Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Old ANE Archive

The ANE email discussion list operated from the beginning of July 1993, with only a few short interruptions until February 16, 2006. It was moderated by me until shortly before my departure for Athens in the summer of 2005. The archive of traffic from the beginning until the end of 2001 is archived at the Oriental Institute Research Archives

I have just discovered that the headers (at least) of the later archive, lost in Chicago when the listhost software was upgraded, remains visible and accessible at the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. I'm led to believe that there are also some privately held archives of traffic for these years. I'd be grateful to know more about them.

The ANE archive is an interesting record of the interaction of a wide variety of scholars and interested laypersons from all over the world in the early years of electronic communication. I have been asked from time to time to write about the phenomenon, but I have not yet done so, except for a short note about the Nazism and ANE studies controversy, and in 
The Web Editor: 'Abzu and Beyond', in Ariadne 21 (23 September 1999).

ANE-2, the successor to ANE remains active to this day.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

News: Clues to Lost Prehistoric Code Discovered in Mesopotamia

Clues to Lost Prehistoric Code Discovered in Mesopotamia
By Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor   |   October 10, 2013 07:44am ET

Researchers studying clay balls from Mesopotamia have discovered clues to a lost code that was used for record-keeping about 200 years before writing was invented.
The clay balls may represent the world's "very first data storage system," at least the first that scientists know of, said Christopher Woods, a professor at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, in a lecture at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum, where he presented initial findings.
The balls, often called "envelopes" by researchers, were sealed and contain tokens in a variety of geometric shapes — the balls varying from golf ball-size to baseball-size. Only about 150 intact examples survive worldwide today. [See Photos of the Clay Balls & Lost Code]

Read the rest

See the chronicle of news about the Oriental Institute.

Friday, September 20, 2013


Curators’ Choice

Keepers of University collections reveal the pieces closest to their hearts.
Jack Green, Chief Curator, Oriental Institute
Situated along the bustling trade route between Egypt and Syria, the ancient city of Megiddo (in modern-day Israel) was a crossroads of globalization in the late Bronze Age. A massive archaeological excavation here by the Oriental Institute in the 1920s and ’30s unearthed 382 pieces of carved ivory in a palace cellar. Combs, ointment containers, and decorative trinkets bearing aesthetic influences from surrounding regions were stacked in a single room.
“We actually don’t know why all these pieces were found together,” though people have been known for several centuries to hoard and collect ivory, says Green. Even more mysterious, the treasure pile was topped with the remains of a dead cow, perhaps as part of a sacrifice or ritual. The OI holds the only collection of Megiddo ivories in North America. “They’re wonderful because they really show the trade connections in the eastern Mediterranean at that time.”

Female Sphinx Plaque, ivory, Megiddo, Stratum VIIA, Late Bronze IIB (1300–1200 bc). A22213.
This well-preserved ivory sphinx speaks to Megiddo as a cultural crossroads infused with the influence of globalization. Though situated far from Egypt, locals created artistic objects that captured their perceptions of the distant land. “They’re taking an Egyptian motif—the sphinx—and combining it with other motifs that might be thought to be Egyptian to create this hybrid,” Green says. “But it’s really not something that you’d normally see in ancient Egypt.” Resident Egyptologist Emily Teeter adds, “an Egyptian would look at this and think, ‘It’s supposed to be Egyptian? You’ve got to be kidding me.’”

Gaming Board, ivory and gold, Megiddo, Stratum VIIA, Late Bronze IIB (1300–1200 bc). A22254 A&B.
“If I had to choose one object amongst all of them, this gaming board would probably be it,” says Green. Designed for a Parcheesi-like pastime of the upper crust known as the “game of 58 holes,” this “super luxe” item was a sign of worldly sophistication. Made of fragile elephant ivory, the piece retains much of its gold embellishment and is one of few such boards ever discovered intact. “You could imagine a governor or wealthy Canaanite mayor using one of these,” Green says. “An international-style gaming board was very much the fashionable thing.”

