University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
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Lifelong Learning

Learning doesn’t stop once you leave the classroom – immerse yourself in a new culture, and uncover the research and archaeological breakthroughs that occur daily at Penn Museum! Our Lifelong Learning workshops provide your group with the opportunity for global learning by bringing you up close and personal with international educators, artists, and museum-affiliated archaeologists and anthropologists.

World Culture

Learn more about a country directly from a person who lived there! This series provides a very personal interaction for your group. Our diverse workshops cover countries and cultures from the following continents or regions:

If you had to choose only 10 items you can fit in your backpack to leave home for a new country, what would you bring? What do you choose to leave? Will you make a choice based on your personal values or based on necessity for survival? In this session, Yaroub Al-Obaidi, a designer, shares his long journey traveling from Iraq, through Syria, to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and finally to Philadelphia. He will “visit” each point of his journey with a set of artifacts ---- items that he packed for his departure to a new land. Describing the memories, challenges and hopes he had at each transition, Yaroub explains the contexts of global conflicts and refugee issues, and highlight what life is like for refugees in different parts of the world. Dialogues prompted by Yaroub’s vivid photographs encourage you to think about the complex issues of international affairs in a very personal way.
A kanga is a traditional garment in East African culture. This printed cotton fabric is designed with bright colors and inspirational messages. The kanga serves many functions and communicates messages through riddles and proverbs. Ladies traditionally will wrap a kanga in their own fashion, while gentlemen will offer kangas as gifts. A Kenyan instructor teaches students about the history of kangas, their cultural meanings, and their functions. Groups then create individual kangas using paper collage that features their own messages and African symbols.
Chinese New year is a time of exploding firecrackers and leaping dragon dancers. This workshop takes a closer look at rituals and customs associated with Chinese New Year celebrations and explore the historical origins of these activities. Students will gain an understanding of these rituals, along with their cultural and social significance.
What is a Chinese character? Where do Chinese characters come from? How hard is to write a Chinese character? This workshop will examine the developmental history of Chinese characters, a journey of many thousand years. By looking at the transformation of these characters over time and many historical factors behind such changes, students gain a better understanding not only about Chinese characters but Chinese history and culture. Students practice writing some Chinese characters during the workshop.
Musical bows are structurally simple instruments that produce complex sounds. They can be found across the world but are most prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa with many variations. In what is now the Republic of South Africa, musicians use these instruments to tell stories of contact between indigenous Southern and South East African peoples and Portuguese, Dutch and English colonists. Bows and related instruments found in the Americas tell similar stories related to the trading enslaved African people across the Atlantic Ocean. In this workshop your group will learn to hear and imitate basic sounds of Umrhubhe and Uhadi, musical bows of the Xhosa people of eastern South Africa, and listen to Classical and contemporary Xhosa music. Through play and discussion, discuss themes and questions around cultural-political identity in the complex history of a country still grappling with the consequences of its colonial and apartheid past.
In this workshop, Madhusmita Bora, a performer of the Sattriya Dance Company takes you on a journey through a 600-year-old dance tradition, preserved, nourished and practiced until recently only by celibate monks in a little island in Northeast India. Your group will be exposed to stories from Hindu mythology through the dance, and will also learn about the monks and their lives. There will be masks, costumes and props on display. Along the way, you will be led in movement exercises and will be acquainted with some vocabulary of this ancient Indian tradition.
Stories from Native American Voices: The People – Here and Now Did you know that there are more than 500 federally recognized Native tribes in the United States? Explore the diversity of Native cultures in this workshop, which focuses on the histories and cultures of two very different North American tribes: one being the speaker’s own Native nation, the Navajo, and the second being the Lenni Lenape, who have lived in the Philadelphia region since immemorial time. Find out how objects speak for their creators, as the tangible aspects of cultural meaning and memory. Then explore the objects on display in Native American Voices: The People—Here and Now with fresh eyes and the knowledge that these objects have unique histories that say something special about the individuals who created and used them, and the cultures from which they come.
This workshop will introduce your group to Japanese school life and culture by closely examining the school lunch period. What do Japanese students have for lunch? Who prepares it? Where do the students eat and how is lunch served? Following a brief discussion of the definition and key components of culture, analyze the school lunch period as a case study. Explore the concept of "wa", which emphasizes harmony, unity and togetherness, grounded on the collectivist culture of Japan. Depending on the age group, the workshop concludes with a hands-on team activity to decorate their own Bento Boxes (lunch boxes) with colorful materials.
In this workshop, explore the Odissi Dance, a classical dance of Odisha, a State in the eastern India. Kakali Paramguru, a doctoral student of dance at Temple University, will guide you through the history of this dance form, dating back to the 2nd century BC. The body movements, expressions, and gestures of Odissi dance illustrate Indian mythological stories and devotional poems. Kakali will demonstrate how stories are told through this ancient dance expressions, and students will learn the language of Odissi Dance and express themselves through basic dance gestures. Groups of less than 120 people will receive a talk, dance demonstration and instructions without the formal performing costume. For a group of more than 120 people, the dance will be performed by Kakali in the formal costume.
What it was like to be a Native American before and after European contact? During this program, an educator with Lenape ancestry will use artifacts and storytelling to explain the history and traditions of different Native American cultures. Storytelling was an important aspect of the Native culture, and remains just as important to many Nations today. These stories appeal to different age levels and are complemented by artifacts that students may touch. These artifacts have been acquired or made by the educator herself, and help demonstrate the different roles each gender and age group play in daily village life.
Capoeira is a martial art disguised as a dance, with its own acrobatics, songs, and music. Afro-Brazilian slaves, who weren’t allowed to defend themselves, created Capoeira in the 16th century. They would pretend to be dancing and celebrating, but in fact were preparing a means to escape and form communities in the Brazilian forests called ‘Quilombos.’ In 2014, UNESCO listed the Capoeira “roda” (or circle, inside which Capoeira is played in pairs) as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity. In this workshop, learn about the origins and evolution of Capoeira as part of Brazil’s socio-cultural history, discover the musical instruments, rhythms, and songs specific to Capoeira, and learn some basic Capoeira moves so that they can participate in their first “roda” by the end of the workshop.

