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Exhibitions at ISAW

Exhibitions at ISAW

Upcoming Exhibition:


February 12 – June 7, 2015

ISAW is pleased to announce From Ancient to Modern: Archaeology and Aesthetics. This important exhibition examines the fascinating process through which archaeological objects are transformed from artifacts to artworks and, sometimes, to popular icons, as they move from the sites in which they were discovered, to mass media, to museum displays. The exhibition includes some 50 outstanding ancient Mesopotamian objects and more than 100 illuminating documents, photographs, and drawings. Focusing on excavations from the 1920s and 30s, when many important finds were unearthed, it reveals the role of archaeologists, art historians, journalists, museum curators, and conservators in constructing identities for ancient artifacts that not only resonated with Western popular and artistic culture, but that also positioned the finds as integral to the history of Western civilization.

In a first for ISAW, From Ancient to Modern includes a selection of modern and contemporary art, demonstrating the evolving influence that archaeological artifacts, and the way they were presented, had and continue to have on artists of our era.

This exhibition was organized by the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and made possible by the generous support of the David Berg Foundation, Agnes Gund, the Tianaderrah Foundation, Hicham and Dina Aboutaam, and Fred and Diana Elghanayan.

Check back for updates.

Past Exhibitions:


From Alexander the Great to Cleopatra

October 8, 2014 - January 4, 2015

When the Greeks Ruled Egypt: From Alexander the Great to Cleopatra examined the interactions between Greek and Egyptian cultures during the nearly 300-year period when Egypt was under Greek rule. With some 150 objects, the exhibition revealed the many and diverse ways in which cultural tropes were strategically used by Egypt’s Ptolemaic rulers as a means of asserting power and provoking loyalty among the conquered population. In the process, it also revealed the intense familial intrigue and jockeying for position that characterized the Ptolemies as they sought to maintain their position.

Crown with Building-Façade Decoration and Vultures


Copper Age Art from Israel

February 13, 2014 - June 8, 2014

In 1961 Israeli archaeologists discovered over 400 copper objects at Naḥal Mishmar in what was to become known as the Cave of the Treasure. These copper objects were so spectacular that they define an era in Southern Levantine history now known as the Copper Age (4500–3600 bce). Masters of Fire: Copper Age Art from Israel explores this “metallurgical revolution” and the accompanying social and cultural changes through a series of unprecedented loans from one of the greatest hoards of antiquity. It also presents the first comprehensive U.S. exhibition of other archaeological discoveries from this period—anthropomorphic and zoomorphic ossuaries, technically elaborate wool and linen textiles, and exceptionally rendered figurines. When viewed together, these objects reveal a dynamic world whose technological advancements revolutionized art and society.
Learn more >>>


Geographic Knowledge in Greco-Roman Antiquity

October 4, 2013 - January 5, 2014

Measuring and Mapping Space explored the ways in which ancient Greek and Roman societies understood, perceived, and visualized both the known and the unknown areas of their world. It brought together more than forty objects, combining ancient artifacts with Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and printed books that draw upon ancient geographic treatises. Together, they provided a fascinating overview of Greco-Roman theories of the shape and size of the Earth, ancient methods of surveying and measuring land, and the ways in which geography was used in Roman political propaganda. A specially designed multimedia display examined the increasing importance of modern technologies in mapping the ancient world.
Learn more >>>

The Venus of MaltaTEMPLE AND TOMB
Prehistoric Malta, 3600-2500 BCE

March 21 - July 7, 2013

Located between southern Italy and the northern coast of Africa, the Maltese archipelago was home to an astonishing and artistically rich prehistoric culture. During the later Temple Period (ca. 3600–2500 bce), the early Maltese constructed extraordinary megalithic complexes to house cultic and funerary rituals, and produced an outstanding range of aesthetically refined representations of the human form Learn more >>>


The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan

September 11, 2012 - January 6, 2013

Echoes of the Past unites a group of imposing sculptures from the Northern Qi period (550-577 CE) Buddhist cave temple complex at Xiangtangshan in northern China with a full-scale, digital, 3-D reconstruction of the interior of one of the site’s impressive caves. This innovative installation provides an unprecedented insight into the original setting for these remarkable sculptures by marrying twenty-first-century digital techniques and ancient objects. The sculptures are extraordinarily accomplished Learn more >>>

Wood, and Tin and Gold Foil, H. 9.0; W. 6.0; D. 1.6 cmBerel, Kurgan 11, late 4th–early 3rd century bcePresidential Center of Culture, Astana: 5581


The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan

March 7 - June 3, 2012

Nomads and Networks is the first U.S. exhibition to provide a comprehensive overview of the fascinating nomadic culture of the peoples of eastern Kazakhstan’s Altai and Tianshan regions from roughly the eighth to first centuries bce. With over 250 objects on loan from Kazakhstan’s four national museums, the exhibition provides a compelling portrait that challenges the traditional view of these nomadic societies as less developed than sedentary ones. Learn more >>>

Clay, with a Layer of Painted Plaster, H. 30.5 cm, W. 44.0 cm, D. 6.7 cm From the House of the Scribes, Dura-Europos, 200–256 CE Yale University Art Gallery, Yale-French Excavations at Dura-Europos: 1933.292 Photography © 2011 Yale University Art Gallery

Edge of Empires: Pagans, Jews, and Christians at Roman Dura-Europos

September 23, 2011 — January 8, 2012

This exhibition vividly illustrated the international, pluralistic character of Dura-Europos, a city strategically located high above the Euphrates River, between Syria and Mesopotamia. The exhibition focused on its final phase, in the third century CE, when Dura-Europos served as an important Roman stronghold on the empire’s eastern edge. Many of the objects included demonstrate the coexistence of multiple religions—including polytheistic cults, Judaism, and Christianity—the great variety of languages employed by its population, and its role as an international military garrison. Learn more >>>

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Nubia: Ancient Kingdoms of Africa

March 11 — June 12, 2011

This exhibition featured over 120 objects illustrating the remarkable and distinctive aesthetics of Nubian art. The exhibition traced Nubia’s rich culture, which flourished in present day Sudan and southern Egypt, from its earliest kingdoms (3200–3000 BC) to the Kushite period (900–400 BC) during which Nubians rose to conquer Egypt and fought against the Assyrian empire. Learn more >>>

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Before Pythagoras: The Culture of Old Babylonian Mathematics

November 12, 2010 — January 23, 2011

This exhibition is the first to explore the world of Old Babylonian mathematics through cuneiform tablets covering the full spectrum of mathematical activity, from arithmetical tables to sophisticated work on number theory and algebra. Learn more >>>

Old Europe

The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000 - 3500 BC

November 11, 2009 - April 25, 2010

In 4500 BC, before the invention of writing and before the first cities of Mesopotamia and Egypt were established, Old Europe was among the most sophisticated and technologically advanced regions in the world. This exhibition presented extraordinary finds from the three countries with the richest Old European archaeological heritage—Bulgaria, the Republic of Moldova, and Romania. Learn more >>>

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Wine, Worship and Sacrifice: The Golden Graves of Ancient Vani

March 12 - June 1, 2008

Spectacular finds from two sanctuaries and four tombs illustrate that ancient Colchis was at the crossroads for many different peoples from the early fifth to the first centuries B.C. Learn more >>>

More information:

Please visit the Exhibitions Department page for more information on ISAW's exhibitions philosophy, program and staff.