A virtual catalog of Penn Museum collections

The Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology features nearly one million objects in its collections, from ancient Roman glass and statues of cats from Peru, to cuneiform tablets from Iraq. Now hundreds of thousands of these objects can be appreciated by people all over the world through the Penn Museum’s new Online Collections Database, a resource designed for use by scholars and amateur anthropologists alike.

Launched earlier this year—which also marks the 125th anniversary of the Penn Museum—the database allows people to search through the collections by keyword, curatorial section, type of material, and display status. The database, which can be found at www.penn.museum/collections/, currently contains more than 326,000 object records representing 660,000 objects, and 51,500 images illustrating 24,500 object records.

Some of the records are more detailed than others, and some contain misinformation that may date back to the original object record, or language that would today be considered culturally inappropriate, according to James Mathieu, chief of staff and head of collections.

“What we have online today is a virtual look, really, not only at our collections, but our collections history,” he says. While the Penn Museum will not make every image public, due to concerns about confidentiality and cultural sensitivity, they are trying to include as many items as they can, “warts and all,” says Mathieu, and ask people who may have questions or quibbles with some object records to help them make the information accurate.

The online project’s origins reach as far back as the 1980s, when Mathieu says the Penn Museum first began a computerized database of objects.

In the last decade, Richard Hodges, the Williams Director of the Penn Museum, began to move the Museum into the process of digitizing object records. The online collection is the web-based interface that links to the Museum’s digitized database.  

Mathieu says they anticipate the online collection will grow by about 5,000 photographs and 7,000 new records every six months. There is no end date for the project because, Mathieu says, “you can always add more information.”

Along with the unveiling of the online database, the Penn Museum is celebrating its 125th year with a special exhibition, “MAYA 2012: Lords of Time,” featuring never-before-seen material from the recent excavations at Copan in Honduras, as well as other scholarly symposia and world culture afternoons. For more information on all anniversary events, and to access the Online Collections Database, go to www.penn.museum.

Sphinx of Ramesses II