Archaeology and Anthropology Experts

Our museum-affiliated scholars share their experiences in the field through visuals, hands-on activities, and interactive discussions. Program include:


Archaeologists find things in groups, not one at a time, using the whole of what is found to learn about the past. This workshop guides you through a discussion of archaeological method, based on the fictitious murder of the speaker and a 300-years-after-the-fact recovery of the body. Participants learn that the important discovery is not the body but the sum total of all the things buried with the body: coins, eye glasses, pocket knife, personal jewelry, and so on. None of these finds would have been meaningful alone, but, together these things provide a surprisingly complete picture of the victim, despite the time between his murder and the discovery of the body. This example is followed by a discussion of a single artifact and the importance of context for understanding it, stressing that objects found together in context tell a stronger story than individual objects. After this, view photographs from an excavation of an Italian cemetery and discuss the contexts found that may bring meaning to the objects.
Until only recently, archaeology was a male dominated field. Meet a female Egyptian archaeologist, Shelby Justl, a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, and learn what opportunities and challenges women encounter in archaeology, especially working globally in the Middle East where the majority of team members are men.
Every year, Egyptian archeologists brush away sand and discover unknown pharaoh’s tombs or ancient hidden cities. Ever wonder what an archeologist actually does? How do they decide where to dig? Egyptian archaeologist Shelby Justl shows a typical day in the field, exposes you to recent incredible discoveries, and introduces experimental archaeology. Experimental archaeology is a method of understanding and recreating the past by actually performing the practices of the past, such as mummifying animals, firing pottery, building houses, mixing medical poultices and perfumes, baking bread, and brewing beer all according to ancient records.
Petra, "The Rose-Red City Half as Old as Time,” is nestled in a mountainous basin in a remote, rugged corner of Jordan. Recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, Petra is famous for its rock-cut tombs and monuments, including a Roman theater capable of seating as many as 8,500 people. Petra served for a time as one of the major trading centers of the ancient world. It also served as a backdrop for scenes in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. After a series of earthquakes in about 400 AD, Petra lay essentially abandoned; it was not rediscovered until 1812. Archaeological investigations at Petra continue to the present day. This presentation takes you behind the scenes on an actual dig at the site, where you will learn archaeology techniques, and whether or not archaeology is really like Indiana Jones.
When we think of mummies - often the first thing that comes to mind is Ancient Egypt – we envision monsters coming back to life, walking the earth once again. This lecture explores the world of preserved human remains through time and across continents - a 5,000-year journey. There exists an amazing diversity of preserved human remains; some created deliberately, some naturally, on virtually all continents, in all time periods. Enhanced by high quality images of preserved human remains, the lecture takes you on a journey from this life to the afterlife.
There are growing international concerns about the threats modern society poses to Egyptian cultural heritage. Current archaeological digs lie next to modern villages with residents walking through them and wildly spread rumors of treasure leading to illegal digging and black-market artifact sales. This workshop explores the effects of modern people on Penn’s archaeological site in Abydos. Your group will engage in a broader discussion of cultural heritage preservation through examination of political events such as Arab Spring, which affected Egyptian museums and archaeological sites. In the end, debate important questions such as, “Should objects remain in their country of origin in times of conflict?,” “Do you think statues, jewelry, and mummies should be transported to museums worldwide to reach a broader audience or should they remain in Egypt as their cultural property?”


