University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
Penn Museum
The Warden Garden and Main Entrance to the Penn Museum
Established1887 (1887)
Location3260 South Street,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
United States
Coordinates39°56′56″N 75°11′28″W / 39.9490°N 75.1911°W / 39.9490; -75.1911
TypeAnthropology and archaeology
DirectorDr. Christopher Woods
Public transit accessSEPTA.svg Penn Medicine: SEPTA Regional Rail
Bus transport SEPTA.svg SEPTA bus: 30, 40, 42, 49, LUCY
5th-4th century BC Etruscan gold necklace, display at the Penn Museum, 2005.
5th-4th century BC Etruscan gold necklace, display at the Penn Museum, 2005.

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology—commonly known as the Penn Museum—is an archaeology and anthropology museum associated with the University of Pennsylvania. It is located on Penn's campus in the University City neighborhood of Philadelphia, at the intersection of 33rd and South Streets.[1] Housing over 1.3 million artifacts, the museum features one of the most comprehensive collections of middle and near-eastern art in the world.


The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology—which has conducted more than 300 archaeological and anthropological expeditions around the world—was founded during the administration of Provost William Pepper.[1] In 1887, Provost Pepper persuaded the trustees of the University of Pennsylvania to erect a fireproof building to house artifacts from an upcoming expedition to the ancient site of Nippur in modern-day Iraq (then part of the Ottoman Empire). During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, North American and European museums regularly sponsored such excavations throughout the Mediterranean and Near East, sharing the ownership of their discoveries with the host country. Penn Museum followed this practice in acquiring the vast majority of its collections, and, as a result, most of the museum's objects have a known archaeological context, increasing their value for archaeological and anthropological research and presentation.

Today the museum's three floors of gallery space feature materials from the ancient Mediterranean World, Egypt, the Near East, Mesopotamia, East Asia, and Mesoamerica, as well as artifacts from the indigenous peoples of Africa and Native America. Since 1958, the Penn Museum has published Expedition magazine. (ISSN 0014-4738)[2] The excavations and collections of the museum provide resources for student research and the museum hosts the Graduate Group in the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World.

2009 restructuring

On November 19, 2008, the Penn Museum's administration terminated eighteen Research Specialist positions in archaeological and anthropological research in the Mediterranean world, the Middle East, and Americas sections, effective May 31, 2009.[3] The scientific research center MASCA (Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology) was also closed, although the MASCA scientists moved to other Sections within the museum. The decision elicited local and world-wide criticism among concerned scholars, who felt that it departed from the Penn Museum's historic mission as a research institution. Museum administrators attributed this measure to the 2008 financial crisis and the deep budget cuts that had resulted at the University of Pennsylvania. The museum's director at the time, Dr. Richard Hodges later offered positions as "Associate Curators" or "Research Project Managers" to eleven of the eighteen individuals affected. The museum affirmed its commitment to research, citing more than fifty active research projects spanning five continents that were engaging nearly 200 Museum-affiliated scholars—more than at any other archaeological and anthropological institute or museum in North America could claim at the time.

In April, 2021, the Penn Museum and the University of Pennsylvania apologized to the Africa family and the community in general for allowing human remains from the 1985 MOVE bombing to be used in research and training. In 1985, the Philadelphia City Medical Examiner's Office gave burned human remains found at the MOVE house to the museum[4] for verification that the bones were those of 14 year old Tree Africa and 12 year old Delisha Africa. The remains were kept in a cardboard box in storage for decades and studied by Alan Mann, a professor at Penn and Janet Monge, the curator of the Penn Museum. The bones were used as part of an online forensic course as a case study.[5] When Mann transferred to Princeton University in 2001, he reportedly took the remains with him.[6]

