Monday, December 19, 2011

News: The Breasted Biography on the Radio

The Oriental Institute & James Henry Breasted

Learn about this world-renowned acheological institute & the man who founded it w/ Gil Stein, McGuire Gibson & Jeffrey Abt, author of "American Egyptologist."
See  Jeffrey Abt's new biography of James Henry Breasted
See the chronicle of news about the Oriental Institute.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Jeffrey Abt's new biography of James Henry Breasted

Jeffrey Abt's new biography of James Henry Breasted has appeared from the University of Chicago Press.

Read the press release from UChicagoNews

Scholar, former UChicago staff member Jeffrey Abt completes book on O.I. founder

Abt to speak about America's first Egyptologist on Dec. 14

William Harms
Archaeologist James Henry Breasted was so well known during his lifetime that he landed on the cover of Time. When he died in 1935, the last half hour of his memorial service in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel was broadcast nationally on radio.          
Yet Breasted, who founded the Oriental Institute in 1919 and was instrumental in promoting understanding of the ancient Middle East for scholars and the public alike, has never been the subject of a comprehensive biography, said Jeffrey Abt, author of the new book, American Egyptologist: The Life of James Henry Breasted and the Creation of His Oriental Institute. The University of Chicago Press published the book earlier this month.
“The only other biography of Breasted is Pioneer to the Past, by his son Charles,” Abt said. “It is in part a memoir and gives scant attention to his father’s work after the mid-1920s. Also, because Charles was not a scholar, much of James Breasted’s research is not addressed,” added Abt, who is an associate professor in the James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History at Wayne State University.
The Oriental Institute will host a talk by Abt on his book at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 14, in Breasted Hall. Abt will sign copies of his book after the talk, which is free and open to the public...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Images of Objects at the Oriental Institute (and Elsewhere) in Inscriptifact

The InscriptiFact Team reports in an email to registered users
We have just uploaded 2112 new images of 229 new texts from the Persepolis Fortification Archive. Most of these images are RTI images (Reflection Transformation Imaging). The Greek, Akkadian and Old Persian tablets are now posted.

In addition, we have added the Assyrian Reliefs from the Oriental Institute, RTIs of KTU 1.18, and RTIs of objects from USC's Archaeological Research collection and the Los Angeles Unified School District's Art and Artifact Collection.
 See here for a previous announcement about the PFA from Inscriptifact.

About InscriptiFact

The InscriptiFact Project is a database designed to allow access via the Internet to high-resolution images of ancient inscriptions from the Near Eastern and Mediterranean Worlds. The target inscriptions are some of the earliest written records in the world from an array of international museums and libraries and field projects where inscriptions still remain in situ. Included are, for example, Dead Sea Scrolls; cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia and Canaan; papyri from Egypt; inscriptions on stone from Jordan, Lebanon and Cyprus; Hebrew, Aramaic, Ammonite and Edomite inscriptions on a variety of hard media (e.g., clay sherds, copper, semi-precious stones, jar handles); and Egyptian scarabs. These ancient texts represent religious and historical documents that serve as a foundation and historical point of reference for Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the cultures out of which they emerged...
Examples of screens and searches in HTML format for viewing in a web browser.
Step-by-step instructions for conducting searches and retrieving images in InscriptiFact, in PDF format.
Step-by-step instructions for using the InscriptiFact Viewer, featuring RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) images, in PDF format.
One possible way to search for texts in InscriptiFact is by choosing "Text or Publication Numbers," i.e., common abbreviations used in the field of Ancient Near Eastern Studies. This PDF documents gives bibliographic information for the abbreviations or references used in InscriptiFact.
Download this document and fax it as stated to obtain access to InscriptiFact.
Click on this link to be taken to the download site for the InscriptiFact desktop client.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Epigraphic Survey News

Ray Johnson writes to tell me that the RECENT NEWS section of the Epigraphic Survey pages on the Oriental Institute website will be updated monthly.  I take the liberty of quoting from the most recent entry:

December 2, 2011

Dear Friends,

I am pleased to report that Luxor has been peaceful throughout the last few weeks, and the Chicago House team is busy and well. Our work at Medinet Habu, TT 107, and Luxor Temple has proceeded normally, and continued through the disturbances in Cairo with no interruption. The elections so far - here, in Cairo, Alexandria, and elsewhere - have been noteworthy for their orderliness, peaceful nature, enthusiasm, and unprecedented turnout. It's an encouraging beginning! And history in the making.

Yesterday artist Sue Osgood returned to Luxor to continue working in TT 107, the tomb of Nefersekheru, steward of Amenhotep III's Malkata palace, where Margaret has been drawing for the last month. Tomorrow conservator Hiroko Kariya arrives to resume conservation work in the Luxor Temple blockyards. On Sunday we are all heading south to see the current excavation work of faculty member Nadine Moeller, husband Gregory, and her team (including Hratch Papazian) at Tell Edfu. Nadine and the crew joined us and a number of our American (ARCE Luxor), foreign, and Egyptian colleagues for a very pleasant Thanksgiving dinner on November 24th. The cranberry sauce was home-made by artist Margaret De Jong, with fresh berries kindly hand-carried by library assistant (and OI VC member) Andrea Dudek who will be heading homeward in a few days after a very productive few weeks with us.

