Exploring the Ancient World via Philadelphia with a side of Szechuan Cuisine

Penn Museum - Sphinx

There are few better ways to spend a damp, rainy, unseasonably cold spring day (or a hot muggy summer or a bitter cold winter one for that matter) than spending several hours exploring the ancient past at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.  Throw in a new exhibit about King Midas and a delicious Szechuan lunch at Han Dynasty University City and you have yourself a winning and escapist afternoon, where you can get your Indiana Jones on.  It was also just the kind of afternoon that held tween/teen appeal as proven by the enthusiasm expressed by my 13 year old on both the choice of food and the selected museum.

Han Dynasty Han Dynasty Han Dynasty

Since the young teen lord; (and probably the most opinionated family member on both Ancient History as well as Chinese & Japanese food) was coming with us, the Han Dynasty in University City proved both an appealing as well as convenient choice.  First Han Dynasty has very good food and has been consistently well reviewed.  (They have several locations including perhaps the most well known in Old City).  Since Szechuan food is known for its spiciness, their dishes are rated on a scale of 1 to 10 on a spiciness scale.  Eric and I both love spicy food but probably a 7 or 8 is the top of our limit (I’m not sure I can even imagine a 10 – although I was admiring the tee shirts the servers were wearing with 10 emblazoned on the back and was wondering if you had to earn the right to wear the shirt by proving your ability to eat a “10” level dish.)

Han DynastyHan DynastyHan DynastyHan Dynasty

We let David pick 2 of the four dishes we tried (we were hoping for leftovers, which we got although not as much as I’d have liked but mainly because I liked two of the dishes so much- I had a hard time stopping nibbling).  We had Braised Beef Noodle Soup, the Cumin Style Lamb (7), the Kung Pao Chicken (3) and the String Beans with Pork.  Since we hadn’t eaten there before, we asked for the Lamb to be made at about a 5.  Everything was good but I’m still craving more of that Cumin Lamb and the String Beans with Pork were pretty amazing as well.  David’s favorite was the Kung Pao, he found the Lamb a little bit too spicy.  The Noodle Soup was very good, the server had told us that it was served with the meat (beef) still attached to bone and tendon and had asked if we were ok with that – we were.  I have to admit it was a new experience for me and I mostly ate around them.  I haven’t even mentioned our beverages.  Eric and I both had a ginger flavored cider that was fun and perfect with the food.  We will be returning in the very near future.   (This earned a big thumbs up from David too for both the food and the “cool” modern Asian decor as well.)

Penn Museum - Ramses Penn Museum - Egypt Penn Museum - Model of Egyptian Temple

Ah, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology how do I love you?  Let me count the ways:

  1. I adore History and while Early American is my first love – I definitely have a big crush on ancient Rome, Egypt, and Greece.
  2. Since my first born child loves early American history – I had a mini-mind to mold along that path (American Dolls and extensive gear included;) but alas my youngest hasn’t gotten the bug as much- he has however the ancient history and cultures bug… so it’s a great place to go with him and indulge in our mutual ancient history fan club. 
  3. Finally (& yes I’m admitting to this) – I also feel a bit like I’m living in the first Indiana Jones film -where Indy is teaching at the University of Chicago and “procuring” artifacts for them on the side.

Penn Museum - Rome Mosaic from Tunisia Penn Museum - Mycenaean

The whole museum is pieced together with new gallery building space and the older spaces – some of which clearly go back to the very late 19th early 20th century – you can just image Indy wandering around in there during some class lectures.

Penn Museum - Chinese Lion Penn Museum - Chinese Relief

Now that our regular scheduled program is back to reality; the museum really is a treasure trove of amazing ancient objects from around the world that make up humanity’s collective history.  It’s really hard not to find some object, subject area, gallery that will interest you.  It’s a relatively manageable size and you can with relative ease get a look through the whole place.  However if you’re local you can get a membership and come back for some of their special exhibits and programs some of which are family geared like the very popular 40 Winks with the Sphinx where kids 6-12 can sleep over night in the museum with their adult guardian – I would have loved this as a child -very Night at the Museum ( I clearly spend a good deal time daydreaming.) and others are more adult oriented including programs on things like Ancient Ales with Dogfish Brewery, a tutored tasting event of some ancient brew recreations.

History of the World in 1,000 Objects History of the World in 1,000 Objects - Penn has 200

There is a somewhat large book (you can have this out on your coffee table to look smart; as well as a source of great cocktail party conversation topics) History of the World in 1,000 Objects, published by DK with Smithsonian consultation.  It covers from 20,000 BCE up through the present day.  It is a great book to be able to pick up, look up something, put it down and then repeat.  It’s fun to look through on a rainy day with a cup of tea or a glass of wine.  It’s a superb book to have to just let your kids look through and see what grabs them or to use for a bit of background info/photos if you are making a trip to museum.  A full 200 of the 1000 objects found in this book are held at the University Museum with at least 80 being on display.  It’s kind of cool to be able to see things in here in your own city.  This museum really is world class and I think sometimes forgotten about by locals who would absolutely make the trip to the British Museum if they were in London.  (Penn’s museum while smaller; absolutely holds artifacts of the same importance and quality.)

Golden Age of King Midas King Midas "Gold"

We had come to see the the Golden Age of King Midas exhibit on display (through November 27, 2016) but also really enjoyed a highlights tour that was about an hour and well worth doing with interested tweens and teens.  Our guide was engaging and the tour moved at a good clip covering mainly highlights from the Mesopotamian, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek and Roman galleries.    

Love Indy

Perhaps it’s a good time to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark or Night at the Museum again and get your inner explorer to come out and play at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Han Dynasty, 3711 Market Street, Open Daily 11:30 am – 10:00 pm, handynasty.net

University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 3260 South St., Open Tues- Sun10 am-5 pm   www.penn.museum    

Penn Museum - Rome

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