- What’s On
The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is the largest university museum in the USA with a million objects on its collection. April 2018 sees the opening of its new Middle Eastern Galleries, the first of a series of ‘Signature’ galleries. Through some 1200 objects, including 4,500-year-old jewellery from a Sumerian queen, the gallery will show how ancient Mesopotamian societies gave rise to the world’s first cities.
The Penn has been involved in excavations since the end of the 19th century when it carried out the first expeditions to the Sumerian city of Nippur, then in the Ottoman empire. In the 1920s, it worked with the British Museum and archaeologist Sir Leonard Woollley at Ur where the Sumerian Royal Tombs yielded gold and lapis items such as the two ram-shaped lyre. The museums took one each, and the Penn’s is on view in the new galleries.
Since 1950 the university has been involved with the excavations in the Phrygian city of Gordion, and in 2016 the museum hosted The Golden Age of King Midas, with a spectacular array of specially-loaned ancient artifacts from Turkey.
Some of the earliest photographs of Phrygian monuments are at Penn, and were published in John Henry Haynes: A Photographer and Archaeologist in the Ottoman Empire 1881–1900, by Robert G Ousterhout (Cornucopia Books), who is Professor of History of Art at Pennsylvania University and a regular contributor to Cornucopia.
Currently the University is at work around Ankara and elsewhere in Turkey for its Anatolian Genetic History Project, a genetic and ethnographic study of populations in Central Anatolia, to discover their origins and affinities with European, Near Eastern and Central Asian groups. The DNA studies go back 15,000 years.
The landscape is green and idyllic. It might be the backdrop in a Renaissance oil painting of some myth from the ancient world – which, in a way, is exactly what it is. The kings and princes of this land turned to dust long ago, and now many of the villagers are leaving, too. A sense of timelessness hangs over the land. Everywhere along its roads, one sees monuments and fragments, chunks hewn from a past that has almost assumed the status of legend: the times of Midas, Gordius, Alcibiades, and Seyyit Battal Gazi, the Romans, Seljuks and Ottomans.
This is Phrygia, one of the most beautiful and historic regions of Turkey, but a genuine case of a land that time and modernity have so far forgotten. Although the first ominous stirrings of tourism and development can be detected, as yet the bulldozers and construction machines have shown no signs of moving in.
The name Phrygia, a purely historical and geographical label, comes from the Phrygians, a people who dominated western central Anatolia during most of the gap between the fall of the Hittites, just before 1150BC, and about 690BC, when they were conquered by the Cimmerians. For a while they were one of the most powerful kingdoms in the Near East, and the beauty of their little-known monuments and artefacts suggests that, had the dice of history rolled more kindly, they might have been an powerful influence on world art.