Thus far, outside of the election excitement, it's been a totally normal season. Two weeks ago I participated in a workshop in Cairo sponsored by AUC and the Netherlands/Flemish Institute on archaeological recording techniques, with a special emphasis on new digital recording technologies that we are using in our on site documentation work now. During the next couple of days a group of students from the Netherlands/Flemish Institute will be visiting TT 107 and Medinet Habu to see our recording methodologies in person, guided by Senior epigrapher Brett McClain and Margaret.
Despite the political uncertainties and bumps in the road, the last month and a half have been joyous in many ways. The Egyptian people are tremendously excited and proud of their new freedom to choose their leaders, and this has been a joy to witness. We gave our Egyptian staff the day off on Monday to vote, and each one proudly showed me his ink-stained finger (proof of voting) the day after. There have been other reasons to celebrate as well; I have attended two engagement parties for offspring of our workers (who were babies the last time I looked, and are now getting married?). And ten days ago Medinet Habu conservator Nahed gave birth to a baby boy, Jovan. Life is too full!
And all is well. I will write again soon. Best wishes to you all for an excellent December!

Best from Luxor,
Ray Johnson

Sunday, December 4, 2011

All Chicago House Bulletins

The full run of Chicago House Bulletin is now available for the first time online.

For a convenient listing of all online Oriental Institute publications, including digital manifestations of print publications and born-digital publications,  see:

Friday, November 4, 2011

New Book: Ancient Israel: Highlights from the Collections of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

Announced today:

OIMP 31.

Ancient Israel: Highlights from the Collections of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

Gabrielle V. Novacek
On January 29, 2005, the Oriental Institute celebrated the official public opening of the Haas and Schwartz Megiddo Gallery. This occasion marked the return of some of the most extraordinary artifacts ever excavated in the southern Levant to permanent public display. The Oriental Institute's prolific history of exploration in the region is testament to a long-standing scholarly passion for discovery and the pursuit of knowledge. This volume draws from the momentum generated by the opening of the Megiddo Gallery and presents a selection of highlights from the Institute's greater Syro-Palestine collection.
  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgments
  • Stratigraphy of Megiddo
  • The Southern Levant Collection of the Oriental Institute
  • Megiddo: Cultural Crossroads of the Ancient Near East
  • The Early Bronze Age (ca. 3500-2000 BC)
  • The Middle Bronze Age (ca. 2000-1550 BC)
  • The Late Bronze Age (ca. 1550-1200 BC)
  • The Megiddo Ivories
  • The Iron I Period (ca. 1200-975 BC)
  • Where Did the Israelites Come From?
  • The Iron II Period (ca. 975-586 BC)
  • Who Built Royal Megiddo?
  • The Southern Levant from the Fall of Jerusalem to the Roman Era (ca. 586 BC-AD 324)
  • The Southern Levant in the Byzantine Period (ca. AD 324-638)
  • Bibliography of Works Consulted
  • Appendices
  • Indices
  • Oriental Institute Museum Publications 31
  • Chicago: Oriental Institute, 2011
  • ISBN-13: 978-1-885923-70-7
  • Pp. xii, 130p, 4 b/w & 68 col photos
  • Paperback: $41.95

For an up to date list of all Oriental Institute publications available online see:

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ray Johnson talks about the Khonsu Temple

Ray Johnson, Director of the Epigraphic Survey, talks about ARCE's work at the Khonsu Temple.

View it at YouTube

News: Joint Palestinian-American dig near Jericho

Joint Palestinian-American dig near Jericho yields clues about early Islamic culture

See the chronicle of news about the Oriental Institute.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Oriental Institute Symposium 2012

The Oriental Institute has just announced the eighth in its annual symposia series:

Temple Topography, Ritual Practice, and Cosmic Symbolism in the Ancient World, organized by Deena Ragavan,
to be held March 2-3, 2012, in the Institute's Breasted Hall

Past symposia include

And the 2004 proto-symposium Changing Social Identity with the Spread of Islam: Archaeological Perspectives

After the conference, the Fellow assembles and edits the proceedings for publication in the series  Oriental Institute Seminars (OIS),  each volume of which is available for sale or for download:

In Their Spare Time

An interesting article in the October 24, 2011 Chicago Tribune (All the living room's a stage: For nearly 75 years, Hyde Park group has gathered to read plays) profiles The Thirty Seven Players, a Hyde Park play-reading group that has been meeting once a month since 1937.  Current partcipants include Emily Teeter and Kitty Picken.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tell Edfu Blog

Tell Edfu - The 2011 Season
The site of Tell Edfu is located roughly halfway between Luxor and Aswan, Egypt. As the former capital of the 2nd Upper Egyptian nome, it has over 3000 years of history standing. The Tell Edfu Project, under the auspices of the Oriental Institute, aims to investigate the remains of this ancient city. 

Read more about The OI's Edfu Project.   And see the project website at Tell Edfu Project.

