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University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Posted on Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Transforming the understanding of the human experience.

The History

In 1887 the University of Pennsylvania was preparing for an archeological expedition to the site of Nippur, an ancient Sumerian city in present day Iraq.  The expedition would be the first American expedition to ancient Babylonia to excavate the site of Nippur in what was then the Ottoman Empire.  University Provost William Pepper decided that the University of Pennsylvania was in need of a building to safely house the invaluable artifacts that would be collected from Nippur.  Pepper established the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Museum (commonly known as the Penn Museum) and hired the architecture firm of Cope & Stewardson along with Wilson Eyre and Frank Miles Day to design the museum. Construction began in 1890 and the first phase of the construction was completed in 1899.  The result was a beautiful Eclectic style building that quickly became one of the defining buildings on Penn’s campus.
Following the great success of the expedition to Nippur, the University of Pennsylvania began to sponsor more expeditions.  In the years that followed, expeditions were planned to every corner of the globe, over 300 in total.  With each expedition, the collection at the Penn Museum continued to grow. Over the years numerous additions have been added onto the original building to house the growing collection.
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
Today the Penn Museum is home to over one million objects and is known as one of the world’s premier archaeological and anthropological museums.  Highlights of the collection include a 3,200 year old 15 ton sphinx that is the third largest sphinx in the world as well architectural elements from the 3,200 year old palace of the pharaoh Merenptah.  Even more impressive, the vast majority of the items located within the museum were discovered on archeological exhibitions led by the University of Pennsylvania.  This means that Penn Museum has the ability to not only display these incredible artifacts but to also contextualize them in a way that is only possible through knowing the details of each and every discovery.

What to See

The collection at the Penn Museum is extensive and artifacts come from nearly every corner of the earth.  The museum is broken down into sections based on where each item is found.  The largest section is the American Section which contains over 300,000 artifacts from all over the Americas including Alaska, Argentina and Central America.  The Mediterranean section displays artifacts dating back to the Ancient Greek and Roman empires while other collections highlight collections from Asia, Africa, Ancient Babylonia, Egypt, Europe, the Near East, and Oceania.  There is even a collection dedicated to early colonial American history.
Sphinx - Photo Credit: The Penn Museum
Beyond their vast collections the Penn Museum is also home to a number of special exhibitions that you can only see for a limited time.  The Penn Museum just recently debuted an exhibit that will run until November 2015 titled “Beneath the Surface: Life, Death, & Gold in Ancient Panama” that display the finds of a pre-Columbian cemetery of Sitio Conte that helps to shed light on a mysterious and complex society that thrived in Panama 1,000 years ago.  Another exhibit which will remain open until 2019 is titled “Native American Voices: The People – Here and Now” and focuses on the distinct stories, histories and identities of Native Americans.

Insider Tips

The Penn Museum is a popular place to go for school field trips and makes a great companion to schools that are coming to Philadelphia to take The Constitutional Walking Tour.  Interested teachers can contact the Penn Museum and receive a discounted rate on their student’s tickets.  College students can also take advantage of receiving $5 of their tickets by presenting a college ID and active military personal can visit the museum for free.
If you’re a museum lover there’s also another discount ticket available to you, the Mütter Museum double ticket.  The Mütter Museum is a favorite of our sister tour, the Spirits of ’76 Ghost Tour, and if you buy a ticket to both the Mütter Museum and the Penn Museum you’ll save $4.
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

How to Get There

The Penn Museum is located on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in West Philadelphia.  Guests of The Constitutional Walking Tour can easily get across town to reach the museum in a number of ways.  The Penn Museum is roughly 2.5 miles from the National Constitution Center where all of our tours begin and end so a walk would be a bit lengthy but pleasant.  Start walking south on 6th Street towards Market Street and then make a right on Walnut Street.  Take Walnut across town and over the Schuylkill River and then make a left on 33rd Street.  The Penn Museum will be on your left hand side at the intersection of 33rd Street and South Street.
The easiest way to get to the Penn Museum is likely public transit.  The Penn Museum is a very short walk away from the University City Regional Rail Station and is also within close walking distance of the 34th Street Station of the Market Frankford Line and the 33rd Street Trolley Station, which serves numerous trolley lines.  Those who wish to drive can find parking in numerous parking garages located on Penn’s campus, the closest of which is garage 7.  Although the Penn Museum warns that parking is extremely limited on weekdays.


Monday: Closed
Tuesday – Sunday: 10:00am – 5:00pm
First Wednesday of the Month: 10:00am – 8:00pm
(Note: These hours are subject to change and you may want to contact the Penn Museum to confirm)

Additional Information

University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
3260 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Visit the Spirits of 76 Ghost Tours