Emily Teeter, Egyptologist and Research Associate, Oriental Institute

Annuity Contract, papyrus, ink (detail), 365–364 BC, Late Period, Dynasty 30, Reign of Nectanebo, 22 December 365 BC–20 January 364 BC, Faiyum, Hawara, purchased in Cairo, 1932. OIM 17481.
“I love the resonance of ancient and modern in this piece,” Teeter says, describing an expansive papyrus scroll that details a northern Egyptian marriage contract from 364–365 BC. Written in Demotic script, a later form of hieroglyphics, the document specifies that the man must provide his wife a set amount of silver and grain each year—for life. “He has to continue to pay this, regardless of what house she’s living in,” says Teeter, explaining that divorce, much like now, was quite common in ancient Egypt. “There was no real stigma to it.” Penned on multiple sheets of costly papyri affixed together, each of which features only a small amount of text, the contract itself was a status symbol for the couple. “They didn’t need this much papyrus,” says Teeter. “They’re showing off.”

A Complaint from Tomb Builders, limestone, pigment, New Kingdom, Dynasty 20, Reign of Ramesses III, ca. 1182–1151 BC, Luxor, Deir el-Medina, purchased in Luxor, 1936. OIM 16991.
This limestone plaque inscribed with cursive hieroglyphics chronicles the first recorded labor strike in Egyptian history, circa 1153 BC. “It’s such a humble-looking object, but it says so much about the society,” Teeter says. After being shorted on pay, builders constructing tombs for Ramesses III’s sons in the Valley of the Queens walked off the work site and put down their tools at a local temple.
“We are exceedingly impoverished,” they wrote to the vizier overseeing the project. Though the plaque itself breaks off midtext, the result—the tombs were finished—attests to a successful strike. “People think of ancient societies where the pharaoh is all powerful,” Teeter says, “but there was a lot of give-and-take.”

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Digging through Data at the Oriental Institute

Digging through Data at the Oriental Institute
In The Ancient Near East Today

By: Scott Branting, Jack Green, and Foy Scalf
Posted on 
Think back to the time when you last visited a library and flicked through a card catalog to find a book. Card catalogs were made obsolete by computer databases in the 1980s, and were followed by online access to libraries’ collections during the 1990s and 2000s. In this digital world of Wi-Fi, data mining, and the insatiable hunger for immediate online access to research materials, the library card catalog is now almost consigned to the graveyard.Fig. 1. Groundbreaking ceremony for the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, April 28, 1930. University president Robert Maynard Hutchins (center left) looks on as Dr. James H. Breasted uses a shovel to break ground.Fig. 1. Groundbreaking ceremony for the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, April 28, 1930. University president Robert Maynard Hutchins (center left) looks on as Dr. James H. Breasted uses a shovel to break ground.Fig. 2. The card catalog era:  Research Archives of the Oriental Institute, circa 1975.Fig. 2. The card catalog era: Research Archives of the Oriental Institute, circa 1975.
Advances in online museum collections databases have been significantly slower. Information from a museum’s card catalogs was commonly integrated into computer databases beginning in the 1980s, making it easier for curators and registrars to maintain, access, and update information on the objects at their fingertips. In the 1980s the Oriental Institute’s Museum began using dBase 3, but this was not a networked system, and was only accessed via single computers within the museum collections area. The leap towards online access to collections has been much more intermittent and variable across museums, often because the data serves a smaller and more specialized group of users than libraries. But over the past decade or more, many museums have made their collections available online in some form, ranging from the entire collections database with images, to simple lists of displayed materials, or at least the highlights.
The world is rapidly entering an era when anyone, anywhere – not only the cloistered scholar – can fully access digitized books, articles, images of objects, manuscripts, and photographs in museum and library collections. The only limitations are the staff time and funding to make such ventures possible. Yet what often emerges from multiple, online databases could be described as data overload, or data complexity. The ‘holy grail’ in digital terms remains the integration of multiple databases that contain disparate data and collections that share common elements, and the ability to conduct searches on a single database that can bring up results from multiple sources for immediate comparison... [Read the rest]