Entries for Edfu in Pleiades:

Name Edfu
by thomase — last modified Sep 05, 2011 05:44 PM — Relevance: 100%
Place Apollonopolis Magna
The Ptolemaic temple to Horus at Edfu, and the nearby settlement. by J. Keenan — last modified Aug 02, 2011 05:57 PM — filed under: — Relevance: 61%
Location The Temple of Horus
The center of the Edfu temple complex. by nnagy — last modified Jun 28, 2011 03:26 PM — Relevance: 60%

Friday, September 30, 2011

Susan Osgood

Susan Osgood is an epigraphic artist for the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute/Epigraphic Survey in Luxor, Egypt.  She is also an artist:

Susan Osgood Susan Osgood Susan Osgood Susan Osgood

paintings paper prints Sketchbooks Bio Work in Egypt

CAD on the wireless

Chicago Assyrian Dictionary Featured on WFMT’s Critical Thinking

The University News office reported that just one month after its completion was announced in early June, the dictionary logged 100,000 downloads from the Oriental Institute’s website. The 21-volume Chicago Assyrian Dictionary Project, completed 90 years after the project began, was also the subject of a two-part discussion on WFMT’s Critical Thinking, hosted by University of Chicago alum Andrew Patner.
Editor-in-charge Martha Roth, the Dean of the Division of the Humanities, and Robert Biggs, a retired professor of Assyriology who has been working on the dictionary since 1963, spoke with Patner in late August and early September about this fascinating project.
To listen to Part 1, click here.
To listen to Part 2, click here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Greek-Norwegian Archaeological Mission to the Sudan visits the Oriental Institute

The Greek Norwegian Archaeological Mission to Sudan blogs on their Medieval Sai Project.

They recently made a visit to Chicago to examine the Nubian material at the Oriental Institute:

People of Nubia in Chicago
September 21, 2011
The return from U.S.A. to Norway signifies the close of this trilogy of entries concerning Chicago and Nubian topics. This last part will naturally concentrate to the people who are involved in Nubian Studies in Chicago.

Obviously the headquarters of such studies are based at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, and inevitably if one wishes to study the material kept there from the Oriental Institute Nubian Expedition one has the honor and pleasure to work with Helen McDonald’s team in the Registration department, always willing to facilitate the progress of the work; and with Laura D’Alessandro’s team in the Conservation lab who will tirelessly search for the optimal methods to enhance the researchers’ contact and apprehension of the objects under study. Through Laura we also came in contact with Miller Prosser from the Persepolis Fortification Archive who offered us wholeheartedly some of his precious time and the experience of sharing the equipment he is using in his job aiming at facilitating the work of the scholars who study the inscriptional material from Persepolis.

Interestingly, Nubia in the Oriental Institute is not at all the isolated discipline that it quite often appears to be in the framework of the International Society for Nubian Studies. In Chicago, Nubia, from the most ancient times through the Middle Ages, finds its place aside the great civilizations of the Near and Middle East: as part of the world system of the Bronze Age states; as a periphery of Pharaonic Egypt; as an independent Empire (Kushitic, Napatan, and Meroitic) inherently linked with the civilizations of the Classical era; as part of Eastern Christianity of the Middle Ages. The halls of the museum exemplify these tendencies, while the library and the archives offer almost anything one may need to find in order to deepen in related research. The help of the head of the Archives, Foy Scalf, facilitates the procedures tremendously and always with a smile!

Read the rest here.  And read their other blog entries from their visit to Chicago: Land and Water in Chicago and Nubian Studies in Chicago

Friday, August 19, 2011

Oriental Institute Job Posting: Curatorial Assistant

Find it here, or see the text posted here:

Provides curatorial and administrative support. Under supervision, conducts research on museum collections. May make recommendations based on research for exhibits and displays and assist with implementation. May assist with publication production, including creating production schedules and assisting with editing. May assist with planning educational programming. Provides general administrative support, including establishing and maintaining files for related records and responding to general correspondence and routine research requests. 

About the Unit

The Oriental Institute is a research organization and museum devoted to the study of the ancient Near East. Founded in 1919 by James Henry Breasted, the Institute, a part of the University of Chicago, is an internationally recognized pioneer in the archaeology, philology, and history of early Near Eastern civilizations. 

Unit Job Summary

The Curatorial Assistant maintains the museum office, and provides general support of other institutional staff on a project-by-project basis. Works with the Chief Curator and preparation departments on the development and installation of rotating special exhibits. Assists label writing and graphic design work for temporary and permanent exhibits. Coordinates digitization of museum archival material, maintains image database, and provides access to images for internal and external clients. Supervises interns working with archival materials and on other museum projects. Maintains social media outlets including, but not limited to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Potential for additional digital curation depending on expertise and future training. 


Bachelor's degree or higher in field related to collections required. Advanced degree in field related to collections preferred. 


Minimum of one year relevant experience required. Knowledge of database management software preferred. 

