Thanks to the Indiana Jones and National Geographic films, archaeology has a “cool” factor—something the museum’s permanent exhibit National Geographic Treasures of the Earth uses to intrigue visitors. Consisting of three immersive experiences based on real archaeological sites—the tomb of ancient Egyptian pharaoh Seti I (1294 to 1279 B.C.), the site of China’s Terra Cotta Warriors of Xi’an (246 to 210 B.C.), and the Caribbean shipwreck of Captain Kidd’s Cara Merchant in 1700—the 7,400-square-foot exhibit uses the excitement of discovery to show visitors what it’s like to be an archaeologist.
Developed in collaboration with the National Geographic Society, the $4.3 million project relied on expert guidance and assistance from famed Egyptologist and archaeologist Dr. Zahi Hawass, Chinese archaeologists and representatives from the Xi’an Municipal Museum, and Charles Beeker and the Indiana University Office of Underwater Science, to ensure the accuracy of the information provided in each of the exhibit’s components. The museum also sent its exhibit team members to Egypt, China, and the Dominican Republic to gain first-hand experience at each of the three sites featured in Treasures of the Earth.
Visitors may enter Treasures of the Earth via the “Treasures Transport,” a lift that slowly descends from Level 1 to the Lower Level and features an entertaining video that explains what they are about to experience. The exhibit itself takes visitors into a replica of the carved and painted burial chamber of Seti I where they can find the cartouches (ovals with symbols inside indicating royal names) in the tomb’s passageway, put the broken lid of the pharaoh’s sarcophagus back together to locate a hidden mummy, and help excavate a mysterious tunnel.
In another section of the exhibit, visitors can explore the excavation pit containing China’s amazing Terra Cotta Warriors of Xi’an and help reassemble three broken ones, then use a computer station to examine a terra cotta shard, scan it for color pigments, and virtually repaint a warrior.
Finally visitors can examine old maps to reveal the Cara Merchant’s last known location, and explore the coral-encrusted pile of 26 cannons that marks the remains of the only pirate shipwreck ever found in the Caribbean.
In connection with the exhibit, the museum also opened an Archaeology Lab where visitors can see how recent scientific developments are affecting archaeologists’ capabilities to examine and analyze artifacts. One of the most fascinating things happening in the lab is the use of a process called electrolytic reduction to gradually remove three centuries of encrustation on the only cannon recovered from the Cara Merchant site.
Through the generosity of Eli Lilly & Company Foundation, The Children’s Museum and the Indiana University Office of Underwater Science have an ongoing collaboration in underwater archaeology expeditions off the coast of the Dominican Republic. In 2011, the foundation awarded the partnership $1 million to be used for a series of expeditions through 2014 searching the Cara Merchant site as well as the sites of the 1495 Lost Fleet of Columbus and the 1725 Begoña. Artifacts recovered from the sites are conserved at IU and at The Children’s Museum and many are displayed in Treasures of the Earth.
The intention behind Treasures of the Earth, wrote the museum’s president and CEO Jeffrey Patchen in the Summer 2011 issue of the members magazine Extra!, was to develop the most authentic experience possible. “We believe that our passion for connecting children and families with real experiences, real artifacts, and real experts,” wrote Patchen, “is one of the things that sets us apart as the world’s biggest and best children’s museum.”
National Geographic Treasures of the Earth was made possible by many generous donors. Learn more about the museum’s transformational donors.