Collections. Find out about hieroglyphs, gods and goddesses, and funerary practices. Visit Website
Ninety feet in diameter and soaring ninety feet high, the Chinese Rotunda houses one of the finest collections of monumental Chinese art in the country. The large-scale artifacts on view are a testament to the artistic achievements of the Chinese people, particularly in early Buddhist sculpture, and the continuity of artistic evolution during the early, pre-Song periods (before 1000 CE). Gallery highlights include two Imperial Horse Reliefs, one of the world’s largest Crystal Spheres, and a collection of Northern Qi Buddhist Statuary. Gallery Highlights Votive Stela , China. Museum Object Number: C404 Crystal Ball , China. Museum Object Number: C681A Stone Relief , Zhaoling, China. Museum Object Number: C395 Learn More The Chinese Rotunda showcases our impressive collection of sculpture collected in the early part of the twentieth century, and unlike many of the collections at the Penn Museum, the Chinese collection mainly consists of donations and purchases rather than pieces acquired through sponsored expeditions. Early Artistic Traditions Pieces of sculpture from early Chinese tombs and temples are sources of information about early artistic traditions. From the Han period on, pairs of qilin–a mythical hybrid said to be descended from a lion and a dragon-were placed at the beginning of the avenue leading to the grave area of an important royal family. The qilin glorified the deceased while protecting the tomb from evil spirits. The two qilins from the Wei Dynasty (4th to 5th Century CE) which are in the center of the Chinese gallery are typical of the colossal guardian animals that lined the "spirit way" to the tombs. When complete with tail and legs, each figure would have been approximately nine feet long and seven feet high. Chinese Buddhism Chinese Buddhism is well represented in the gallery. Buddhism, imported from India probably in the 2nd century CE, reached its peak of popular acceptance in the early 6th century, particularly under the Wei Dynasty (386-535 CE) of Northern China. The Buddhist message of salvation was carried through images, stelae, narrative reliefs, and painting as well as the written word. A huge stone carving of the future Buddha, Maitreya, dedicated by a district chief in 516 CE, is a central figure of the gallery
The Canaan and Ancient Israel Gallery offers a historical overview of the region’s broad history (approximately 3500 BCE to 1200 BCE), which encompasses modern Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon, as well as adjacent parts of Syria. Bronze and Iron Age objects on display reveal the region's history of successive periods of occupation— most evident in the pottery vessels featured. Easily shaped and enduring, pottery provides a continuous record of changes in economic conditions, technology and social values. Central to the gallery is a full-scale diorama of a typical Iron Age house that portrays the various aspects of everyday life in the Levant from food production to storage. The Penn Museum holds the largest collection of artifacts from this region in the Western Hemisphere. Gallery Highlights Cult Object, Beth Shean, Israel. Museum Object Number: 29-103-830 Furniture Fragment, Nimrud, Iraq. Museum Object Number: 65-3-2 Figurine, Beth Shean, Israel. Museum Object Number: 29-103-871 Learn More Canaan and Ancient Israel begins with an introduction to the geography of the Levant and the history of the Penn Museum’s excavations in the region. A series of display cases with artifacts typical of successive periods of occupation, e.g., Early Bronze, Middle Bronze, Late Bronze and Iron Ages, follows. The remainder of the gallery is organized thematically: politics and social organization; religion; domestic life, which includes a full-scale reconstruction of a typical Iron Age house, with its work/living space, stables and storeroom; agriculture and crafts; trade and commerce; personal appearance or clothing and cosmetics; and, death and burial. Collection History The Penn Museum’s active interest in the Levant began in the 1920s, when Clarence Fisher, Alan Rowe and G. M. FitzGerald directed excavations, funded by John D. Rockefeller, at Tell el-Husn, ancient Beisan or Beth Shean, on whose walls the Philistines impaled the bodies of Saul and his sons following their defeat on Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31: 1-10). The Beth Shean excavations lasted from 1921 to 1933. Beginning in the mid-1950s James B. Pritchard directed work at el-Jib/Gibeon (1956-62), Tell es Sa’idiyeh (1964-68), probably ancient Zarenthan, where the Israelites crossed the Jordan (Joshua 3: 16), and Sarafand/Sarepta (1969-74). Museum researcher Patrick McGovern dug in the Baq’ah Valley (Jordan) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and Bruce Routledge, formerly at the Penn Museum, undertook excavations at Khirbet al-Mudayna al-‘Aliya in the same country in the 1990s. While the Penn Museum excavations account for the bulk of its collections, the Museum expanded its holdings in 1962 with the purchase of finds from Elihu Grant’s work at Ain Shemesh/Beth Shemesh, sponsored by Haverford College, in 1928-1933, and in 1997 by the acquisition of artifacts from William Morton’s excavations at Dhiban (1955-56 and 1965). Other sites represented in the collections are Mt. Carmel and Tell Hesban. Though the Beth Shean excavations yielded substantial Roman and Byzantine remains, the Penn