Knowledge relevant to museum collections required.
Basic knowledge of museum standards regarding the care and handling of collections required.
Attention to detail required.
Organizational skills required.
Verbal and written communication skills required.
Ability to work on multiple projects simultaneously, set priorities, and meet deadlines required.
Ability to work independently and as part of a team required.
Knowledge of computers and relevant software required.Knowledge of database management software preferred. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Epigraphic Survey 2010-2011 Field Season

The Epigraphic Survey 2010-2011 Field Season

ES professional staff photo 2010-2011

 On April 15, 2011 the Epigraphic Survey, in collaboration with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities/Ministry of State for Antiquities Affairs, completed its eighty-seventh, six-month field season in Luxor. Because Luxor remained secure during the enormous changes that took place during Egypt's revolution this winter, Chicago House's activities ran uninterrupted from October 15, 2010 through April 15, 2011. Projects included epigraphic documentation, conservation, and restoration work at Medinet Habu; the inauguration of a new documentation program at the Theban Tomb 107 of Nefersekheru; salvage documentation at Khonsu Temple at Karnak (in cooperation with the American Research Center in Egypt / ARCE); and conservation, restoration, and maintenance of the blockyard open-air museum at Luxor Temple, as well as documentation of blocks from the Basilica of St. Thecla in front of the Ramesses II eastern pylon. . .
Read the rest here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"From Artifacts to People Facts at the Oriental Institute"

Matt Kohlstedt is writing a PhD dissertation: From Artifacts to People Facts: The Archeological Origins of Middle East Area Studies  in the  Department of American Studies at The George Washington University.

As a part of his research program, he received a grant from the Rockefeller Archive Center, and the report he submitted to them is available online:
 The Rockefeller Archive Center's (RAC) holdings are vital to my dissertation titled, “From Artifacts to People Facts: The Archeological Origins of Middle East Area Studies,” which traces the origins, content, and ramifications of interwar American academic interest in the Middle East, showing how that knowledge was utilized during the wartime and postwar expansion of the U.S. sphere of influence in the Middle East. This project is not about all of America's imaginative investment, but is rather about a relatively small group of scholars who had an outsized influence on America's relationship with the region as a whole. As U.S. interests expanded during and after World War II, this accumulated knowledge influenced governmental policies and actions, including the increased use of propaganda as a method of peddling influence through deception. . .

Most scholarship on the Oriental Institute (OI) – an archeological institution established at the University of Chicago in 1919 – focuses on the archeological expeditions and excavations made by the Institute, which were financed through the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) and family, mainly John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (JDR Jr.). Although the discoveries and work completed by the Oriental Institute are significant for the field of archeology, my primary concern is not with the discoveries that were made, but rather with the contacts that were made between the OI and local workers on various expeditions. During and after WWII, American scholars who were trained as archeologists transitioned into ethnological work, where they drew on their experiences on archeological digs in order to bolster their claims about Middle Easterners. Although the RAC does not hold significant archeological expedition reports, it does hold the administrative records that explain how funding was apportioned and justified. Such records are essential to understanding how a shift in foundational emphasis may have affected the OI's scholarly focus. . .


During the 1920s and 1930s, the principle American academic interest in the Middle East was expressed through archeological expeditions that sought to illuminate the history of the ancient world. James Henry Breasted, the founder of the Oriental Institute, used Rockefeller money to mount numerous expeditions to the Near East, returning to Chicago with a trove of artifacts. A variety of factors, including the global Depression and Middle Eastern nationalism, decreased access to artifacts. The shifting interests of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Rockefeller Foundation officers also reduced the scope and scale of archeological expeditions. Studies of the contemporary Middle East were seen as more relevant to the RF's mission, as well as to the broader interests of the U.S. government. World War II solidified this trend, as many archeologists were brought into government service to formulate propaganda and policy towards Middle Easterners.

Towards the end of the war, John Wilson, Breasted's successor, attempted to make the OI the finest center for the study of the contemporary Middle East. His attempt failed due to the resistance of his colleagues, but his failure pointed towards the ways in which area studies would come to be constituted during the 1950s. The Rockefeller Foundation maintained its interest in the Middle East, but channeled its money instead towards Princeton University, where the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, under Philip Hitti, would benefit from additional funds that might have gone towards the Oriental Institute. This missed opportunity and subsequent shift eastward is an essential part of understanding how Middle Eastern area studies came into being in the United States during the early postwar period.
The full report is well worth reading. I look forward to reading the complete dissertation.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Oriental Institute Job Posting: Director of Development, Oriental Institute

Oriental Institute Job Posting: Director of Development, Oriental Institute (and also here)
As a member of both the Oriental Institute's senior leadership team and the University Development Schools and Programs leadership team, the Director of Development will lead the Institute's overall development program during a university-wide, multi-billion-dollar campaign.

In anticipation of the launch of the campaign and during its silent phase, the Director will partner with Institute and University leaders to conduct the Institute's needs assessment and refine its strategic plans. Examine the Institute's prospect pool, conduct a gap analysis, set fundraising targets and outline gift opportunities. Throughout the campaign, oversee and manage the Institute's major (5-6 figure) and principal gift (7+ figure) pipeline. Brief and staff senior leaders in key meetings with prospects. Independently develop relationships with key stakeholders on behalf of the Institute and the University. Leverage the giving and volunteer potential of the Visiting Committee. Partner with other University Relationship Managers (URMs) to promote the Institute's priorities and help shape major gift proposals. Implement university development best practices.

