Penn Museum

Penn Museum Mediterranean Gallery- Crossroads of Culture Tour Review

About 25 Mensans and friends attended a guided tour at the University of Pennsylvania Museum to see the newly renovated Eastern Mediterranean Gallery. Our guide Eric, a doctoral student at Penn and co- curator of this exhibition, gave us a detailed talk for one hour and helpfully stayed around for more questions afterwards. The area covered in the Gallery is at the intersection of three continents—Asia, Europe, and Africa— from the region that encompasses modern-day Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and Syria. The 4,000- year time span highlights the Middle Bronze Age (2000 to 1200 BCE) through the end of the Ottoman period (about 1300 to 1922 CE). The many well preserved artifacts (a few of which are coins, jewelry, and pottery )recovered from sunken ships lay testament to the importance of this location with well established trade routes along the coastal areas. This gallery highlights the peaceful times of this area instead of the more chaotic ones. “People are central to this story”, says Dr. Lauren Ristvet, Lead Curator for the Eastern Mediterranean Gallery.

Virtually all of the 400 artifacts on display were collected during Penn Museum’s in-depth foundational excavations at the following sites — Beth Shean, Beth Shemesh, Gibeon, Tell es-Saʾidiyah and Kourion — and provide a realistic picture of life throughout these important crossroads. Probably the most memorable exhibit for me was a rare sarcophagus made of red terracotta. Many areas of this region were consistently inhabited through millennia and Eric pointed out how the various strata and items were painstakingly uncovered by the archeologists. Through this exhibit, we learned about the Phoenicians and the origins of the alphabet, boat configurations of that period, which indicated their possible sailing routes, and how shipwrecks managed to preserve their cargo from being destroyed, and the surprisingly wide range these artifacts managed to travel. We even got to enjoy the smell of frankincense, a sought- after trade item.

I highly recommend seeing this exhibit. It shows how connected the world is– especially back 4,000 years ago–and why we now need to preserve the past to help us with our future.

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