Museum's collections from the Levant date largely to the Bronze and Iron Ages. They illustrate the variety of artifacts characteristic of the area's successive phases of occupation, including domestic tools, weaponry, jewelry, cult and funerary objects, cosmetics, stone vessels and implements, and above all pottery--an abundant and durable source of information about the past. Canaan and Ancient Israel Gallery displays artifacts from its excavations in the Levant. The title Canaan and Ancient Israel is drawn from ancient names of the region and its inhabitants. Canaan is the earliest attested name, found in texts, dated to the 18th century BCE, from Mari, on the Euphrates, near the border between Syria and Iraq. Canaan was not ethnically or politically unified, but its inhabitants shared similarities in language and culture and can be identified as Canaanites. Canaan was the land which the tribes of Israel conquered after the Exodus and Canaanites the people dispossessed. Israel refers to a people within Canaan first attested in a stele of the late 13th century BCE Egyptian Pharaoh Mereneptah and to the later entity formed by those people. The Bible (Old Testament or Tanak) is concerned with the religious history of Israel. The Bible is a key documentary source bearing on the region, but archaeology provides an important, and arguably more neutral, perspective derived from the material remains and their contexts. Looking at Canaan and Israel through the lens of archaeology shows us what shaped the identities of those who lived in the region in the ancient past. Visit the Canaan and Ancient Israel website This online exhibit explores the identities of the ancient Canaanites and Israelite peoples in pre-historical times through the material remains that they have left behind. Visit Website
The rich and diverse cultures of ancient and modern Africa are on display in the Museum's African Gallery, which highlights objects of social and religious importance, as well as objects of everyday life. Drawn from one of the largest ethnographic collections in the United States, the African art and artifacts in this gallery range from household objects and musical instruments to symbolic masks and figurines. Observe up-close the Nikisi N'kondi and other nail fetish figures from central Africa. Other highlights of the gallery are bronze plaques, statues, and weaponry from the Benin Palace located in present-day Nigeria. The Benin holdings of the Penn Museum, the first American institution to collect these works, are one of the largest in the country. Gallery Highlights Iyoba, Bronze Statue, Edo, Nigeria. Museum Object Number: AF5102 Reliquary Figure, Bakoto, Gabon. Museum Object Number: 29-12-236 Nikisi N’kondi, Nail Figure, Angola. Museum Object Number: 30-46-2 Learn More The world's history owes much to Africa. It is known as the "Cradle of Humankind," the birthplace of human biological and cultural development. Parts of Africa are also known to have been central to early world trade. As early as the first millennium CE, East Africa was an important part of an Indian Ocean trading system that included Arabia, India, Persia, and China. At the same time, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa exchanged scholars and ideas across the Sahara Desert, and West Africa exported gold and other precious commodities to Europe. These contacts took place long before the "Age of Exploration" when 15th century Europeans rediscovered Africa. The majority of objects in this gallery come from the colonial period of Africa's history, a time when European powers divided the continent into nation states whose boundaries often cut across ancient cultural and regional areas. Because African culture groups are often divided by national boundaries, objects are identified by region as well as by culture and country. The dynamic nature of styles and beliefs in Africa, therefore--where possible--labels point out when objects were used and the influences that may have gone into producing particular objects. Also identified are the workshops or individuals who produced specific pieces, where this information is available. On one side of the gallery the exhibition focuses on the use of objects to display status and to transfer laws and traditions to upcoming generations, and on the ways in which some African cultures have used objects to influence and communicate with the forces that control people's lives. The other side of the gallery displays objects of everyday life and invites you to compare the lifestyle of a group of hunter-gatherers with the lifestyle of subsistence farmers by looking at the objects each uses. When looking at these pieces, bear in mind that what you are seeing is only one small part of the complexity and diversity that is Africa. Gallery Themes Status Objects everywhere in Africa are created and ornamented in ways which proclaim the taste and social position of the individuals who use them. The objects here are made to be seen and admired by all members of the community. Some indicate membership in a particular group or signify that their owners have become leaders in their communities. Other examples use costly materials and fine craftsmanship to indicate an individual's wealth and status. Traditions and Laws Masks have played an important role in the maintenance of traditions and laws in many West and Central African cultures. In some areas masks belong to initiation societies that teach social values and norms to each succeeding