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"Iraq's Ancient Past" Reopens Following Gallery Renovations at Penn Museum April 30

April 26, 2011, Volume 57, No. 31



“Ram Caught in a Thicket” (Height: 42.6 cm) of gold, lapis lazuli, copper, shell, red limestone, and bitumen, ca 2550 BCE.

Following major renovations to the third floor west wing galleries—including the addition of central air conditioning, new windows, lighting enhancements and refurbishment to the terrazzo flooring and marble trim—Penn Museum will reopen the wing to the public on Saturday, April 30 at 1 p.m., with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and an invitation to visit two timely exhibitions: Battleground: War Rugs from Afghanistan (see above), and Iraq’s Ancient Past: Rediscovering Ur’s Royal Cemetery—a long-term exhibition featuring the Museum’s world renowned Mesopotamian collections from Ur, newly reinstalled.

“With America engaged in military operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, these two exhibitions are especially relevant,” noted Dr. Richard Hodges, the Williams Director of the Penn Museum.“Battleground provides a look at how one celebrated artistic tradition has been changed by war, while Iraq’s Ancient Past explores an extraordinary ancient culture and heritage now at great risk from modern-day looting.”

Iraq’s Ancient Past, an exhibition that features materials discovered at and excavated from the ancient Royal Cemetery at Ur, located in present-day Iraq, originally opened October 25, 2009. The exhibition has been closed during gallery renovations since July 2010.

In 1922, the same year that Howard Carter made headlines with the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt, the Penn Museum and the British Museum embarked upon a joint expedition to the ancient site of Ur in southern Iraq. Led by British archaeologist C. Leonard Woolley, this expedition astonished the world by uncovering an extraordinary 4,500-year-old royal cemetery with more than 2,000 burials that detailed a remarkable ancient Mesopotamian civilization at the height of its glory.

Iraq’s Ancient Past: Rediscovering Ur’s Royal Cemetery brings many of the details of that famous expedition vividly to life through field notes, photographs and archival documents-and more than 220 extraordinary ancient artifacts unearthed at the excavation.Iraq’s Ancient Pastlooks to the present and future as well, exploring the ongoing story of scientific inquiry and discovery made possible by those excavations, and the pressing issues around the preservation of Iraq’s cultural heritage today.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a collection of famous ancient artifacts uncovered and, in some cases, painstakingly conserved, including the Ram-Caught-in-the-Thicket, the impressive headdress of Ur’s Queen Puabi, along with many of her lavish burial goods, including extraordinary jewelry and other artifacts of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, carnelian, and alabaster. With the gallery reopening, the new presentation of the famous Bull’s Headed Lyre panel and catalog (the head of the bull), now shown without the reconstructed wooden sound box, offers visitors a better view of the inlaid lapis lazuli and shell mosaic.

Iraq’s Ancient Pastwas co-curated by Richard L. Zettler, associate curator-in-charge of the Near East Section, and Holly Pittman, curator in the Near East Section. They are contributors to Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur (Penn Museum, 1998), a catalogue from an earlier exhibition that featured material from this site. This exhibit was made possible with support from the Penn Museum Women’s Committee, Diane von Schlegell Levy and Robert Levy, Annette Merle-Smith, and Mrs. H.J. Heinz II.




Related: "Battleground: War Rugs from Afghanistan" at Penn Museum April 30 through July 31

Almanac - April 26, 2011, Volume 57, No. 31