In addition to raising larger pledges for a range of projects and programs during the campaign, the Institute must meet a seven-figure expendable fundraising goal each year. This sum is raised primarily through annual appeals and events.

Manage the development office of the Oriental Institute. Partner with the Director of the Institute, its Executive Director, the University Associate Vice President for Schools and Programs, other university administrators, faculty, researchers, trustees, the Institute's Visiting Committee, and other volunteers. Manage development staff as assigned. Align human resources to maximize fundraising potential.

Set and achieve an eight-figure overall fundraising target and meet annual fundraising goals for the Oriental Institute during the University of Chicago's upcoming capital campaign. Manage portfolio of major gift donors, serving as the university's lead strategist or URM for the benefit of the Institute. Coordinate with departments in ARD to maximize mutually beneficial fundraising results and report on them. Design and implement comprehensive strategies to identify and cultivate the highest capacity individuals. Build engagement of these individuals with the division and University. Create gift opportunities based on division priorities. Formulate and coordinate fundraising strategies and solicitations. Determine appropriate recognition and stewardship plans for significant donors.

Conceptualize, prepare and present proposals for support. Involve the president, trustees, other high-level volunteers and academic leaders in connecting these donors to the division to deepen their interest and involvement. Participate as a lead strategist in a University-wide development process to secure support for academic and capital priorities and actively build relationships through stewardship to encourage continued as well as increased gifts from key supporters over their lifetimes.

Staff Visiting Committee meetings and support individual member's fundraising efforts. Manage budget and staff to execute responsibilities in an efficient, timely and cost-effective manner. Monitor expenditures and use University resources prudently. Actively set a professional example for staff leadership of other strategic priorities of the University.

Seek opportunities for professional development that will enhance job performance. Perform other duties as assigned.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A New Project: The Jericho Mafjar Project

[First posted in oihistory 4 January 2011. Updated 10 August 2011]

A New Project:

August 9, 2011

The Oriental Institute announces a new archaeological project: the Jericho Mafjar Project (JMP), the first joint Palestinian-American archaeological excavation, making it a unique milestone for scholarship.
Khirbet al-Mafjar is located north of Jericho in the Palestinian territories. Famed as one of the most important of the "desert castles" of the early Islamic period, the site was excavated by Dimitri Baramki from 1934 to 1948. These excavations revealed a palace and great bath, both of which were intensively decorated with fine mosaics and elaborate stucco figures, as well as stone sculpture and frescoes, placing Mafjar as one of the most important monuments in the history of Islamic Archaeology.
The Oriental Institute was involved in support of the original publication by R. W. Hamilton in 1959. This monograph, and Creswell's repetition of its information, remain the scholarly basis for the fame of these monuments. This was assumed to have been the product of a short period of building and occupation in the early 8th century; in the absence of any final report on the site, the archaeology of Khirbet al-Mafjar stands in serious need of revision and presentation.
Help support the project.

See all of The Oriental Institute's Archaeology Projects

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News: Oriental Institute exhibit examines commerce, trade in ancient Near East

Oriental Institute exhibit examines commerce, trade in ancient Near East
A new exhibit at the Oriental Institute Museum, “Commerce and Coins in the Ancient Near East,” examines the role of commerce and trade from 3000 B.C. to the third-century B.C. On view in the museum’s Mesopotamian Gallery from Aug. 11-28, the exhibit is presented in conjunction with the American Numismatic Association’s World’s Fair of Money, which is being held Aug. 16-20 in Chicago.

Commerce, trade and early forms of currency can be documented for thousands of years before the first coins were minted in southwestern Turkey in the sixth-century B.C. Exchanges of goods and services before that time were tracked by detailed receipts and notations that took many forms. Among the earliest are represented in the exhibit by clay balls that contain small tokens that represented numbers and commodities. Once the delivery was made, the ball was broken open to verify that the amount of goods matched the tokens in the ball.

Among the other receipts in the show is one for the delivery of a dead sheep written in wedge-shaped cuneiform script on a clay tablet. A third tablet, dating to about 2000 B.C., is a request for money to purchase a female slave.

Egyptian and Mesopotamian weights and measures document the standardization of trade in early barter economies. In Mesopotamia, the adoption of a silver standard that equated measures of barley with a set amount of silver is illustrated by a rare example of a spiral coil of silver dating to about 1500 B.C., lengths of which were snipped off to pay debts.

Among the early coins is a silver stater coin probably of king Croesus (570-547 B.C.) of Lydia (southwestern Turkey) that was excavated by the Oriental Institute at Persepolis in southwest Iran, and large bronze coins from Egypt that illustrate the state’s effort to spread the use of standard coins.  Other examples of very early coins from Egypt include a gold stater of Ptolemy I (305 B.C.), and coin molds that show how Roman coins were made and forged.

Brittany Hayden and Andrew Dix, both doctoral students at the Oriental Institute, are curating the exhibit.