generation. In these societies children learn the prerequisites of adult life in secluded initiation camps. Using masks emphasizes that the norms children learn are derived from the ancestors or supernatural sources and are thus far more powerful and important than anything they may encounter in the world of human beings. In other cultures masks serve as agents of social control, periodically visiting communities to insure that moral codes are followed, to remind people of appropriate behavior, or to recreate cosmological principles. Staffs In many parts of Africa staffs identify those of high social status, such as rulers, elders, or other leaders. Sometimes these staffs are very plain, with possession of the staff itself signifying leadership. In other cultures, staffs are finely crafted decorative pieces, with the quality of the work symbolizing the owners' status level. Weights and Measures: Akan Gold Weights The Akan peoples in Ghana and the Ivory Coast have long been noted for their great kingdoms and states, some dating back to the 12th century. These states established long-distance trade relationships with the Near East, North Africa, the Mediterranean, and later, with Europe. Akan gold was the main commodity in this international trade as early as the 15th century, and the region became known as the "Gold Coast." From the 15th century until the 20th century, the use of gold dust in everyday transactions was common. Gold was weighed on balance scales against counterweights of precise values known by all traders, chiefs, and great kings, each of whom owned a set of graduated weights. The majority of counterweights were cast brass, made by the lost wax process and then adjusted to the proper weight by removing excess metal. The earliest weighing systems were Islamic and were based on measures called Mikhtal, used for weighing gold, and Waqia, used for silver and other commodities. European systems were introduced later. The most unique feature of virtually all Akan arts, especially gold weights, is the graphic or sculptural representation of symbols, objects, or scenes that are directly related to proverbs or other traditional sayings. This fact reflects the essence of Akan aesthetics and lends a unity to Akan arts, regardless of medium or object type. Proverbs associated with gold weights number in the thousands and pertain to nearly all types except geometric forms, though only a few of these sayings can be explained by the Akan themselves. Communication and Influence All societies have complex systems of thought that give meaning to existence, explain why events occur and how people can influence events to gain control over their lives. Central to many African cosmologies are the contrasts between the natural and social worlds. Wilderness often represents the unknown, the chaotic, the dangerous, and the powerful. Towns represent civilization, social order, and safety. While nature and society can be in bitter opposition, they can also complement each other. Hunting, fishing, or farming in the wilderness provide food, and medicines often derive their efficacy from being associated with nature. Spirits, deities, or ancestors often provide the keys to controlling the chaotic and dangerous side of nature and channeling nature's power for the good of human beings. These supernatural beings, however, are often unpredictable, taking great delight in causing trouble and upsetting plans, but they are also able to bestow significant benefits when appeased through rituals or other actions. African cosmologies are not restricted to beliefs in natural or ancestral spirits. Christianity and Islam have an ancient history in Africa; both religions reached the continent within one generation of their being founded. In some places one religion predominates over the other two. In other places all three work together in varying combinations. Divination Divination is a particular kind of influence and communication in which specifically trained individuals are responsible for interpreting messages or prescribing actions that are dictated by spiritual forces. Musical Instruments Musical instruments displayed in the exhibit illustrate that specific instruments have been traded across cultures and regions, becoming part of the complex of rhythms, songs, and dances specific to each area as they moved. Likewise, groups of itinerant musicians have carried whole complexes, including songs, music, and instruments, with them as they traveled. The role of musician varies throughout the continent. In some areas musicians have the powerful role of genealogist, reciting family histories and genealogical ties to important ancestors that validate claims to political authority. In other places musicians are suspected of witchcraft because of their special talents. In still other places musical talent is something that all individuals are thought to possess. How different African communities think about and produce music are issues that reveal a lot about the specifics of particular cultures. Benin History and the Penn Museum's Benin Collection For over six hundred years the city of Benin was the capital of a prosperous, well-organized empire of the same name. At its peak during the 15th and 16th centuries, the empire stretched from Dahomey to the Niger River and reached to the Atlantic coast in places. The Edo tell of Prince Oranmiyan, who was called from the city of Ife to restart the monarchy after his father Ododua's exile from Benin and wanderings to the