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Canaan & Ancient Israel Gallery

Included with General Admission
Closed on August 1, 2021
sarcophagus lid

Gallery at-a-glance

  • Explore the lives of the peoples who lived in this region—which today includes Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon, and adjacent parts of Syria—for thousands of years.
  • Learn how pottery vessels record changes in economic conditions, technology, and social values, then trace these changes over many centuries.
  • Imagine life in Beth Shean (Israel), where Penn archaeologists uncovered 18 city levels spanning almost 6,000 years: Beth Shean was a crossroads of cultures in ancient times and housed an Egyptian garrison, then Israelite, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and early Islamic settlements.


The region today encompassing Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon, and adjacent parts of Syria for thousands of years experienced occupation by foreign rule. The artifacts in this Gallery explore how people responded and adapted to occupation, and how they lived their daily lives. The Gallery also shows how ancient artifacts—such as weapons, jewelry, cosmetics, and funerary objects—can provide insight into the past. The Canaan and Ancient Israel Gallery is organized by themes including politics and social organization, religion, domestic life, agriculture and crafts, trade and commerce, and death and burial.

The gallery title comes from two ancient names of the region and its inhabitants. Canaan is the earliest name found in texts referring to a group of people with a common language in the land which the tribes of Israel later conquered. Israel referred first to a people within Canaan and then to a political entity.

The Penn Museum began excavating in the region in 1921, at Beth Shean, Israel. Excavations expanded to other biblical sites including Beth Shemesh, Gibeon (el-Jib, in the Palestinian Territories), and Zarethan (Tell es-Sa’idiyah, in Jordan). Artifacts from these excavations make up most of the Museum’s collection from the region, which spans four millennia.


sarcophagus lid

Sarcophagus Lid

This clay sarcophagus (coffin) lid was excavated by Penn archaeologists from a cemetery at Beth Shean, in modern-day Israel. It depicts a face, possibly female, with crossed hands. Around 50 other clay sarcophagi were found in the same cemetery. They all date to around 1200 BCE, which was close to the end of the Egyptian Empire in Canaan. The practice of burial inside sarcophagi originated in Egypt, so these sarcophagi demonstrate how practices traveled across empires to become part of other cultures.

the canaan and ancient israel gallery

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