See the chronicle of news about the Oriental Institute.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

News: Islam’s origins

Islam’s origins
Historian Fred Donner offers a new reading of an old story.
By Asher Klein, AB’11
Image courtesy of Fred Donner

Islams origins
An early Quran leaf, found in Yemen: it dates to the first century of Islam, Donner says, offering evidence that the holy book was written soon after Muhammad’s death.

Since the 19th century, Western scholarship has taken for granted that in the first 100 years after Muhammad’s revelations, Islam was practiced much the same way it is today. Western scholars explained the birth and early expansion of what is now one of the world’s largest religions through the development of its army and political institutions, the need for social change among Arabian nomads, or simple economics. But “they seldom talked about the religious motivation,” says Islamic scholar Fred M. Donner.

A professor of Near Eastern history at the Oriental Institute and head of Chicago’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Donner instead believes Islam’s origins shared features with the genesis of Christianity.
The idea that Christianity didn’t spring fully formed from Judaism with Jesus’s preaching is well accepted; scholars and laypeople alike understand that there was an early germinal stage before the canon was worked out at the Council of Nicea and subsequent Church council meetings. 

Donner says that Islam too went through an early “ecumenical phase” when Muhammad’s followers were a loosely defined community—Donner, following the Quran, calls them “the Believers”—that may have included Jews and Christians. These followers were committed more to monotheism than they were to Muhammad. “It was more of a monotheistic revival movement,” Donner says. In 2010 he posited this theory in Muhammad and the Believers (Belknap). Islam, he writes, began as a religious movement, “not as a social, economic, or ‘national’ one. The early Believers were concerned with social and political issues but only insofar as they related to concepts of piety and proper behavior needed to ensure salvation.”

Donner’s conclusions diverge from the traditional view, which “sees Islam as being codified from the very first day,” he says. According to that story, the prophet Muhammad settled in the Arabian town of Medina after being expelled from nearby Mecca, and soon afterward he began to spread Islam. After Muhammad’s death in 632 AD, his teachings disseminated through the Middle East via military and bureaucratic expansion, eventually moving beyond Arabia...

See the chronicle of news about the Oriental Institute.

News: The definition of persistence

The definition of persistence
A 90-year project chronicling the ancient Akkadian language culminates in the 21st volume of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary.
By Jeff Carroll
Photography courtesy Chicago Assyrian Dictionary

Technology has changed since these University researchers worked in the 1930s, but the goal remained the same: to build a comprehensive record of early human civilization.

In 1921 a team of University of Chicago researchers, led by editor in charge Daniel D. Luckenbill, began transferring information from excavated clay tablets, unearthed in what is now Iraq, onto five-by-eight index cards. The cards, serving as the University's data set, were reproduced with a hectograph, a hand-operated ancestor of the modern photocopier.

For the first three-plus decades of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary project, this is how it went. Information was gathered, either from existing tablets housed in museums or from new excavations in the former Mesopotamia, then transferred onto cards at the Oriental Institute. In cataloging the 5,000-year-old Akkadian language, researchers created a comprehensive cultural encyclopedia of early human civilization...

See the chronicle of news about the Oriental Institute.

Monday, August 1, 2011

News: Chicago Assyrian Dictionary hits 100,000 downloads

Chicago Assyrian Dictionary hits 100,000 downloads
William Harms
The University’s recently completed reference work to a dead Mesopotamian language has a lively following.

Soon after its completion was announced in early June, downloads of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, published at the Oriental Institute, skyrocketed — going from 4,429 in May to 64,301 for the month of June. Interest continued strong, and by the end of July, the dictionary had garnered more than 100,000 downloads from the Oriental Institute’s website. The Oriental Institute provides free electronic access to all its published material and also sells most of its publications in print form.

The response has pleased Martha T. Roth, editor-in-charge of the Assyrian Dictionary. A conference held to mark the completion of the 21-volume publication in early June drew a large international crowd of more than 100 scholars, she said...

See the chronicle of news about the Oriental Institute.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Special Exhibition: Commerce and Coins in the Ancient Near East

Commerce and Coins in the Ancient Near East

A Mini-Exhibit at the Oriental Institute Museum, August 11-28, 2011

Commerce and Coins in the Ancient Near East, a mini-exhibit at the Oriental Institute Museum, looks at commerce and trade from 3000 BC to the 4th century BC. The exhibit is presented in conjunction with the American Numismatic Association's World's Fair of Money being held in Chicago August 16 - 20th, 2011. The exhibit will be on view from August 11 to August 28.