Museum building

The Stoner Courtyard at the Penn Museum
The Stoner Courtyard at the Penn Museum

The museum is housed in an Arts and Crafts and Eclectic style building that is one of the landmarks of the University of Pennsylvania campus. The existing original building (onto which have been grafted several later additions) is actually only approximately one-third of an ambitious design that would have created one of the largest museum buildings in the United States. Features of the extant building include a dramatic rotunda, multiple courtyards and gardens, a fountain, reflecting pool, glass mosaics, iron gates, and stone statuary. The Penn Museum was designed by a team of Philadelphia architects, all of whom taught on the faculty of the university: Wilson Eyre, Cope & Stewardson and Frank Miles Day. The first phase was completed in 1899 and housed the discoveries from an expedition sponsored by the university to the ancient site of Nippur. In 1915, the rotunda, which houses the Harrison Auditorium in the basement was completed. Charles Klauder designed the Coxe Memorial Wing, which opened in 1926 to house the museum's Egyptian collection. The Sharpe Wing was completed in 1929.[7]

The Coxe Memorial Egyptian Wing was added to the museum in 1924 through a bequest by former museum board president Eckley Coxe. The administrative wing was added in 1929. The Academic Wing, which provided laboratories for the Anthropology department and classrooms was opened in 1971. The most recent major addition was made in 2002, with the addition of the Mainwaring (Collections Storage) Wing.

Museum Library

The Museum Library was established in 1900 when the personal library of University of Pennsylvania professor of American archaeology and linguistics Daniel Garrison Brinton was acquired.[8] This library contained an estimated 4,098 volumes of which the ethnology and linguistics of the American Indigenous peoples were the primary disciplines. This library also consists of a manuscript collection of nearly two hundred volumes relevant to the study of autochthonous Central American languages; most of which are either severely endangered or have completely disappeared. The original location of the library holdings was the Furness Building until they were transferred to the museum building in 1898. They were relocated to the Elkins Library up until 1971 upon when they were moved to their final home in the university extension of the museum.[8]

Prior to its move in 1971 the collection was built upon the support of museum curators contributing their personal monographs, negotiations with affiliate institutions here and abroad as well as endowments by philanthropic individuals.[8]

The library collection was maintained by a staff comprising a single part-time librarian until 1942 when Cynthia Griffin became the first full-time librarian. It was under Griffin that the collection and library witnessed many developments. Prior to her arrival use of the library had been limited to employees of the museum and university professor; however, Griffin extended the accessibility to include students. She also augmented communication networks between the library and libraries worldwide. Within twenty years the library's collection more than doubled its capacity from nearly 20,000 volumes in 1945 to over 46,000 volumes in 1965, and by 1971 the breadth of the collection was well over 50,000 volumes increasing by 14,000 volumes annually.[8]

The range of disciplines featured in the collection is specific to the museum itself and incorporates all divisions of anthropology and archaeology. There is a special emphasis on works published within the field of Mesoamerican archaeology as well as works which relate to the current research of the university's professors. As of 2008 there are approximately 115,000 volumes in the library's collection, 14,000 of these volumes have been circulated on an annual basis. The library also has subscriptions to an estimated 549 scholarly journals. Computing services within the library include desktop and laptop computers. Other services encompass a range of printing and scanning utilities as well as accommodating seating for 154 individuals. The library supports two quiet rooms for patron study, a space to examine photographs, a room designed specifically for microform research, and a collection of audio and video materials.[8]


Head-dress of a noblewoman buried at  Ur, from the report on the Joint Expedition of the British Museum and of the Penn Museum, 1900.  Illustration by M. Louise Baker.
Head-dress of a noblewoman buried at Ur, from the report on the Joint Expedition of the British Museum and of the Penn Museum, 1900. Illustration by M. Louise Baker.

Penn Museum's extensive collections fall into two main divisions: archaeology, the artifacts recovered from the past by excavation, and ethnology, the objects and ideas collected from living peoples. There is also an extensive collection of skeletal material from the Physical Anthropology section. More than 20 galleries feature materials from around the world and throughout the ages.


The Penn Museum has one of the largest collections of African ethnographic and archaeological objects in the country. Mostly obtained from 1891 to 1937, the collection contains objects from all regions of Africa, but with a concentration from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Angola, Morocco, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Madagascar.

"Wearable Literature", designed by Breanna Moore and Emerson Ruffin, debuted in the Penn Museum on November 16, 2019.
"Wearable Literature", designed by Breanna Moore and Emerson Ruffin, debuted in the Penn Museum on November 16, 2019.

