Museum Studies Fieldwork Seminar
Faculty Advisor: Sylvia Houghteling & Monique Scott
Field Site: Penn Museum
Field Supervisor: Katy Blanchard
Praxis Poster:Julie Knoepfler_Final Poster
For my internship at the Penn Museum, my primary task was to inventory, photograph, label, bag, and put away material from the archaeological site of Beth Shean. Along the way I also got to label and box cuneiform tablets, make boxes for the larger tablets, and put away and pull objects for researchers. Besides learning how to properly do all of my assigned tasks I also learned a lot from handling the objects. Katy was able to give me many insights into how ancient life in Beth Shean was like.
On this poster, I have broken down my favorite objects, that I’ve worked with, into categories to showcase the broad connections I’ve made between them. The first category is Water and Agriculture. One of the objects is a pipe to transport water, from Beth Shean. In class, I had previously learned about the complex irrigation systems implemented by various Western Asian empires/rulers. Being able to hold this object in my hands showcased to me the massive and extensive nature of this system of moving the flow of water. The second object, the strainer, was used for beer making. Katy informed me that reeds were used in Mesopotamia to drink beer, under the floating hops. However, reeds didn’t grow in the Levant, so strainers were used. It was interesting how the movement of water via a strainer was also being controlled, and was largely shaped by the environment and agriculture, but on a much smaller scale. The second section of the poster concerns writing. Holding ancient tablets in my hands that were potentially letters, legal documents, or accounting lists was fascinating. I was holding a piece of written history in my hands. As for the tile fragments from Rayy, in Iran, they contain Arabic writing. Katy informed me that it was likely for religious purposes. It was fascinating to contrast two entirely different languages and usages for language. However, both kinds of objects were ultimately created to communicate a narrative. The third poster section is Brick Impressions. These impressions emphasized to me how the identity of the person/animal who left this impression will likely never be known but they have still made both a literal and more symbolic impression which has been preserved. The last section of objects contains ceramic objects. I like to think of these objects as illustrating a kind of “life cycle” of a ceramic piece. The first object showcases how ceramics were made, with a stand used for baking each piece in a kiln. The second kind of object, the broken sherds containing holes, illustrate how an ancient person would’ve likely fixed a broken piece, using wire through the holes. These objects teach us both about the ceramic pieces’ original creation and what happens when they eventually break.
Finally, I highlight the trip that Katy took Joy and I on to New York City to visit The Met and ISAW on the poster. On the trip we learned about different museum careers and got to learn about both curation and renovation of galleries, in various contexts. It was also interesting how much the “everyday” was emphasized on the trip. At ISAW, along with wall paintings of great heroes like Hercules and Achilles, there were depictions of common people going about their lives. At the Met, along with statues of great rulers, such as Gudea, and reliefs and prominent statues from palaces, there were also various examples of everyday items. Ultimately, both my internship at the Penn Museum and trip to New York, has made me appreciate the more everyday objects I have been able to work with and learn from. Classes I have taken, in the past, were focused more on the big picture. We learned about kings, empires, and large-scale military conquest. We also studied the corresponding objects: reliefs and steles, palaces, and ziggurats. “Common” people, in the ancient world, were often not emphasized in the classes I’ve taken previously, yet at the museum their everyday objects were key to my learning experience.