Penn’s great big dig

In the late 1880s, while the Penn Museum was putting up its building in Philly, it was simultaneously digging deep into the ground halfway around the world. The new exhibit “Archaeologists and Travelers in Ottoman Lands” tells the story of that expedition to the Mesopotamian site of Nippur, then part of the Ottoman Empire but now located in Iraq near Baghdad.

The trek was spearheaded by three unique archaeologists: painter and Imperial Ottoman Museum director Osman Hamdi Bey, photographer John Henry Haynes and German Assyriologist and Penn professor Hermann Vollrath Hilprecht.

According to co-curator Robert Ousterhout, “the exhibit is really the story of three intersecting lives and what they tell us about cultural encounters, the beginnings of archaeology and American intellectual history in this period.”

The show features two oil paintings by Hamdi Bey which have never before been displayed, along with s cuneiform tablets found at the site, numerous other artifacts and dozens of Haynes’ photographs.

“Haynes was the father of American archaeological photography,” Ousterhout says. “He looked at the sites he visited with the eye of an artist and the eye of a scientist.”

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