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sad News: Barbara Mertz


Mystery writer Barbara Mertz dies at 85
By LISA TOLIN, Associated Press

Barbara Mertz, a best-selling mystery writer who wrote dozens of novels under two pen names, has died. She was 85.
Mertz died Thursday morning at her home, in Frederick, Md., her daughter Elizabeth told her publisher HarperCollins.
Mertz wrote more than 35 mysteries under the name Elizabeth Peters, including her most popular series about a daring Victorian archaeologist named Amelia Peabody. She also wrote 29 suspense novels under the pen name Barbara Michaels, and under her own name, she wrote nonfiction books about ancient Egypt...

From Tim Cashion's 1996-1997 report of the Membership Office in the OI Annual Report

The year was highlighted by Romancing the Past, a gala benefit held at the Drake Hotel on 19 May 1997, with a keynote address by Breasted Society member and author Barbara Mertz. Jill Carlotta Maher, also a Breasted Society member and a loyal supporter of many Institute activities, was honored as the first recipient of the James Henry Breasted Medallion. The dinner, attended by 353 people and gen- erating $100,000 in net income for the Legacy Campaign, featured a silent auction and dancing. The music of Stanley Paul proved as compelling as the auction items, as someone pulled away from the dance floor long enough to bid $10,000 for a role as a minor character in the next Amelia Peabody mystery by Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Mertz. We look forward to the challenge of trying to match this unforget- table evening.
Barbara Mertz studied Egyptology at the Oriental Institute completing a dissertation: Certain titles of the Egyptian queens and their bearing on the hereditary right to the throne in 1952. She wrote immensely popular mystery and suspense novels under the names Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

1936 Olympic Games

This afternoon I saw an article about archeologist Halet Çambel having been a fencer on the 1936 Turkish Olympic team, becoming the first-ever Muslim woman to compete in the Olympic games. This reminded me that Michael B. Rowton, Oriental Institute Assyriologist, was said to have been a member of the 1936 British Olympic skiing team at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria, Germany. I can find no evidence of this aside from the obituary in the Chicago Sun-TimesJanuary 11, 1986.

To the best of my knowledge there is no published biographical sketch of Michael Rowton, which is too bad, he was an interesting man.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

News: For Its Latest Beer, a Craft Brewer Chooses an Unlikely Pairing: Archaeology

For Its Latest Beer, a Craft Brewer Chooses an Unlikely Pairing: Archaeology
 New York Times

CLEVELAND — The beer was full of bacteria, warm and slightly sour.
By contemporary standards, it would have been a spoiled batch here at Great Lakes Brewing Company, a craft beer maker based in Ohio, where machinery churns out bottle after bottle of dark porters and pale ales.
But lately, Great Lakes has been trying to imitate a bygone era. Enlisting the help of archaeologists at the University of Chicago, the company has been trying for more than year to replicate a 5,000-year-old Sumerian beer using only clay vessels and a wooden spoon.
“How can you be in this business and not want to know from where your forefathers came with their formulas and their technology?” said Pat Conway, a co-owner of the company.
As interest in artisan beer has expanded across the country, so have collaborations between scholars of ancient drink and independent brewers willing to help them resurrect lost recipes for some of the oldest ales ever made.
“It involves a huge amount of detective work and inference and pulling in information from other sources to try and figure it out,” said Gil Stein, the director of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, which is ensuring the historical accuracy of the project. “We recognize that to get at really understanding these different aspects of the past, you have to work with people who know things that we don’t.” ...
See the chronicle of news about the Oriental Institute.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The electronic publication of Oriental Institute Annual Reports is now complete

Announced 28 May 2013
The Oriental Institute Annual Report for years 1928, 1934, 1938-39, 1954-1959 are now available in the Acrobat Portable Document Format (pdf) . There are no Annual Reports for the intervening years. Links to its respective entries have been added to the homepages for numerous Institute archaeological and philological projects and departments. This completes the electronic publication of all Oriental Institute Annual Reports!

