Inside the Penn Museum’s Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials

by Sabirah Mahmud

Items at the Penn Museum's Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials
Items at the Penn Museum’s Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials

The Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials, also known as CAAM is a joint endeavor between the Penn Museum and the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Arts and Sciences (SAS). Now as a teen student in the city of Philadelphia, you may be wondering why would a classroom for undergraduates and graduate students at an Ivy League school interest you? Well, a few weeks ago, the Teen Ambassadors at the Penn Museums visited these classrooms to find out!

Along with providing many classes for their undergraduate and graduate students at the university, CAAM has many cool research projects they share with the world. They also have some teen internships you all may be interested in.

Teens taking notes at the Penn Museum
Sabirah and her friends taking notes while visiting CAAM

The Zoology department was incredibly cool. Have you ever looked at any archaeological specimen and wondered what it was? What it’s purpose is?In this lab, they can determine just by the bones if the animal was a pet or not. They have many exciting programs at the Penn Museum and even many opportunities for high school students to intern for them! Check out their website for more information.

The next lab that I visited was their Ceramics Lab. In this lab, they determine many things such as the geology of these artifacts that many scientists and archaeologists excavate from cites all around the globe. When mentioning geology, this refers to from where, when, and what type of climate. To determine these answers they make thin sections to match the minerals of the piece of ceramics to match the ones of the land. This all helps them determine whether or not the ceramics piece was actually from the place that they found it from. Once they get these thin sections, they put them into a microscope to help them further their hypotheses. On display was a thin section of a cooking pot from Syria 1,000 years ago. With this lab, if you’re interested in geology or mineralogy, I would suggest to check CAAM’s Ceramics Lab!

The Penn Museum also has a Wet Lab at CAAM. There, they inspect stone carvings as well as other projects. They get to see different types of metals and get to inspect the many processes they undergo to change their form. Through their research, they can conduct the production of this ancient metal, process, as well as how they made daggers back then. Their research has even helped them trace gold in the agricultural times.

Another interesting lab they have is their multi-purpose lab. In this lab, they are working on Digital Archaeology to collect data in order to share. Through their research in which they scan areas that they excavate and through this scan, on a computer they can reconstruct the area to another era. This is done through the help of GPS printing which is way stronger than the ones we have on our phones as it is way more precise. Though many could think why does this matter? The reason it does is because architecture at times is hard to find as these places can have their inhabitants removed, however, this technology allows them to inspect these structures even if they have been removed. Soon they hope to develop technology to create this into virtual reality so those who aren’t able to go to these areas, can still visit them from their own homes.

After visiting the Penn Museum labs, I encourage you to check out CAAM. Take the time out of your day and get involved with the amazing studies they are conducting in their labs through internship opportunities and more!

Sabirah Mahmud is a sophomore at the Academy At Palumbo as well as a Teen Ambassador for Philly STAMP and the Penn Museum. She enjoys doing Congressional Debate at her school as well as playing the Oboe and Clarinet in her spare time.