Travel back in time to 1500 BCE to see ancient Egypt beyond the pyramids and mummies with Egyptologist Shelby Justl. Explore ancient Egyptian settlements and daily life, including the glamorous palaces of Pharaohs, to huge private officials’ villas, to small workmen’s dwellings. Learn more about the ancient Egyptians’ childhood, family life, occupations, leisure activities, and even what the clothing they wore and the food that they ate. Sweet Home Egypt also shares how ancient Egyptians handled challenges like illness, grief, theft, lazy co-workers, and bad bosses.
For around 3,000 years, the ancient Egyptians used a writing system that is known to us today as Egyptian Hieroglyphs. What we see as pictures of animals, weird shapes, and squiggly lines, are part of a complex writing system the Egyptians used to communicate between each other and even to their gods. In this workshop, Paul Verhelst, a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Archaeology Program will guide you through how the ancient Egyptians used pictures, sounds, and something called determinatives to write monumental inscriptions as well as administrative, legal, mathematical, medical, and literary texts. Together, we'll journey through the history, development, and rediscovery of one of the world's first written languages. Students will learn to write basic hieroglyphs as part of the workshop.

Biological and Forensic Anthropology

In an effort to learn more about the physical aspects of humankind, both past and present, anthropologists developed methods and techniques to evaluate human skeletal remains, techniques that apply in modern forensic (criminal) investigations. Using human remains from Dr. Phillips’ own research, this lecture introduces the audience to those scientific methods and techniques through digital images of actual human bones from ancient Egypt, some as old as the pyramids themselves. Participants will learn, in non-technical terms, the basic steps in determining a female from a male, younger from older, and what else bones can tell us about the person. A highlight of the lecture is a re-examination of a possible 3,300 year-old royal murder case using modern forensics.
Archaeologists can gain a great deal of knowledge about past people just by looking at their bones. In this program, students learn what techniques and methods archaeologists use to reveal information about someone’s age, sex, height, previous injuries, cause of death, etc. Special emphasis is given to the evidence for disease in ancient cultures. Focusing on excavations in Italy as examples, Espenlaub and the students investigate the clues left on human bones to learn about which diseases may have affected humans in the past and what that meant to those they affected.

