Most people go to the Penn Museum to see the ancient artifacts that it houses. Those people probably don’t realize that the Museum itself is an artifact. The museum first opened in 1899 with additional wings opening in 1915, 1926, and 1929 respectively. The structure’s unique architecture has stood the test of time, but internally it was in serious need of some modern quality of life updates.
“It has been apparent to us, ” said University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann, ” that we need to create better spaces to share these amazing stories. We embark on a dramatic reconfiguration of this building. We will begin work leading to the re-installation of signature galleries… The outcome of these efforts will extend access to the museums resources to students and visitors of all ages, backgrounds, and across the world. In every way it will be a building reborn.”
The first signature gallery to reopen will be the Middle East Galleries on April 21, 2018.
“There are a number of reasons why we’re doing the Middle East Gallery first. It’s where we started excavating. It’s also one of the most important parts of the human story, it tells of this fundamental transition that we have from being hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years and then all of a sudden with the advent of agriculture, settling down and the explosion of ingenuity that happens after that. That was the obvious gallery for us to start with,” said Julian Siggers, Williams Director of the Penn Museum.
“In general, the Middle East gallery is a complete re-imagining of how we explain the ancient near east,” said Stephen Tinney, Associate Curator, Babylonian Section, “To have so much space allows us to tell the story that goes from early village agriculture to great empires and eventually the creation of the global world. We wanted to tell the narrative through our excavations, we wanted to build [the narrative] around the sites and we wanted to build a strong story-line.”
The rest of the revamped Signature Galleries will reopen at regular intervals for the next several years. A new Mexico and Central America Gallery is scheduled to open in 2018, and the new Africa Galleries in the fall of 2019. New Asian Galleries, a brand-new Crossroads of Cultures Gallery and a Writing Gallery exploring Egyptian hieroglyphs, Sumerian cuneiform and Mayan glyphs will follow.
Perhaps the most ambitious reimagining of a signature gallery will be the new Egyptian Gallery.
“The Egyptian Galleries are going to be phenomenal,” said Siggers, “We have the incredible good fortune of being the only museum to have most of an Egyptian palace outside of Egypt. We’re looking forward to reconstructing it and building two large galleries that will tell the story of ancient Egypt.”
The transformation of the Entrance Hall will open up stair cases, bring in more light, and include new elevators to provide better access to all of the museums visitors.
“When you come into the museum in 2019 it will be a completely transformed experience,” said Siggers.
The Penn Museum has even launched a new website that can allow the public to closely follow the museum’s renovations.
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
3260 South Street
Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
For tickets and more information, visit www.penn.museum