New exhibit tells tale of James Henry Breasted, whose 1919-1920 travels through the Middle East established center's famed antiquities collection
By William Mullen
January 10, 2010
James Henry Breasted, founder of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, was short, bespectacled and cerebral -- hardly fitting the picture of Indiana Jones, the fictional archaeologist many think was based partly on him.
Yet some of the cinematic "Indy" swashbuckle could have been inspired by a perilous, 11-month journey Breasted took through the Middle East in 1919 and 1920, just after founding the institute.
On Jan. 12, the institute celebrates its 90th anniversary with a temporary exhibit -- "Pioneers to the Past" -- that retraces the adventure, including tense haggling with shady antiquities dealers, encounters with armed Arab horsemen and even a little fisticuffs.
It is described in Breasted's own words in vivid accounts he sent home to his family, photos taken by him and four companions, and hundreds of ancient artifacts he brought back.
"This exhibit gives us a fascinating glimpse of a pivotal moment in history -- the birth of the modern Middle East as we know it today, and the genesis of modern archaeological research in the cradle of civilization," said Gil Stein, director of the institute...
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