Oriental Institute Annual Reports 1928-1959
The print versions of the Oriental Institute Annual Report are available for members as one of the privileges of membership. They are not for sale to the general public. They contain yearly summaries of the activities of the Institute’s faculty, staff, and research projects, as well as descriptions of special events and other Institute functions.

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

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Video: Centenary of Benno Landsberger

American Oriental Society: Centenary of Benno Landsberger
Video recording of a special event titled "Centenary of Benno Landsberger" at the American Oriental Society in Atlanta 200th Annual Meeting, March 26, 1990.

Commemoration of the Centenary of Benno Landsberger (1890-1968), a scholar who made a seminal contribution to Assyriology and to the reconstruction of Mesopotamian history and culture. He was born in Austrian Silesia, studied in Leipzig(Germany) and held a position there until dismissed by the Nazi for being Jewish. He held a post in Ankara during the war and came to Chicago in 1945.

Civil, Miguel
Güterbock, Hans Gustav, 1908-2000
Jacobsen, Thorkild, 1904-1993
Kilmer, Anne Draffkorn
Merzbacher, Eugen
Sasson, Jack M.
For more on Benno Landcberger see also:

AS 16. Studies in Honor of Benno Landsberger on His Seventy-fifth Birthday, April 21, 1963. Edited by Hans G. Güterbock and Thorkild Jacobsen. Originally published in 1965


Monday, April 29, 2013

Helen Jacquet-Gordon, 7 February 1918 - 26 April 2013

Chicago House Director Ray Johnson's Obituary of Helen Jacquet-Gordon

Helen Jacquet-Gordon in Nubia, Abu Simbel, in front of the stela of Sete I. Photograph by Jean Jacquet, February 1960. Photographic Archives, Chicago House, Luxor. 

 Helen Jacquet-Gordon at Arminna West, March 1961. Photographic Archives, Chicago House, Luxor.

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Helen Jacquet-Gordon, 95, at her home in Carouge, Switzerland, on April 26th.  The loss to Egyptology is profound. Helen was a true Renaissance woman who specialized in ancient Egyptian ceramics but was proficient in the language, epigraphy, art, history, and archaeology of ancient Egypt and the Sudan, and was herself an accomplished artist (and musician).  She is survived by her husband, archaeological architect Jean Jaccquet.  


Born on February 7, 1918 in New York, Helen came to Egypt in 1955 for the purpose of completing her thesis for the École des Hautes Études at the Sorbonne.  In 1956 Helen met her life partner Jean Jacquet on the excavations of the University of Pennsylvania at Mit Rahina. For the next 50 years work and pleasure took them all over the Middle East, where they participated in a variety of historic archaeological expeditions: in Egypt and Nubia during the construction of the Aswan High Dam, (“the Nubian Salvage Campaign” from 1957 to 1965); in Lebanon at Tyre (1964 to 1968); and at Tabo in the Dongola province of the northern Sudan (1967-1977). Their main undertaking was in Upper Egypt at North-Karnak, an 18th dynasty site (the Treasury of Thutmosis I) situated just north of the great temple complex.  There they conducted excavations from 1968 to 1977 and 1989 to 1992 under the auspices of the Institut français d'archéologie orientale du Caire (IFAO).  While working at Karnak they lived in Alexander Varille's historic mud-brick house perched on top of the Karnak northern enclosure wall overlooking the temple of Ptah.    


From 1997 until 2007 they resided with the team of the Epigraphic Survey at Chicago House (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago) in Luxor where they continued to work on publications and consult with the Survey.  There Helen finished and published her groundbreaking The Graffiti on the Khonsu Temple Roof at Karnak: A Manifestation of Personal Piety, OIP 123 (Chicago 2003), the third volume in the Epigraphic Survey's Khonsu Temple series.  She and Jean consulted with the Chicago House team on many aspects of the Survey’s work at Luxor Temple and Medinet Habu, and it was a real joy to have them with us for that decade.


