space holder space holder February Contents | Gazette Home Field Notes
Tours by three University Museum
archaeologists of their respective digs.

THE UNIVERSITY MUSEUM'S first-ever expedition -- to Nippur, the holy city of the ancient Sumerians and Akkadians -- began less than auspiciously. John Peters, a professor of Hebrew at Penn and leader of the expedition, reported, "Early in April 1889,
Tell es-
Sweyhat, Syria
A Bronze Age Cemetery Under a Barley Field

Rojdi, India Life in One of India's First Urban Societies
Xunan-
tunich, Belize
Secrets of the Stone Maiden
when we had excavated but two months, an end was put to our work, growing out of the conduct of one of the Commissioner's Turkish guards in shooting an Arab who was trying to steal by night the mules of the guard. Our camp was burned, we were robbed, and a bloodfeud was established against us. So closed the first year." Nevertheless, the site at Nippur eventually yielded an astonishing treasure-trove of cuneiform tablets that have largely supplied what is now known of Sumerian literature. And in the 1920s, joining with the British Museum to excavate ancient Ur, the Museum uncovered the spectacular 4,500-year-old Royal Tombs of Ur, artifacts of which it retains on permanent display.
In addition to becoming a world leader in Mesopotamian excavation and research, the University Museum today is an internationally renowned institution that has conducted archaeological and anthropological investigations into the peoples and history of every continent on Earth. Early in this century, intrepid field ethnologists like William Curtis Farabee, Henry Usher Hall, and Louis Shotridge braved the impassable Amazon basin, described daily life in the tribes of remote Siberia and West Africa, and retrieved oral histories and artifacts of vanishing Native American ways of life. Throughout its history, the Museum has pioneered in applying the latest scientific techniques, sending an aerial expedition in search of Mayan ruins, installing one of the world's first radiocarbon-dating laboratories, and conducting an underwater excavation of a Bronze Age shipwreck off Turkey. Its expeditions have also shed light on little-known civilizations such as that of the Phrygians (the people of the legendary King Midas). Important long-term excavations of ancient cities have included Abydos, the burial place of Egypt's First Dynasty kings, and the great Maya center of Tikal in Guatemala.
Linked to above are "reports from the field" for three current projects -- in Syria, India, and Belize -- based on presentations made at the Museum's annual Members Lecture and Dinner last fall. They vividly convey both the excitement and the tedium of archaeological investigations, the continuing role of serendipity in making important discoveries, the educational value of fieldwork for students, and the day-to-day business of living at a dig -- learning to eat unfamiliar food, finding a place to do laundry, or passing the time by playing cards.
February Contents | Gazette Home
Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 7/7/97