At most museums, if a visitor tries to touch an artifact, a guard will appear quickly and issue the sternest of warnings.
But at the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, a program for blind and visually impaired visitors encourages patrons to run their hands over the museum pieces.
For the second year in a row, the Penn Museum is hosting the "Insights into Ancient Egypt" Touch Tours program. Artifacts on the tour include the ancient statues of Ramesses II and the goddess Sekhmet and two sarcophagi. There are replicas available for visitors to touch if they can't reach certain parts of the artifacts, but otherwise what they are interacting with are the real deal.
The tour is "one of the most wonderful experiences a visually impaired person could have," said one of the 15 people who were taking part last Monday. "Not only are you getting a chance to feel the objects, but you're learning about a culture, geography and history, and the learning is enhanced by feeling the artifacts. It comes alive by having a hands-on experience."
To preserve the museum pieces, participants are asked to wipe their hands with sanitizing wipes before each interaction.
At the statue of Ramesses II, which dates to 1290-1224 BCE, they were able to feel a hieroglyphic typo. Upon feeling the ears of the goddess Sekhmet, one participant noted, "her ears are better than the president's!"
Through touch, the visitors were able to feel differences that are nearly invisible to the naked eye, such as the differences in stone and details in the sculpting of the statues.
Each tour is led by a resident museum docent and a few visually impaired docents. This year, the program has expanded to include a classroom component that allows visitors to feel the tools and smell the oils that were employed in the mummification process.
The Touch Tours will be offered every Monday through Dec. 16. For more information, contact Trish Maunder at 609-760-8223 or ude.nnepu@rednuamp
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