Penn Museum, National Science Foundation, Surviving: The Body of Evidence exhibit, A Memoir

Enduring metaphors – “Surviving: The Body of Evidence” traveling NSF exhibition at the Penn Museum, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, PA. These are but a few impressions from an archeology visitor’s travel photojournal.

I just need some Neanderthal to love
I just need some Neanderthal to love

The local attendant we encountered at the entryway to this  archeology ‘village within a village’ was both helpful and enthusiastic.

Rosetta: The Multilingual Visitor Guide to the Penn Museum
Rosetta: The Multilingual Visitor Guide to the Penn Museum

The well thought out Rosetta Multilingual Visitor Guide did decode most of the three exhibition floors of the museum. However, the otherwise excellent paper version of this ‘map’, proffered by the local ‘greeter guide’,  did not detail the  “Gentleman” exhibit shown below.

Evidence of evolution display
Evidence of evolution display

Here is evidence of evolution on display in the Penn U. Museum. This exhibit, unassumingly titled “Gentleman”, takes on the topic from a unique perspective. Several stages of evolution are depicted in this ‘living’ diorama. As with many such sites between the Atlantic Coastal Plain and the Piedmont, layered remnants of decaying infrastructure may be seen. Note that some of the stratified layers are still being dated, though. Archeology should always be considered a work-in-progress, eh?

3 Hominid Specimens in the "Surviving: The Body of Evidence" exhibit
3 Hominid Specimens in the "Surviving: The Body of Evidence" exhibit

Three members of Homo Erectus bowed down in supplication while lighting the ‘Light of Learning’ as they prepare to pass down their hard-earned folklore to the next generation of visitors to their Penn University village museum exhibition. I felt humbled merely to be allowed to witness, let alone photograph, this ancient rite of passing the knowledge along to the village young (Note: youths not included).

Schoolchildren under the firm educational grip of their village elder
Schoolchildren under the firm educational grip of their village elder

The passing of generational knowledge can only be achieved when the initiates are arrayed in the traditional two rows of the buddy system.

A tribal supplicant awaiting the chance to become the next village archeologist
A tribal supplicant awaiting the chance to become the next village anthropologist

Not every member of the tribe is worthy of carrying the lore to subsequent generations. Note the symbolically removed arms.

Rolls of mummification swathing
Rolls of mummification swathing

Large rolls of ritual swathing await the impending anointment of the next archeologist or anthropologist of the tribe, and that honored person’s mummification, into these hallowed halls of lore.

Monument of the little known archeologist
Memorial of the little-known archeologist

I misunderstood the significance of this monument at first. I had mistakenly attributed it as a shrine to the region’s descendants, and to their survivors’ eating rites. The reader will hopefully forgive me for initailly attributing this great stone work to the faceless memory of purveyors, and consumers, of the edible (but rarely ‘digestible’) local delicacies;  ‘Scrapple’ and ‘cheese steak’. I was soon set right about its true purpose, and import. I recall now the sense of awe I then felt when standing queasily before it.

Ramses ll entombed with his royal fan for the afterlife
Ramses ll entombed with his royal fan for the afterlife

Behold. Former ‘Head Curator’ Ramses ll came prepared to survive, and thus carried his royal fan into the afterlife. Such a great personage would always be entombed with devices and accessories for sustaining or ‘surviving’ with a royally befitting future. Even a pharaoh can’t be ‘too cool’ for comfort in this humid subtropical climate zone afterlife.

The Oracle at Delphia
The Oracle at Delphia

Here, I finally came to the inner hestia (“hearth”) of the Temple of Apollo, the famed “Oracle at Delphia”, affectionately referred to as ‘Philly’. The name Delphois begins with the same four Greek letters as delphus, meaning “womb” and may indicate ancient reverence for Gaia, Grandcurator of Earth, and the Earth Goddess at this oracle museum site. Apollo is often hailed by his name Delphinios, “the Delphinian.”

His name is connected with dolphins in the Hymn to Apollo by the early travel guide writer, Homer.
recounting the legend of how Apollo first came to {Phila}Delphi in the shape of a dolphin, carrying Cretan archeologists on his back. Sadly, while I could almost hear the faint sounds of dolphins, I was unable to decipher the many rumblings of the mysterious oracle. Alas.

Unique 'Balance Earrings' at the Gift Bazaar
Unique 'Balance Earrings' from Ur at the Gift Bazaar

I must put in a word for the Penn Museum Gift shop bazaar: It’s one of the best of its breed; A warren of interesting items at reasonable prices (be sure to check with your local guide for the current trading rates). It looks like it’d be good for schoolchildren, and their teachers. And what a trove for people like us, who require little tokens of our journeys! We were able to acquire needed things for our important gifting rituals and for those behavioral reward exchanges so common in human societies.

The museum staff, at the front desk, guards, gift shop, curators, etc. were all very nice and helpful to curious travelers such as ourselves. If our investigative ventures take us into this challenging Delaware river region again, I hope to glean further artifacts and enlightenments.

Ritual chants for memnbers of the 'learned' class
Tablet of Ritual chants for members of the 'learned' class

I leave you now, to your own journeys, with a salutation I learned on the Chestnut Hill of Philadelphia:

With a triumphal cry, I bid you “Ad Nauseam!”

Ken Storch

Author: P U

13 thoughts on “Penn Museum, National Science Foundation, Surviving: The Body of Evidence exhibit, A Memoir

  1. But I wondered why it didn’t show at the top of the blog, like your latest entries usually do??? I almost missed it!!!!!!!!

  2. Glad you liked it, mandi.
    As to the front page position, I swap things around at times.
    I put it back so that it is now appearing in the Headline position.

    Thanks for your feedback.

  3. The Gentlemen exhibit caught my attention also, but I see it as more than merely an amusing example of evolutionary process. The meaning of the array of artifacts in this exhibit is at the heart of the long standing debate between two schools of evolutionary thought: “gradual phylogeny” and “punctuated equilibrium.” As opposed to a gradual change, the sudden appearance (on the far right) of a radically new type of receptacle gives unambiguous support to the “P.E.” theory of the late Stephen (no relation) Jay Gould and Niles Eldridge.

    1. While I agree with your observations to a point, Steven, neither ‘school of thought’ explains origins of the auto-flushing sensory appendages which seem to appear suddenly in the fossil record. One merely needs to take a ‘step back’ for the anomaly to make its presence known to a careful observer.

      1. Unfortunately the aforementioned theories only refer to process, not necessarily specific events. Sometimes it is difficult to discern directionality eg. the chicken/egg conundrum. Perhaps they are vestigial organs. Perhaps the creationists are on to something.

      1. Not saying, just asking. Thanks to the photo, now when I visit the Gent’s I have so much more to think about.

  4. It is delightful. I love the timeless quality of the array of objects and annotations.
    Like a dream or surreal image, time is irrelevant, just another possible element in the composition.


    Please do plan to return to continue the archeological investigation of our Delphi.

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