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One Tank Trip: Penn Museum

PHILADELPHIA - Founded in 1887, Penn Museum sits in Philadelphia as the modern world builds up and around it. Inside the gates, there's a look at life that goes well beyond the late 1800s. The beginning goes back 10,000 years.

"The museum was created to house the finds from a city called Nippur, which was the first U.S. expedition in the Middle East," explained Steve Tinney, the museum's deputy director.

It was a year after the museum opened, in 1888, and the expedition was in Nippur, which is modern-day southern Iraq.

The museums' newly renovated Middle East galleries are filled with the discoveries, and the excavations are still going on today. Three rooms cover the history of the Middle East from about 8000 BCE almost to present day.

The galleries start with a look at an agricultural village. It features a wine jar, which is one of the oldest in the world. The objects tell the story of how people lived, how they died and how the small villages developed into the world's first cities.

One of the most important excavations was in the city of Ur in the 1920s and 30s, led by Sir Leonard Woolley. On the flashier side of archaeology, he uncovered a number of undisturbed royal tombs, including that of Queen Puabi. Her name was inscribed on a cylinder seal she wore. Her wealth is undeniable.

"One of the things that we hope people come away from these galleries with is an increased understanding of how much similarity there is in the way people live all over the world and throughout time," Tinney said.

Since royalty makes up only one percent of that world, there's a focus on the other 99 percent -- the domestic side of the digs. William Hafford, a post-doctorate research fellow, has been digging for 25 years and was able to dig on Ur, the same site Woolley first discovered.

"It's intense," Hafford said. "You're working constantly. A lot of it is drudgery, because you're digging very deep and you're digging very slowly, trying to look at everything that you find."

The thrill, he said, comes when you discover enough that you can begin to imagine how they lived.

"You can't really get into their minds because they are long dead, but what they've written down and what they've left behind can tell you a lot about who they were," Hafford continued.

And in turn, who we are and how we relate. There is a deep connection between the ancient world and the modern one. You just have to know where to look.

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