The University of Pennsylvania's Museum owns one of the world's largest collections of Egyptian artifacts...42,000-strong and growing.
Many of these items are now part of a new, ongoing exhibit, "In the Artifact Lab: Conserving Egyptian Mummies".
The exhibit respects the fragility of these ancient artifacts, but balances that with your natural curiosity. So items which might be damaged long-term are shown in ways that respect their nature, and only for a limited time.
The museum owns parts of a burial cloth on display now. It will be replaced by a high-resolution photograph in a few weeks to it won't be damaged by long-term exposure to light.
The exhibit is built around a working archaeological lab, in which Penn experts do actual work conserving mummies and associated artifacts.
Egyptology professors and students will soon be hard at work translating newly-discovered text from tombs. In some cases, their discoveries will mark the first time in three thousand years than anyone has read these texts, and the translation work means they'll be read in English for the first time.
The foundation of the exhibit may be ancient but the affiliated sciences are state-of-the-art. There are interactive work stations where you can try your hand at preservation work via virtual exercises.
At select times, you'll not only be able to watch experts at work. You'll also be able to ask questions as they do what they're doing.
Similar programs have been a big hit at other museums in town. This is the first time a museum has married these techniques to archaeology locally. "In the Artifact Lab" is free with your regular admission and open during regular museum hours.
You can meet and interact with experts on duty every Tuesday through Friday at 11:30am and 2:00pm, and weekends at 1:00 and 3:30pm.
There's more information online at the Penn Museum. You may phone the museum at 215-898-4000.
While you're there, don't miss Maya 2012 Lords of Time, which explores the popular theory that the Mayans predicted the end of the world later this year.
Theory aside, the Maya exhibit is scheduled to close January 13th. And if you can, visit the museum on Thursday, December 6. There's a free 12-hour open house celebrating the museum's 125th anniversary.