The Penn Museum has a major collection of objects from ancient Egypt. It's easy to see how some of them have survived for thousands of years -- a huge granite sphinx isn't in danger of falling apart. But other artifacts are a lot more delicate, such as paintings, scrolls made of brittle papyrus and everyone's favorites, the cloth-wrapped mummies.

Now you can watch the museum's conservation staff work on these fragile mummies in a glass-fronted Artifact Lab, using tools that range from simple tweezers to high-powered microscopes. You can even ask questions during two half-hour sessions each day.

Conservators are trained professionals who tend to museum objects, cleaning them as well as repairing damage and preventing further damage, explains Molly Gleeson, the principal conservator on the project. Gleeson's master's degree from UCLA prepared her to work with archaeological and ethnographic materials.

She's learning more about ancient Egypt specifically as she works with the curators at the museum, led by Dr. David Silverman, curator of the Egyptian section and a professor at Penn. In turn, the curators benefit from the information the conservators can provide from their scientific analyses of the materials used.


By combining the two kinds of information, the team can determine an item's age and authenticity -- or, if it's a forgery, when it might have been done.

If you go

Penn Museum

3260 South St.

Q&A sessions in the Artifact Lab: 11:15 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tues.-Fri.; 1 and 3:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun.