From left to right: Shroud, Gold (on modern fabric), 500 – 400 BCE, Maikop (Russia) (photo by Raffi Berberian); Bull’s Head and Panel of Lyre, 2450 BCE, Ur (Iraq) (photo by Eric Sucar); Winged Genie Relief, 883-859 BCE, Nimrud (Iraq) (photo by Raffi Berberian)

The 4,500-year-old crowning jewelry of a Mesopotamian queen. A “bull-headed” string instrument. One of the world’s oldest wine vessels. A baby’s rattle. A school child’s first writing primer. Through these fascinating objects and over 1,200 more, the Penn Museum’s new Middle East Galleries take you on a journey, exploring how ancient Mesopotamian societies gave rise to the world’s first cities — cities not so different from our own.

Ten thousand years ago, in the fertile crescent of the Middle East, the most transformative point in our human history was set in motion: the domestication of plants and animals prompted the shift from hunting and gathering to farming, establishing the first settled societies. Villages developed, then towns, then cities. Writing and mathematics developed for record keeping. Following a central theme of the “Journey to the City,” the Middle East Galleries vividly illustrate how the first settlements led to the first cities, and how our modern urbanized world can be traced to developments in ancient Mesopotamia.

The story of the ancient Middle East is one that the Penn Museum can tell uniquely well: the Museum was founded in 1887 to house artifacts from its first expedition to Nippur, the first American-led archaeological project in the region. Since then, the Museum has excavated an unparalleled constellation of sites in the Middle East, where active research continues today. The Middle East Galleries will highlight the Museum’s pioneering research, with updates as we make new discoveries each year. 95% of the material on display in the Middle East Galleries was excavated by Penn archaeologists, including world-renowned objects like the “Ram in the Thicket.” The new galleries explore how archaeologists found and interpreted such fascinating artifacts.

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