Penn Museum is Only East Coast Venue for "Secrets of the Silk Road"

Secrets of the Silk Road
February 5, 2011 through June 5, 2011

Female Mummy, The Beauty of Xiaohe, ca. 1800 BCE, excavated at Xiaohe, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China. Copyright Wang Da-Gang.

PHILADELPHIA, PA —Secrets of the Silk Road, a major new exhibition of international importance, concludes its three city US tour in 2011 with a stop at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology—the only East Coast venue.

Organized by the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California, where it will be on display March 27, 2010 through July 25, 2010, this exhibition draws on the collections of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum and the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology in Urumqi in northwest China.

This groundbreaking exhibition features more than 150 objects that represent the rich cultural heritage over the past four millennia of East Central Asia—a crossroads of the Silk Road. These include clothing, textiles, wooden and bone implements, coins, documents, and jewel-encrusted vessels, masks, and jewelry. Pride of place, however, is given to three well-preserved mummies dating from 1800 BC to AD 400—a man, a woman, and a child—that scholars note bear a strong resemblance to peoples found to the north in Siberia and to the west in Persia and even Europe.

Victor H. Mair, Penn Museum Consulting Scholar and Penn Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, is credited with “rediscovering” the remarkably well-preserved Tarim Basin mummies in the 1990s. Over the last two decades, he has worked tirelessly to bring more research to bear on both the mummies and the complex interregional connections that their human and material remains suggest.

In April 1996, he organized the first scholarly symposium at the Penn Museum to consider the mummies. “The Mystery Mummies of the Tarim Basin, Central Asia” featured scholars from several continents, drew a crowd of more than 300 people, and garnered national attention, including full-page coverage in The New York Times. In 2000, he co-authored The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest People (Thames & Hudson) and is the editor for this new exhibition’s catalog.

“To be able to be a part of bringing this exhibition to America, and especially to the University of Pennsylvania and this region, is an honor and a joy,” noted Dr. Mair. “My hope is that this exhibition will open up a whole new world of understanding and interest in the complex ancient history of this part of China, and the vast area where so many peoples connected so long ago.”

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 400 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind's collective heritage.

Penn Museum is located at 3260 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (on Penn's campus, across from Franklin Field and adjacent to SEPTA's University City Regional Rail station serving the R1, R2, and R3 lines). Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 am to 4:30 pm, Sunday 1:00 to 5:00 pm. Closed Mondays and holidays. Regular Museum admission donation is $10 for adults; $7 for senior citizens (65 and above); $6 children (6 to 17) and full-time students with ID; free to Members, Penncard holders, and children 5 and younger; "pay-what-you-want" after 3:30 pm Tuesday through Saturday, and after 4:00 pm Sunday. (Secrets of the Silk Road will have a special exhibition pricing structure.) Penn Museum can be found on the web at For general information call (215) 898-4000.

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