Philadelphia is expecting many of inches of snow, and the weather should start any minute now. It’s safe to say that the city has descended into a full-throated freak-out.
So, let’s put it in perspective with some snow photos from the archives!
So remember, if you’re going to go out, bring your parka made from the throat of a sea lion, your snow shoes, your AWESOME mid-1930s truck and the third-largest sphinx in the world.
In the archives, we tend to have about a thirty-year lag between something happening at the museum and a researcher wanting to look at those records. However, it’s worth reminding our public that the Penn Museum is actively involved in dozens of research projects, and that the scientists and others involved in this process are creating records every day.
Amy Ellsworth, writing for the Middle Mekong Archaeological Project, has produced one of the more fascinating blogs I have ever encountered. She writes about life on an archaeological dig with humor and a sense of adventure — I would recommend this for anyone who’s interested in archaeology, travel, or who just wants to know what it’s like to ride an elephant.
The Middle Mekong Archaeological Project team is studying caves in the World Heritage site of Luang Prabang in the heart of the middle Mekong River basin, in northern Laos. China is to the north, Vietnam to the north and east, and Thailand to the south and west. As an area at the core of Southeast Asia, yet one that is virtually an archaeological terra incognita, northern Laos can provide some missing puzzle-pieces in several theories on how settled societies developed in the region.
It’s been a week chock-full of crazy here in the archives (my woo-woo friends tell me that Mercury is retrograde, plus it’s been a full moon. If that means anything). Sometimes, when I’m having a hard day, I go through our database and just try to find cute photos. So here we are.
Surely these two guys and a gal have something to say. Create dialogue for them in the comments section — the most clever (by our standards) will win a prize from the archives. Be sure to leave an email address so that we can let you claim your winnings.
It’s great when you find something that is beautiful and also conveys a great amount of information.
This is not one of those circumstances.
But it’s Friday, and we’ve been proofing catalog records all day, and sometimes one just needs to gaze at something very beautiful.
These are photos of two pith books in the collection of the Penn Museum Archives, that we pull out for special visitors. The paper’s cells swell upon contact with the paint, making it appear that the paint is blossoming out of the paper.
These paintings were produced in China in the 19th century, to feed a tourist market for small, portable, and very “Oriental” souvenirs.
Ours came into the museum by way of the Education Department, which collected items from all over the world for the children to observe and touch. Given this history, it is not surprising that the bindings are falling apart, but very impressive how well-preserved the paintings are! We have one album devoted to bugs and butterflies, and one showing Chinese “court” scenes.
It’s really impossible to convey how captivating these are. The images seem to float over the paper, and the colors are rich and full. For cheap-and-dirty souvenirs, these still were the work of great artists.
They don’t have much to do with the history of the Penn Museum. But I hope they’re inspiring, as you plan your weekend activities:
Preserving Pith Paintings by By Terry Boone, at the Library of Congress:
Two collectors’ descriptions:
Well, okay, Maya stelae are possibly less immediately dramatic than either Tennessee Williams or the Simpsons. And sure, it’s a different word with a different pronunciation. But the stone monuments in our Meso-American gallery might be my favorite part of walking into the archives in the morning. There’s something about Stela 14 from Piedras Negras that takes my breath away.
Piedras Negras is a Maya site in Guatemala particularly noted for the beautifully sculpted stelae and hieroglyphic inscriptions it has yielded. The site, located in the northwestern corner of the Department of Petén, Guatemala, along the Usumacinta River, which forms in this area the border between Guatemala and Mexico, was discovered in 1894 by a Mexican lumber man, and brought to the attention of Teobert Maler, a pioneer archaeologist and explorer of the Ancient Maya. Maler visited the site in 1895 and 1899 under the auspices of the Peabody Museum of Harvard University, but conducted no excavations.
Between 1931 and 1939 the University of Pennsylvania Museum conducted extensive excavations at this site. J. Alden Mason, Curator of the American Section, went to Guatemala in 1930 to select the site and obtain an excavation permit that would allow for the removal on loan to the Museum of half of the monumental sculpture uncovered by the expedition. Mason’s visit also served to make renewed arrangements with Robert J. Burkitt, who was also excavating in Guatemala for the Museum at this time. In December of the same year Mason visited the site again as a member of the Museum’s aerial survey of Petén and Yucatan.
The work of the first two seasons concentrated heavily on building a road to the site through the jungle and the removal of a number of monumental stone stelae and other sculpture, half of which were sent to Guatemala City and the other half to the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Included among these was Lintel 3, dated ca. 750 AD, still considered to be among the most beautiful specimens of Maya sculpture, and Stela 14, shown above, credited with giving Tatiana Proskouriakoff the inspiration for her decipherment of Maya hieroglyphics. The second season produced a new map of the site but also saw part of the camp catch on fire, resulting in the loss of part of the photographic record.
Under Satterthwaite’s direction, the focus of the excavations shifted from the more glamorous task of bringing carved monuments to the exhibition galleries of the museum to purely archaeological questions, such as uncovering architectural remains, establishing building sequences, and stratigraphy. Satterthwaite concentrated heavily on the architecture of the city, excavating a total of eleven temples and seventeen palaces, as well as two ball courts and a number of sweathouses.
Most of the monuments borrowed from Guatemala were returned to the country of origin in January, 1947, after an extension to the original loan. Only Stela 14 and one leg from Altar 4 remain on display in the Museum’s Mesoamerican Gallery today.
A number of publications have resulted from the findings at Piedras Negras, but Satterthwaite never finished all the reports he intended to produce. So, intrepid scholars and students, make a name for yourselves by diving into our heretofore unpublished Piedras Negras records!
Ah, our lantern slide collection. A cornucopia of preservation problems and cataloging head-scratchers. Here’s a sunny image for a rainy day here in Philadelphia:
Sometimes working in the archives is like being a contestant on “What in the World?” We’re not experts in any one area, and it’s difficult to figure out what’s happening in an image, where it came from, and why we have it. However, this doesn’t keep us from enjoying our extremely eclectic collection.