4,000-Year-Old Footprint Left Behind In Ur To Feature In Penn Museum’s New Middle East Galleries In 2018

Hadi MizbanAP Images

The University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, otherwise known as Penn Museum, is about to open their stunning new Middle East Galleries in 2018 and one of the undisputed stars of their collection will include a 4,000-year-old footprint that was left behind in the Sumerian city of Ur, in what is now Iraq.

The individual who either knowingly or unknowingly left their footprint behind in a once wet piece of mud brick used for construction 4,000 years ago in Ur is a mystery to us now. Perhaps they were helping to construct a building in what was once a large city in southern Mesopotamia or perhaps they just happened to be gliding by and thought they would permanently leave their mark behind.

In this they would have been correct, as their footprint will reportedly be standing guard at the entrance to Penn Museum’s New Middle East Galleries to welcome visitors to a vast survey of civilizations now extinct.

When it comes to the exploration of ancient cities in the Middle East, Penn Museum was the first museum in the United States to really understand the region’s inherent worth and sent the country’s first expedition there in 1887. During their archaeological survey, officials visited the old city of Nippur in what was Ottoman territory during the time of their visit.

Now that the museum has been there hundreds of times since, it makes sense that they are one of the undisputed world leaders when it comes to their collection of artifacts from the Near East. In fact, their collection is so large that they currently hold well over 100,000 objects from this region according to Popular Archaeology.

Penn Museum’s new Middle East Galleries will host many of these ancient artifacts while they take you on a 10,000 year journey that lets visitors understand what it would have felt like to have lived in the world’s smallest villages, which eventually turned into massive and complex city-states over time.

There will be 1200 different objects on display at the new exhibit including the intricately designed 4,500-year-old jewelry that once adorned the Sumerian Queen Puabi. This particular headdress was created using silver, gold, lapis lazuli and carnelian.

Other treasures will include one of the most ancient vessels that contained wine along with one of the oldest known musical instruments known as a lyre which was constructed with the head of a bull. Also featured are a pair of very famous figurines known as the Ram in a Thicket. These statuettes are a pair of goats that were sculpted between the years 2600 to 2400 BC and were discovered in 1928 by archaeologist Leonard Woolley when visiting the Royal Cemetery at Ur.

Penn Museum's new Middle East Galleries will feature Sumerian Queen Puabi's headdress.
Penn Museum's new Middle East Galleries will feature the headdress of Sumerian Queen Puabi constructed of silver, gold, carnelian and lapis lazuli.Featured image credit: Khue BuiAP Images

Penn Museum’s Executive Director Dan Rahimi believes that there are many lessons to be imparted from their new exhibit, particularly when it comes to learning about the lives of ancient Mesopotamians who once lived in cities. This is especially appropriate as the majority of Americans also live in cities today.

“What’s remarkable about this story: by 2700 BCE, about 80 percent of Mesopotamians lived in cities. Today, 81 percent of U.S. citizens live in cities. What can we learn from the past?”

Julian Siggers of Penn Museum also believes that the study of the transformation of lives lived mainly in small villages which eventually shifted to large cities works well in the context of the history of the city of Philadelphia.

“It is especially fitting that we begin our Signature Gallery transformations with these new galleries. The story of how ancient Mesopotamian societies gave rise to the world’s first cities, cities not so very different from Philadelphia, America’s first World Heritage City, is one that we are uniquely qualified to tell.”

If you’re interested in perusing lovingly collected ancient artifacts from Mesopotamia and going on a journey through time, Penn Museum’s new Middle East Galleries will officially open to the public on April 21, 2018.