The Penn Museum has one of the most extensive Sherbro Island collections in the world. During a museum sponsored expedition in 1936–1937, Curator of General Ethnology, Henry Usher Hall spent seven months conducting ethnographic research among the Sherbro people of Sierra Leone. The collection consists of textiles, sculpture, artifacts related to subsistence and household items, secret society and examples of medicine bundles. Hall's papers include field notes, bibliographies, and textual commentaries that provide ethnographic information about the way of life of the Sherbro people and others—including the Mende, Krim, and Temne peoples—who lived among them.

The Central African collection includes approximately 3000 artifacts from the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly the Belgian Congo). The majority of these artifacts were collected by the German ethnographer Leo Viktor Frobenius on his expedition to the Kasai district of the Congo in 1906. His collection illustrates the diverse sculptural forms found among the different cultural groups in the Central African region. Some of the cultures represented in the collection are the Kuba, Kongo, Luba, Suku, Yaka, Pende, Teke, Chokwe, and Luluwa. One of the lesser known collection within the African Section is the Moroccan collection. Dr. and Mrs. Talcott Williams travelled to Morocco in 1898 and returned with approximately 600 objects to document the cultures in Morocco. The collection consists of clothing, shoes, rugs, blankets, weapons, jewelry, pottery, baskets, cooking pots. This thorough collection of objects representing daily life was well documented by Dr. Williams who also collected on behalf of the Smithsonian.

On November 16, 2019,[9] the Penn Museum debuted a newly renovated African gallery alongside many other new galleries and rooms. Penn professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, Dr. Tufuku Zuberi,[10] was appointed as the head curator for the new Africa exhibit,[11] and approached his former student Breanna Moore about designing a new dress for the gallery. Moore enlisted the help of her friend and Philadelphia artist, Emerson Ruffin, to create the dress titled “Wearable Literature”,[12] now a popular item in the Penn Museum's African galleries.[13]

North America

The North American archaeological collections contain specimens from 45 of the 50 United States. Regions of particular strength include Alaska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Texas.

The North American ethnographic holdings number approximately 40,000 specimens attributed to approximately 200 tribes and organized within eleven geographic regions (Arctic, Sub-Arctic, Northwest Coast, Plateau, California, Great Basin, Southwest, Great Plains, Southeast and Northeast). The strongest collections are those systematically created via study and collecting expedition in Alaska, the Northwest Coast, Southwest, Southeast, and Sub-arctic regions. Individual donations significantly contribute to the collections in many areas.

Mexico and Central America

Coclé gold plaque or pectoral from Sitio Conte, Panama
Coclé gold plaque or pectoral from Sitio Conte, Panama

Penn Museum's Mesoamerican collections include objects from Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica. The American Section's ethnographic collections from Mesoamerica include strong collections of masks, ceramics, and textiles from Guatemala, and very small collections from Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. In Guatemala, Robert Burkitt acquired ethnographic ceramics, textiles, tools, hammocks, fans and gourds from the Alta Verapaz the early twentieth century.

The museum houses the outstanding Lilly de Jongh Osborne collection of 19th and early 20th Century Guatemalan textiles, exceptional because of its complete outfits for men, women and children acquired systematically across different Guatemalan villages. This collection includes raw material and other objects and tools related to weaving. Ruben Reina studied the production of ceramics in Guatemala in the 1960s and 1970s, and collected ceramics and textiles from the region. The Section houses a large collection of Guatemalan masks amassed by James Moore in the 1960s.

The Penn Museum conducted an excavation of the Mayan city of Tikal, Guatemala from 1956 to 1970. Many important artifacts from this excavation are on view in the museum, along with several stelae from the contemporary cities of Caracol and Piedras Negras. The gallery also displays many Aztecan, Oaxacan, and Teotihuacano artifacts.