Commerce, trade, and early forms of currency can be documented for thousands of years before the first coins were minted in southwestern Turkey in the 7th century BC. Exchanges of goods and services before that time were tracked by detailed receipts and notations that took many forms. Among the earliest are represented in the show by clay balls that contain small tokens that represented numbers and commodities. Once the delivery was made, the ball was broken open to verify that the amount of goods matched the tokens in the ball. Among the other receipts in the show is one for salt written in ancient Egyptian on a flake of pottery, and another for the delivery of a dead sheep written in wedge-shaped cuneiform script on a clay tablet. A third tablet, dating to about 2000 BC, is a request for money to purchase a female slave.
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Egyptian and Mesopotamian weights and measures document the standardization of trade in early barter economies. In Mesopotamia, the adoption of a silver standard that equated measures of barley with a set amount of silver is illustrated by a rare example of a spiral coil of silver, lengths of which were snipped off to pay debts. Among the early coins is a silver stater probably of king Croesus (570-547 BC) of Lydia (southwestern Turkey) that was excavated by the Oriental Institute at Persepolis in southwest Iran. Other examples of very early coins from Egypt include a gold stater of Ptolemy I (305 BC), and coin molds that show how Roman coins were made — and forged.
The Oriental Institute is an interdisciplinary institute at the University of Chicago, focused on the study of the languages, history, archaeology and cultures of the ancient Near East. The Museum of the Oriental Institute has galleries devoted to Mesopotamia, Assyria, Anatolia, Palestine/Israel, Egypt, Nubia and Persia. "Before the Pyramids: The Origins of Egyptian Civilization" is on view through December 31.

The Museum is open Tuesday, Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 6:00 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays and major holidays. Admission is free, although a donation of $7 for adults, $4 for children is appreciated.
The Oriental Institute Museum is located on the campus of the University of Chicago, approximately 20 minutes south of the Loop at 1155 East 58th Street.

Friday, July 15, 2011

News: MN firm's 3-D X-ray machine is solving ancient mysteries

MN firm's 3-D X-ray machine is solving ancient mysteries

Date: Friday, July 15, 2011, 2:03pm CDT
View photo gallery (3 photos)
  • An image taken by one of North Star's scanners of a model ancient clay ball. The objects contain tokens, which represent items exchanged during a transaction.
    An image taken by one of North Star's scanners of a model ancient clay ball. The objects contain tokens, which represent items exchanged during a transaction.
Northstar Imaging Inc.’s 3-D X-ray machines are often used to scan medical devices and aerospace products. This week, though, the company’s technology is helping solve an ancient mystery.
The University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute is using Rogers-based Northstar’s CT scanners to peer into “clay balls” that date back to 3,500 B.C.
The artifacts are akin to a receipt for a business transaction. They contain tokens that represent items exchanged during a transaction.
Experts at the Oriental Institute didn’t want to break open the clay balls to see what was inside, which is where Northstar’s imaging technology comes in. The company’s CT scanners can see through the balls’ outer shells and reveal the shapes of the objects inside.
The clay balls tie in with a larger special exhibit, called Visible Language, that was held at the Oriental Institute from ran from last fall through March 2011. (You can read a New York Times story on that exhibit here.)
There’s no word yet on exactly what the imaging work uncovered. (Scans were being taken Thursday and Friday.)
Northstar’s technology has been used in other archaeological endeavors. The Science Museum of Minnesota used it to scan a 150 million-year-old fossilized crocodile skull, for instance.

See the chronicle of news about the Oriental Institute.

New Book from The Oriental Institute: Bir Umm Fawakhir, Volume 2: Report on the 1996-1997 Survey Seasons

Announced today:

OIC 30.

Bir Umm Fawakhir, Volume 2: Report on the 1996-1997 Survey Seasons

By Carol Meyer, with contributions by Lisa Heidorn, Alexandra A. O'Brien, and Clemens Reichel

Bir Umm Fawakhir is a fifth-sixth century A.D. Coptic/Byzantine  gold-mining town located in the central Eastern Desert of Egypt. The Bir  Umm Fawakhir Project of the Oriental Institute of the University of  Chicago carried out four seasons of archaeological survey at the site,  in 1992, 1993, 1996, and 1997; one season of excavation in 1999; and one  study season in 2001. This volume is the final report on the 1996 and  1997 seasons.
The goals of the 1996 and 1997 field seasons were to complete the  detailed map of the main settlement, to continue the investigation of  the outlying clusters of ruins or "Outliers," and to address some  specific questions such as the ancient gold-extraction process. The  completion of these goals makes the main settlement at Bir Umm Fawakhir  one of the only completely mapped towns of the period in Egypt. Not only  is the main settlement plotted room for room and door for door, but  also features such as guardposts, cemeteries, paths, roads, wells,  outlying clusters of ruins, and mines are known, and some of these are  features not always readily detectable archaeologically.
This volume presents the pre-Coptic material; a detailed discussion  of the remains in the main settlement, outliers, and cemeteries; the  Coptic/Byzantine pottery, small finds, and dipinti; as well as a study  of ancient mining techniques.
  • Oriental Institute Communications 30
  • Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 2011
  • ISBN-13:978-1-885923-71-4
  • ISBN-10:1-885923-71-6
  • Pp. xxviii + 220; 53 figures, 108 plates, 1 table
  • Softbound 9.00" x 11.75"
  • $49.95
  Table of Contents
  • Abbreviations
  • List of Figures
  • List of Plates
  • Table
  • Acknowledgments
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter 1. Introduction. Carol Meyer
  • Chapter 2. Pre-Coptic Remains. Carol Meyer and Lisa Heidorn
  • Chapter 3. Main Settlement 1996 and 1997 Surveys. Carol Meyer
  • Chapter 4. Outliers. Carol Meyer, with contributions by Lisa Heidorn, Alexandra A. O'Brien, and Clemens Reichel
  • Chapter 5. Cemeteries and the Question of Religion. Carol Meyer
  • Chapter 6. Pottery from the 1996 and 1997 surveys. Carol Meyer and Lisa Heidorn
  • Chapter 7. Small Finds and Dipinti. Carol Meyer
  • Chapter 8. Ancient gold Mining, Miners, and Ore Reduction. Carol Meyer
  • Chapter 9. Conclusions. Carol Meyer
  • Appendix A. 1996 and 1997 registered objects
  • Appendix B. Main settlement Room Sizes
  • Appendix C. Outliers 12 and 13 Buildings
  • Index
  • Plates 1-107

