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.