Archaeology Magazine Archive

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from the trenches
Museum: A Story of Four Crows Volume 62 Number 1, January/February 2009
by Zach Zorich


This Lenape mask (ca. 1800) was used for 200 years in a dance honoring the forest god Meesing. (Lauren Hansen-Flaschen/Courtesy University of Pennsylvania Museum)

Before settlers arrived from Europe, the Lenape Nation hunted in the forests and fished the coastline of the eastern United States from Delaware to New York, but little of its history has survived. The University of Pennsylvania Museum's exhibition, Fulfilling a Prophecy: The Past and Present of the Lenape in Pennsylvania, is a significant step toward filling this gap.

The Lenape conceive of history as the flight of four crows, which serves as an organizing principle for the show. The flight of the first crow was the time before European contact. A group of stone tools—a hoe blade, fishing net weights, and triangular arrowheads—show how the Lenape made a living before the introduction of gunpowder. The flights of the second and third crows relate to the period of persecution and exile, when most of them moved to scattered settlements in places as far away as Oklahoma and Canada.

The flight of the fourth crow is the time when Lenape culture will be restored, a process that began in the late 1960s with the American Indian Movement. The collaboration between the Lenape Nation and the Penn Museum on this exhibition is part of the final crow's journey. Fulfilling a Prophecy will be on display through September 13, 2009.