Plenty of ticket-holders and museum-goers were disappointed when Penn Museum suddenly announced that the mummies and artifacts that were to serve as the centerpieces of their “Secrets of the Silk Road” exhibition could not be displayed thanks to a dispute with Chinese authorities.
But no one was as disappointed as curatorial consultant Victor Mair, for whom the exhibition culminated two decades of study in the region. “I felt very embarrassed when we could only show visitors flat pieces of photography and dummy mummies,” Mair says.
But the full exhibit is now on display, mummies and all. What Mair originally termed a “bureaucratic snafu” has now been updated to a “miscalculation,” though he remains tight-lipped about the full story behind the mishap.
Now that the exhibit is installed in full, through March 15, visitors can see two mummies and the burial trappings of a third, along with clothing, textiles, jewelry and other artifacts found along the ancient Central Asian trade route, some of it dating back more than 3,000 years and much of it remarkably well-preserved.
Putting it in perspective
Despite its historical significance and much-publicized opening, Mair hopes people can relate to the exhibit on an intimate, personal level. “We hope that people understand that while the Silk Road seems like a really remote place, it has implications for our daily lives,” he says. “We don’t want people to experience this exhibition with a sense of exoticism, but rather feeling a kindred spirit.”