Classical Archaeology

How do we know what we know about the ancient Greek and Roman worlds? What types of evidence do we have to answer our many questions about these civilizations, which are often considered the foundations of Western culture? Archaeology and the study of objects allow us to move beyond the reading of history as a body of facts to actively inquiring about the past. Using examples from two current excavations in Greece, groups will explore some of the exciting methods of archaeological and historical analysis, ranging from the examination of ancient texts to ultra-scientific studies of objects and even soils. You will then have an opportunity to interact with objects and formulate their own questions about objects and the ancient world.
What do we mean when we talk about Romans and the Roman world? This workshop invites students to explore Roman culture by looking beyond Italy to look at variations in Roman culture all around the ancient Mediterranean - from Spain to Syria. With the guidance of Dr. Sarah Beckmann, a Classical Archaeologist from the University of Pennsylvania, students will learn how to recognize and interpret different kinds of Roman architecture and sculpture, using critical and creative analysis to highlight variations. Students will also have the opportunity to handle ancient artifacts. In doing so, they will learn firsthand how archaeological evidence is used to ask questions about daily life in different parts of the Roman world.
Religion dominated many aspects of life in ancient Greece. The ancient texts and sacred rituals related to ancient Greek religion were often kept secret, so we rely on the objects that remain from these gifts and sacrifices to tell the story. The number and range of ritual artifacts found through excavations of sanctuaries reveals that people of all ages, genders, classes, and geographical locations gave gifts to the gods. These included the bones from thousands of sacrificed animals and votive dedications, ranging from small and inexpensive ceramic objects to elaborate ivory sculptures covered in gold. Why did the ancient Greeks spend so much time, money, and resources on these gifts, and what was the meaning behind such sacrifice? After exploring how, why, and what gifts were given to the gods, create their own votive dedications that express their personal identity, individual style, and desired outcome.

Middle East

The Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia created perhaps the earliest written collection of stories in the world - or rather their children did. Archaeologists have dug up the exercise tablets on Sumerian children practiced learning signs and copying myths and legends by the thousands. Using both ancient tablets from the collection of Penn Museum and modern clay and styluses, your group will follow the path of the ancient scribes as they learned the mysteries of the cuneiform writing system.
Swamps have a bad reputation in modern society. They are wet, full of nasty creatures, and they spread disease. Why have people made swamps their home from the distant past to the modern day? In this presentation, learn about the ancient and modern people who have lived in the swamps of Sumer, modern southern Iraq. They will consider what benefits swamps provide, and how people can adapt to live in them. Your group will also learn about the important role that swamps play in maintaining a healthy ecosystem, and what can happen when they suddenly disappear.
The Royal Cemetery at Ur provides unparalleled insights into early Mesopotamian funerary customs of the elite. What do we know about the woman who was given the elaborate burial known as PG 800? In early Mesopotamia, women - even elite women - were generally described in relation to their husbands. Learn how the occupant of PG 800 proves the exception, as she is identified solely as "Puabi, Queen." The considerable wealth of her tomb attests to her power, importance, and prestige as an early Mesopotamian ruler. In this workshop, you will explore the archaeological context, burial goods, and forensic remains that teach us about the life, death, and afterlife of Queen Puabi.

Performing Arts Around the World

Immerse your group in diverse cultural expressions. Local performing artists introduce cultural rituals, traditions and stories from around the world. These workshops utilize a range of arts to educate participants about vibrant cultural traditions.

See notes on group size

In this workshop, Madhusmita Bora, a performer of the Sattriya Dance Company, takes you on a journey through a 600-year-old dance tradition. This dance was only preserved, nourished, and practiced by monks in a little island in Northeast India until recently. Your group will be exposed to stories from Hindu mythology through the dance, and will also learn about the monks and their lives. There will be masks, costumes, and props on display. Along the way, you will be led in movement exercises and will learn some vocabulary of this ancient Indian tradition. A group of less than 120 people receive a talk and dance demonstration without the formal performing costume. A group of more than 120 people can include a live dance performance with the formal performing costume.

The traditional dances of Egypt provide a record in movement of a vanishing way of life. They reflect aspects of village life such as water gathering, ritual combat, and the celebration of weddings. These dances symbolize a continuity of traditions in different Egyptian ethnic groups: The Fellahin, Bedouin, and Nubian peoples. Through discussion, demonstration and by encouraging audience participation, Habiba will explain the dances and movement styles of these three Egyptian groups and reveal something of the character and the essence of these peoples.
Raks sharqi is the Arabic name for the solo interpretive dance that we call belly dance. It is one of the oldest documented dance forms and can be traced back to ancient Egypt. It has a long history as a dance done by professional entertainers, but also as a social dance that both men and women learn as soon as they are old enough to stand. Here, dance and music are inseparable from daily life, and are a vital part of weddings, feast days, and family gatherings. Habiba presents the history of the dance from ancient times to the present and demonstrates its impact on the western perception of the Middle East. Habiba will explain how the modern belly dance performance came into being and how to appreciate a belly dance performance like an Egyptian would. Habiba then performs and invites the audience to practice some moves themselves.


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