Their photographic archive contains more than 7,400 images (6x6 and 35 mm) of which the greater part is devoted to the architecture, archaeology and epigraphy of the ancient Near East. In 2008, Helen and Jean donated these archives to the library of Chicago House in Luxor, where they form the Jacquet Archive in the Chicago House Photographic Archives.


Helen was an inspiration to all who knew her, and she raised the bar high. 95 years old, yet she published a major pottery double-volume (Karnak-Nord X) just last year, and her book on Tabo is in press now at the IFAO in Cairo.  She truly was one of the greats of Egyptology, and will be terribly missed.  


Helen’s funeral will be on Thursday, May 2nd.  Condolences may be sent to:


Jean Jacquet,

6, Place d’Armes,

1227 Carouge,



Ray Johnson, director, Epigraphic Survey, Chicago House

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Half Century of Oriental Institute Annual Reports

This week the Oriental Institute Publications office posted the Annual Reports for 1960-1969 and 1970-1979.

You can find the entry for the full set here in AWOL. There reports present documentation of more than a half century of work by the scholars and projects at the Oriental Institute - quite an achievement.

It was nineteen years ago this month, in April 1994, that the Institute launched the first version of its website. The 1991-1992, and 1992-1993 Annual Reports formed the core of that original site.  From the History of the Website:
Development of the OI WWW database was a collaboration between John Sanders, Head of the Oriental Institute Computer Laboratory, and Charles Jones, Oriental Institute Research Archivist. We had a single objective in creating this database: to have information about the Oriental Institute reach a world-wide audience through the medium of electronic publication; to make available descriptions and publications of the projects in ancient Near Eastern archaeology and philology by the faculty and staff of the Oriental Institute and its various units, the Oriental Institute Museum, and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC), the University of Chicago.

The OI WWW database originally contained electronic versions of three Institute publications.
The part of the database entitled “Highlights from the Collection” contains registration and descriptive information along with digital images for 65 artifacts from the Oriental Institute Museum. These artifacts represent a cross-section of the cultural regions and historical periods contained in the museum’s entire collection.
 How far it has come since then!  Imagine running a server with 20MB of RAM, and a 250 MB hard drive.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Martyl Langsdorf and the Precinct of Mut

In 1987 the artist Martyl Langsdorf exhibited some paintings at the Oriental Institute in an exhibit entitled "Site Drawings by Martyl: The Precinct of Mut at Luxor" based on her experiences as a member of the Brooklyn Museum team on a season of excavation at the Precinct of Mut in Luxor.

From the  1986-1987 Annual Report, acting curator Raymond D. Tindel reports:
The second of these exhibits, "Site Drawings by Martyl:
The Precinct of Mut at Luxor," June I-July 26, 1987, presented
the work of the prominent Chicago artist Martyl.
She had been invited by The Brooklyn Museum to record
her impressions of their excavations at the Mut Temple,
and this experience inspired the works on display. The exhibit
was celebrated with an opening reception and an intimate
dinner in the galleries for supporters. We are
pleased to express our appreciation to The Brooklyn Museum
for having organized the exhibition, and to Allied
Signal Engineered Materials Research Center, AT&T, Illinois
Bell, William Drake, the Institute of Museum Services,
Kraft, Inc., and Diane Legge Lohan for their local sponsorship
of the exhibition. We especially want to thank the
Playboy Foundation for their assistance in producing the
poster for this exhibition.
 There was also a review of the exhibit in Saudi Aramco World, September/October 1988

Two recent articles (here, and here) in the Chicago Reader, and one in in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (here), discuss her career, and make particular note of the fact that she designed the famed "Doomsday Clock:, the icon of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
To complete the circle of connections, Ruth Adams, wife of former faculty member Robert McC. Adams, former secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, former Faculty member and Director of the Oriental Institute, and Provost of the University of Chicago, was editor of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists from 1961 to 1968 and from 1978 to 1983.

Martyl Langsdorfs original Doomsday Clock design.
  • Martyl Langsdorf's original Doomsday Clock design.