For an up to date list of all Oriental Institute publications available online see:

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

William Sumner former director of the Oriental Institute has died

William Sumner, director emeritus of the Oriental Institute, 1928-2011
William Harms
William M. Sumner, a leading figure in the study of ancient Iran and director of the Oriental Institute from 1989 to 1997, died July 7 in Columbus, Ohio. Sumner, who oversaw a major expansion of the institute’s building, was 82.

Sumner, a resident of Columbus, was a 1952 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. He served in the Navy until 1964, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander.

He developed his interest in archaeology during naval service in the Mediterranean. Visits to ancient sites in Italy and Greece inspired him to pursue a graduate education. While serving in Iran, he developed a keen interest in the country’s ancient civilization, and he pursued that interest by taking a class taught at Tehran University by Prof. Ezat Ngahban, a graduate of the University of Chicago.
He resigned from the Navy to pursue graduate work in anthropology. He received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1972 and was a member of the anthropology faculty at Ohio State University from 1971 until 1989, when he joined the UChicago faculty as professor in the Oriental Institute and Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations.

“Bill Sumner was an outstanding archaeologist and a transformational leader at the Oriental Institute,” said Gil Stein, director of the Oriental Institute. “His survey and excavations at the urban center of Malyan in the highlands of Iran made a lasting contribution to our understanding of the Elamite civilization and the deep roots of the Persian empire. He trained an entire generation of archaeologists who went on to become major scholars in their own right in the study of ancient Iran and Anatolia.
“As director of the Oriental Institute, Bill Sumner had the vision, the drive and the organizational skills to conceptualize and carry out the building of our new wing, and the complete reinstallation of our permanent museum galleries. Most of all, Bill was a man with tremendous personal integrity, who led by example. His death is a sad loss for our field, and we will miss him very deeply,” Stein added.
At the Oriental Institute, Sumner encouraged the use of new technologies to expand the work of archaeologists in the field and in the laboratory. 

“He saw the value, and sensed the impending importance of digital communication and publication, and laid the foundations for the next decade of development along these lines in the OI,” said Gene Gragg, professor emeritus at the Oriental Institute, who succeeded Sumner as director.

Sumner recognized the value to archaeology and history of the use of computational technologies and scientific instrumentation. “Bill was a visionary, one of the first who understood the ways that digitalization and computational tools could transform the humanistic and social science disciplines,” said Martha T. Roth, the Chauncey S. Boucher Distinguished Service Professor of Assyriology in the Oriental Institute and dean of the Humanities Division. “And he was a scholar and person of deep personal and professional integrity.”

He also oversaw the initiation of the largest expansion of the Oriental Institute building since it was constructed in 1931. With the help of a federal grant and a $10.1 million campaign, the institute built anew wing to provide space for climate-control equipment, as well as provide space for proper and climate-controlled artifact and archival storage. The new wing also houses a modern artifact conservation laboratory.

The Oriental Institute’s museum also underwent a massive redesign that began under his leadership. That led to a rearrangement of the galleries and an updated presentation of the museum’s art and artifacts from throughout the ancient Middle East.

Sumner’s own academic specialty was ancient Iran. From 1972 to 1978 he directed the University of Pennsylvania’s excavations at the site of Tal-i Malyan, ancient Anshan, in the Fars province in western Iran. Sumner oversaw the publication of a series of monographs based on five seasons of fieldwork there.

The Malyan archaeological project was seminal, not only in discovering the highland Elamite city of Anshan, known locally as Malyan, but also in the cycles of nomadism and sedentism in the region of Fars, that operated in the region from at least the fifth-millennium B.C., said Abbas Alizadeh, an Oriental Institute archaeologist who specializes on Iran.

In addition to his work on the Malyan monograph series, Sumner wrote many articles on the development of civilization in ancient Iran.

He is survived by wife, Kathleen Sumner; children, William (Kristin) Sumner, Jane Sumner; step-children, Douglas (Jamie) MacLean and Megan (Savady) Yem; sister, Ida VSW Red; grandchildren, Katrina MacFarland, Eirian Yem, Dylan Yem, Shane Yem, Devon Yem, Lachlan MacLean and Emma MacLean; and great-grandchildren, Nolan and Adeline MacFarland, Anthony Sumner, and Ashley and Colin Sizemore.

At his request, there will be no services.