On November 16, 2019, the Penn Museum launched a new exhibit entitled "The Mexico and Central America Gallery." This gallery features art and artifacts from eight Central American countries, including Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.[14] Specifically, one object of importance that is on display is Stela 14, a limestone rock with intricate carvings that stands at ten feet tall.[15] Tatiana Proskouriakoff excavated this object in Piedras Negras, and at the time of its discovery, archaeologists could not decipher the Mayan hieroglyphics engraved in it. Proskouriakoff cross-referenced the glyphs on the Stela to historical events, eventually decoding the hieroglyphic language. Proskouriakoff's discovery transformed the field of Maya Studies.[16]

South America

The museum's South American collections are as varied as the regions from which they come – the arid coast of Peru, the Andean Highlands, and the tropical lowlands of the Amazon Basin. The collections include anthropological materials from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.

The American Section's ethnographic holdings from South America are strongest in materials from Bolivia, Brazil, Guyana, and Peru. The Aymara, Quechua, and Yuracaré of Bolivia are represented in early collections acquired by Max Uhle and William Curtis Farabee. More than thirty indigenous tribes from Brazil are represented in ethnographic collections acquired by Farabee and Vincenzo M. Petrullo in the 1920s and 1930s respectfully. Twelve different indigenous groups are represented in the collections acquired in Guyana by Farabee in the 1920s. More than twenty-five native groups from Peru are represented as well. Smaller collections represent some of the indigenous peoples of Argentina (Yahgan), Chile (Alacaluf, Mapuche), Colombia (Arhuaco, Chocó, Goajira, and Kogi), and Ecuador (Jívaro, Tumaco, Saparo).


Rock-crystal sphere from the Qing Dynasty
Rock-crystal sphere from the Qing Dynasty

The Chinese collection is housed in the museum's spacious Harrison Rotunda, which measures ninety feet across and ninety feet from the floor. This gallery houses some of the finest Chinese sculpture in America, including two reliefs of Emperor Tang Taizong's six horses which he used to unify China during the Tang dynasty. In the center of the gallery sits a perfectly spherical crystal ball. Along with an Egyptian statue of Osiris, the crystal ball was stolen in 1988, and its elegant silver stand, a stylized ocean wave, was found in a culvert not far from the museum. The items were recovered in 1991 after a former museum staff member saw the statue in an area antique shop; the crystal ball was traced to a home in New Jersey and returned to the museum.[17]


Merneptah presents an offering to Ptah on a stone column (University of Pennsylvania Museum)
Merneptah presents an offering to Ptah on a stone column (University of Pennsylvania Museum)

The museum's collection of Egyptian artifacts is considered one of the finest in the world. The museum's Egyptian galleries house an extensive collection of statuary, mummies, and reliefs. Most notably, the museum houses a set of architectural elements, including large columns and a 13-ton granite Sphinx of Ramesses II, circa 1200 B.C., from the palace of the Pharaoh Merenptah. These were excavated by a museum expedition to Egypt in 1915. In the late 1970s Karl-Theodor Zauzich (attendant of the Egyptian section) discovered 3 missing fragments of the Insinger Papyrus in the museum's collections.


The museum's most important collection is arguably that of the Royal Tombs of Ur, which The University of Pennsylvania co–excavated with the British Museum in Iraq. Ur was an important and wealthy city-state in ancient Sumer, and the artifacts from its royal tombs showcase the city's wealth. The collections consists of a variety of crowns, figures, and musical instruments, many of which have been inlaid with gold and precious stones. The often traveling collection includes a well known Bull-headed lyre. The museum's Babylonian section houses a collection of almost 30,000 clay tablets inscribed in Sumerian and Akkadian cuneiform, making it one of the ten largest collections in the world. The collection contains the largest number of Sumerian school tablets and literary compositions of any of the world's museums, as well as important administrative archives ranging from 2900 to 500 BCE.

Morton Collection

The Penn Museum holds approximately 1,300 skulls collected by 19th century physician Samuel George Morton.[18] The museum acquired the collection from the Academy of Natural Sciences in 1966.[19] Morton has long been criticized for promoting white supremacist views, leveraging science to uphold racism, poor research quality, and unethically collecting human remains without consent.[20] Despite this, the museum claims the collection is an important historic and research resource.[21] The museum has actively conducted research using the collection in recent years.[22][23][24][25][26] More than a dozen crania, along with mid-19th century measuring devices, were on public display at the museum from 2012 to 2013 in an exhibit named "Year of Proof: Making and Unmaking Race".[23] In 2018, students in the Penn and Slavery project discovered the collection includes 55 crania of enslaved people, with 53 of these crania from Havana and 2 from the United States.[27][28] In July, 2020 the museum announced it would move the collection from a private classroom[29] into storage after criticism from students and the local community.[28][19] The museum is also planning to repatriate or rebury skulls of enslaved individuals.[28]

