The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has undertaken a project to dispel a myth. King Midas, with his magic hands of gold, is a popular figure in Hellenic mythology, but stories about his real life show his influence as the ruler of the Phrygian kingdom more than 3,000 years ago in the area now known as Turkey. The Penn Museum exhibition 'The Golden Age of King Midas', traces a civilization in the ancient Near East over a nearly 500-year period and also showcases Penn’s contributions to the reconstruction of that history.

Penn Museum has been excavating at the Phrygian capital of Gordion for roughly 65 years. However, it was in 2012 that the museum began its negotiations with Turkey to decide what stories it will highlight in its exhibition as well as preparing its space in the museum. A total of 124 objects were brought in from overseas, all coming from Turkey except for one. All together, the exhibit showcases over 220 objects.

Kate Quinn, Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs at the Penn Museum, said that part of the challenge of putting the exhibit together was figuring out how to tell the stories of the ancient city of Gordion in a way that is accessible to visitors. Closely working with the exhibit’s curator Brian Rose, the museum’s staff talked to some visitors to find out how much they knew about Phrygia. Then they used a visitor’s survey analysis as a starting point for their storytelling of the history of ancient Turkey. Interpretive Planning Manager Jessica Bicknell explained:

“We knew that people recognize Midas, so part of the goal was to introduce this culture through something that people recognize.”

Rose and his team flew to Turkey to choose from hundreds of artifacts for the exhibition. With these objects, Penn’s archeologists and anthropologists started the process of reconstructing the narrative of ancient Turkey from the perspective of the power, wealth and influence of the Phrygian kingdom of Midas. According to Rose:

“This is the only exhibit in North America, I think, that gives you the history of ancient Turkey. It is also the first one to unravel the secrets of King Midas: who he was, what he did and the kind of empire that he ruled.”

Deputy Director of the Gordion Project Ayse Gursan-Salzmann, a Turkish native who received her Ph.D. in anthropology from Penn in 1992, also pointed to the exclusivity of the exhibition. As a leader in the excavation project, Gursan-Salzmann has worked on the ground in Gordion for 20 years:

"[The exhibit] really has introduced people to objects that have left Turkey for the first time.”

Penn Museum will display the artifacts for 10 months and then return them to the seven different Turkish museums from which they were borrowed.he exhibition runs through Nov. 27. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for senior citizens, $15 for children and students, $5 for active military, and free for Museum members, PennCard holders, and children under 5.