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Our Story

The Penn Museum respectfully acknowledges that it is situated on Lenapehoking, the ancestral and spiritual homeland of the Unami Lenape.

The Sphinx Gallery full of visitors

Our Mission

Transforming understanding of the human experience.

Home to over a million extraordinary artifacts and archaeological finds from Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the Mediterranean, the Penn Museum has been uncovering our shared humanity across continents and millennia since 1887. In bridging archaeology, the study of objects made by humans, with anthropology, the science of humanity, we chart a course for finding one’s own place in the arc of human history.

We are dedicated to telling powerful stories that emerge from excavations and research across the world. And nowhere else in the Western Hemisphere will you be greeted by a 3000-year-old, 15-ton Egyptian sphinx!

If there is one thing that 10,000 years of human history have taught us, it is that we have more in common than we think. In the canon of human existence, our past, present, and future paths are inextricably intertwined. What does the Code of Hammurabi have to do with the U.S. constitution? How can archaeology help to predict climate change? And what radical social changes accelerated by ancient plagues could be replicated in a post-COVID world?

The Penn Museum sparks curiosity, wonder, and endless exploration. We invite everyone to join our incredible journey of discovery and dig deeper.

Small Egyptian artifacts in a storage box

Our History

From groundbreaking excavations to ongoing innovation.

Our journey as an institution began with an excavation of the ancient Mesopotamian city of Nippur―the first American excavation in the Middle East and a groundbreaking undertaking in the history of archaeological research. Since that time, over 300 field excavations and anthropological research projects around the world have set us apart as an active research and educational institution.

Today, our mission is fulfilled by 22 curators, 5 teaching specialists, and over 150 affiliated consulting scholars.

Our Collection

Stewards of our remarkable history and humanity.

Our vast and varied collection of archaeological finds and ethnographic objects is organized in eleven curatorial sections documenting the peoples of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. These holdings, as well as the Museum Archives of excavation and research projects, are used by researchers and borrowing institutions worldwide. And our curators and interpretive planners draw on these rich resources to provide compelling context to our galleries, where visitors can travel the globe in a day.

A woman showing a young child lab samples from an artifact

Our Impact

Making archaeology and anthropology accessible.

Over 180,000 visitors experience our galleries, exhibitions, and extensive range of public programs each year, finding us onsite, online, in local communities, and around the world.

For Penn undergraduate and graduate students, our Academic Engagement Department offers myriad academic and professional learning opportunities, including intensive classes, summer fieldwork support, and more. Penn students can also receive teaching and mentorship in archeological science through our Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials (CAAM).

Beyond campus, we partner with the School District of Philadelphia to deliver Unpacking the Past, an up-close, hands-on series of lessons sparking middle school students’ curiosity for ancient civilizations. As a leading international archaeological teaching center, we reach classrooms in our communities and around the world through onsite and online learning programs.

Highlights

A view of the Penn Museum from above

Our Grounds

Our building and gardens are historic marvels.

Built over the course of more than a century (1899–2005), the Museum incorporates striking architectural styles, soaring galleries that house world-class collections, state-of-the-art laboratories that yield new discoveries each day, and beautiful public gardens. From our first expedition in 1887 to gallery transformations in 2019, learn more about the timeline behind our building’s incredible history.

Our Ongoing Transformation

Building Transformation—inside and out.

Building Transformation, part of Penn’s Power of Penn Campaign, is a game-changing renovation and reimagination of our historic space concluding in June of 2021. A reinstallation of more than 44,000 square feet of galleries is making our building fully accessible to everyone—including families with strollers and people with disabilities—for the very first time.

We are also weaving a fundamental philosophical transformation into our institutional fabric by embracing a commitment to tackle barriers to equity for our staff, public, and research and community partners, while rethinking how to activate gallery experiences with new kinds of programming.

Our Commitments

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in everything we do.

Because a fundamental part of our transformation is hinged on breaking down barriers to equity, we are working on being the Penn Museum our community needs.

We commit to embracing and applying a DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility) mindset in everything we do with and for our entire community, including staff, research and community partners, and the public we serve.

From our fully paid internship program addressing inequities in the museum field to working with heritage communities on respectful return of human remains through NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) led initiatives, our DEIA commitments span our internal and external operations.

We recognize that this is only the beginning and the work is ongoing. We will continue to share progress updates as our commitments evolve across collections and exhibitions, communications, hiring policies, community partnerships, and more.