west. Oranmiyan fathered Eweka I, who in the 12th century became the first Oba of the present dynasty. The present ruler, Erediauwa I, is the 38th Oba of the dynasty. The palace in Benin was the height of a complex feudal society characterized by widespread competition for power, prestige and wealth. The arrival of the Portuguese around 1485 created a new era of prosperity and rapid expansion. The Portuguese provided economic and militaristic strength for the kingdom, acting as a conduit for overseas trade and fighting in Benin military campaigns. Conflicts stemming from colonial ambitions helped bring about the conquest of the kingdom in 1897, when an official British delegation was ambushed en route to see the Oba, despite his unwillingness to meet with it. In retaliation, the British sent the Oba into exile and burned the palace. In order to further weaken the Oba, and to deter additional bloodshed --the Oba had made sacrifices to the gods—the British, in keeping with the tradition of war booty, removed over two thousand objects from the palace. These objects—including the Oba's primary symbol of power, his coral-beaded wardrobe—were auctioned to defray the costs of the military expedition. Today Benin City is the capital of Edo State and part of Nigeria's federal structure. The art of Benin is the product of an urban royal court, symbolizing and extolling the power, mystique, grandeur, continuity, and endurance of the ruling dynasty and its governing institutions. From at least the 11th century to date, the Oba, a divine ruler, ruled Benin and headed the political system of titled chiefs. Under royal support, a number of craftsmen's guilds produced brass, ivory, and wood sculptures and brocaded and appliquéd cloth that museums prize and that command high prices on the art market. The tradition of the Oba as patron of the arts has continued. In 1914, Oba Eweka II lifted the restrictions on the sale of art work, and traditional craftsmen began to create for the public as well as for the court. Benin art has been resilient in the face of political, economic, social, and religious change. Traditional forms continue to be made today, and new forms are emerging to become part of contemporary Benin culture. Ivory Armlet, Box, and Wands Ivory symbolized royalty and the continuity of dynastic rule. White is the color of ritual purity, so the Oba often wears ivory on ceremonial occasions. Such was the skill of ivory carvers that they worked the pieces without any preliminary sketches. Brass Belt Masks Cast in high relief, chiefs of all rank wear these small pendants to decorate the fastening of the typical Benin men's wrapper, which is secured on the left hip (as seen in the picture of Commemorative Plaque above). Leopard and human faces were common. Quadrangular Brass Bells These rested on altars and rang to attract the attention of the ancestors. Warriors in battle also wore them around the neck; the sound of these bells announced their victories upon returning home. Brass and Ivory Armlets and Bracelets Royalty and nobility wore armlets and bracelets. Only the Oba wore ivory armlets, especially in ceremonies where he danced with the eben sword or handled a gong, because they kept his elaborate coral bead costume from getting tangled. Benin Art and Beliefs The sophistication and symbolism of Benin art illustrate the monarchy's ability to use the arts as instruments of the state. As the influence of the chiefs grew over the centuries, the office of the Oba became increasingly ceremonial. As a result, court ritual and art focused on what set the Oba apart from the chiefs: his ability to claim divine origins. The divinity of the Benin monarchy is linked to Osanobua, the Creator God, and Olokun, his eldest son, who is associated intimately with the human world and with aspects of wealth, fertility, and beauty. His symbols are the python and the crocodile: animals that can live in water and on land, sent by Olokun to punish wrongdoing. The mudfish also inhabits the dual worlds of the riverbank and the shallow waters, and its powerful electric shock exemplified the potential violence of ancestors, warriors, and Obas. Symbols such as these helped reinforce the political legitimacy of the monarchy. Benin royal art is primarily made of ivory and bronze. In the past, the Oba controlled the ivory trade, and any hunter who killed an elephant was obliged to give one of its tusks to the palace. In this way the rulers of Benin amassed huge stocks of ivory to be carved by the Igbesanmwan, the hereditary guild of ivory carvers, or sold to Europeans. Ivory's ritual importance stems from its white color, shared with orhue (chalk), considered the perfect symbol of purity, prosperity, and peace. Before the arrival of the Portuguese, trade with northern neighbors supplied bronze. In the 15th century a great expansion in bronze-casting took place, reflecting the increased commercial importance of Benin. Bronze heads of Obas and Queen Mothers form the pinnacle of this artistic tradition. While it is common to emphasize the continuity of art and culture in traditional societies, Benin's development was far from static. Contact with the neighboring Yoruba groups, the introduction of Christianity, and the formation of the nation of Nigeria impacted the arts. Although the kingdom of Benin’s independence ended in 1897, the Oba continues to commission art to inspire public loyalty and pride, as well as preserve historical memory during the changes of 21st century Nigeria.