See also


  1. ^ a b Cheyney, Edward Potts (1940). History of the University of Pennsylvania, 1740-1940. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  2. ^ "Expedition Magazine".
  3. ^ Wang, Kathy (26 November 2008). "Financial crisis forces firing of 18 Penn Museum researchers". The Daily Pennsylvanian. Archived from the original on 9 March 2009. Retrieved 31 March 2009.
  4. ^ DiSanto, Jill. "Statement from the Penn Museum on the MOVE house remains". Retrieved 27 April 2021.
  5. ^ "Bones of Black children killed in police bombing used in Ivy League anthropology course". the Guardian. 2021-04-23. Retrieved 2021-04-23.
  6. ^ Kassutto, Maya. "MOVE bombing: Children's remains killed in MOVE bombing sat in a box at Penn Museum for decades". Retrieved 27 April 2021.
  7. ^ "Building Locations".
  8. ^ a b c d e "A Brief History of the Museum Library". Archived from the original on 2014-10-31. Retrieved 2014-10-31.
  9. ^ "Penn Museum Opening Celebration Weekend".
  10. ^ "Tufuku Zuberi, Ph.D."
  11. ^ "Renovated Penn Museum Opens to the Public Saturday, With Reimagined Galleries, Better Accessibility and a New Home for the Sphinx".
  12. ^ "Dress".
  13. ^ "Wearable Literature Instagram Post". Archived from the original on 2021-12-23.
  14. ^ "Building Transformation - Mexico and Central America Gallery | Penn Museum". Retrieved 2020-03-26.
  15. ^ "Stela 14 - American Section Highlights - Penn Museum". Retrieved 2020-03-26.
  16. ^ Mark, Joan (2004-09-01). "Char Solomon: Tatiana Proskouriakoff: Interpreting the Ancient Maya". Isis. 95 (3): 534–535. doi:10.1086/429052. ISSN 0021-1753.
  17. ^ Gibbons, Thomas J. Jr. (30 October 1991). "Treasures Stolen from the Museum are Recovered after Three Years". The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  18. ^ "Expedition Magazine - Penn Museum". Retrieved 2020-07-31.
  19. ^ a b Salisbury, Stephan. "Penn Museum to put skulls of the enslaved into closed storage and seek repatriation". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2020-07-31.
  20. ^ "Morton Cranial Collection: Biography".
  21. ^ "The Morton Crania Collection - Penn Museum". Retrieved 2020-07-31.
  22. ^ "Skull Study Unearths Biases". The Daily Pennsylvanian. Retrieved 2020-08-31.
  23. ^ a b "Making and Unmaking Race: Morton Collection of Human Crania in the Spotlight at Penn Museum". Penn Today. Retrieved 2020-07-31.
  24. ^ "A new take on the 19th-century skull collection of Samuel Morton". Penn Today. Retrieved 2020-07-31.
  25. ^ Wade, Nicholas (2011-06-13). "Scientists Measure the Accuracy of a Racism Claim". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-07-31.
  26. ^ "Paul Mitchell: At Penn, Four Years of Looking at the Past". Penn Today. Retrieved 2020-07-31.
  27. ^ Muhammad, Abdul-Aliy A. "As reparations debate continues, the University of Pennsylvania has a role to play | Opinion". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2020-07-31.
  28. ^ a b c Diaz, Johnny (2020-07-27). "Penn Museum to Relocate Skull Collection of Enslaved People". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-07-31.
  29. ^ "9/30/14, New Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials (CAAM), inPenn Museum's Renovated Conservation and Teaching Labs - Almanac, Vol. 61, No. 07". Retrieved 2020-07-31.

Further reading

Coordinates: 39°56′56″N 75°11′28″W / 39.9490°N 75.1911°W / 39.9490; -75.1911