The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago is a leading research center for the ancient Middle East. The museum houses some 350,000 artifacts—around 5,000 of which are on display—excavated mainly by OI archaeologists. Founded in 1919, at a time when the Middle East was called the Orient, the OI has pioneered innovative excavations and comprehensive dictionary projects that chronicle ancient civilizations. The Oriental Institute Museum aims to understand, reveal, and protect ancient Middle Eastern civilizations.
It's ! Today we’re looking at how lexical lists were used in scribal learning. Lexical lists can be divided into two types: sign lists which were meant to teach people signs and how to use them correctly, and word lists which were meant to teach people different types of thematic vocabulary. Many lexical texts are scribal exercises, meaning that they had an important didactic purpose, which given their contents, is not surprising. The text here is typical of Late Babylonian school texts for students learning Sumerian. Found at Nippur, this represents the types of texts students would be read there. The tablet, although broken, contains Syllabary Sb and a god list.
A33605, baked clay, Iraq, Neo-Babylonian period (626-539 BC)
This week we’re looking at lexical lists! Lexical lists helped people in ancient Mesopotamia better understand the world around them through word lists. Once Sumerian was no longer a spoken language, people needed to have Akkadian translations in order to understand the language. This was done through lexical lists. In the case of the so-called “Chicago syllabary” which has two halves the text divided into four columns. The first column provides the pronunciation of a particular sign, followed by the corresponding graph in the second column, the third column that gives the name of the sign, and the fourth gives its Akkadian pronunciation. The ancient Mesopotamians were trying to figure out what the word was in Sumerian and Akkadian, with the phonetic sounds and the name of that particular word.
A2480, baked clay, Iraq, first millennium BC
The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago seeks a Field Director for the Epigraphic Survey, the Institute’s permanent epigraphic expedition based at Chicago House in Luxor, Egypt. Reporting to the Director of the Oriental Institute, the Field Director leads an international team of professional photographers, artists, Egyptologists, conservators, archivists, and support staff dedicated to the Survey’s core mission of preserving Egypt’s monumental heritage through high-quality documentation, scholarly publication, conservation, and restoration.
For more information, and to apply, visit: https://uchicago.wd5.myworkdayjobs.com/External/job/Chicago-IL/Field-Director-of-the-Epigraphic-Survey_JR20024
Wait… is that backwards?
This is one of the more common questions we get about cylinder seals at the museum! Yes, the design is backwards compared to the impression it leaves. Seal artisans would have to draw out the image they wanted to carve, then draw it in the reverse, and then they would carve it into the stone. Though this seal is small, there is still a huge amount of information for archaeologists to study!
What do you see? Does it tell you anything about the people or culture of this time period? Let us know in the comments!
A3616, limestone, Iraq, Late Uruk period (3350-3100 BC)
to the OI excavations at the site of Khafajeh (ancient Tutub) in Iraq! The historic photo of this Early Dynastic II (2800-260 BC) stone seal shows the geometric design engraved on it. While many of the seals have figural designs, there are also those with geometric ones. Today we might view this design as being simplistic, but it is likely that it had a complex meaning that has since been lost to us, as studies of geometric rock art demonstrates.
Some stamp seals, such as this one, also contain inscriptions but this one does not tell us anything about the seal’s owner. Instead, the seal inscription written in Anatolian hieroglyphs records the name of the Syrian goddess Kubaba in Luwian. The goddess Kubaba was particularly popular in the city of Carchemish. It is possible that she is connected to the Phyrgian mother goddess Cybele, but not all scholars are convinced about this idea.
A6812, chalcedony, Turkey or Syria, Neo-Hittite period (1000-700 BC)
In the Achaemenid period, a motif on stamp seals was that of a human flanked by two-winged human-headed bull creatures. It also appeared on cylinder seals, which despite the growing popularity of stamp seals, continued to be used in this period. One of the cylinder seals with this design was owned by Irtashduna, wife of Darius I and used fifty times on eleven tablets, meaning it was applied multiple times to a single document. She used it on letters and also on texts concerning rations. The fact that chalcedony, which was an expensive stone, was used for this particular seal along with the design of the seal itself suggests that this was a prestige item that was probably used by an elite individual.
A25490, chalcedony, Iran, Achaemenid period (550-330 BC)
This week we’re looking at stamp seals! Stamp seals are usually made of stone with designs carved into the seal so that they make an impression when pressed into clay. Stamp seals were used prior to cylinder seals which appear around 3500 BC and remain popular until around 500 BC when stamp seals start becoming popular again. The stamp seal here is decorated with a very busy design. Since all the figures are drawn to look very similar to one another, it is at first difficult to tell what is actually appearing on this seal. If one looks at the photograph closely, you can see in the upper left-hand corner of the seal (the upper right-hand corner of the impression), that there is an anthropomorphic figure. There are also five horned animals: four which appear to be ibexes and one which has shorter horns. In addition, there are two fish which help fill up the space.
If you and your family want to learn more about seals, there is an in-person program on Saturday, January 21st at the OI from 1-3 pm. You can register for “Mesopotamian Stamps, Saals, and Cylinders | Ages 8+ at https://bit.ly/OIseals
A12466, marble, Iraq, Late Northern Ubaid period (4300-4000 BC)
“Beginning of the spells of going forth by day and of extolling the akh-spirits in the god’s domain.” This piece of cloth may have originally been several meters long, but this fragment is considerably smaller. It was ripped at some point, but archaeologists do not know by who. It could have been done in antiquity by a tomb robbers, or it could have been done more recently by antiquity dealers. Even though this textile is fragmented, it can still be helpful to scholars today!
E19442, linen and ink, Egypt, Late Period-Ptolemaic Period (ca. 400-200 BC)
to the OI excavations at the site of Persepolis in Iran! The charred wool textile found at the site was found in a courtyard of the Treasury and made from very fine wool. It was suggested that it was goat, but this is unclear.
The belt here is from the site of Ballana and dates to the Meroitic period. Most of the Meroitic period textiles found at the OI excavations at the sites of Ballana and Qustul were cotton. This should not be considered surprising given that cotton textiles are found in large amounts in this period. This was a belt that was found in a grave of a man and was decorated in two different green and blue patterns on a light brown background. Recent work has shown that cotton was native to Nubia and was cultivated locally by at least the 1st century AD.
E22769, cotton, Nubia, Meroitic period (2nd-3rd century AD)
In addition to actual fabrics, it was important to keep track of the delivery of the raw materials that would then be woven into actual textiles. Here, this interesting barrel-shaped tablet written in Akkadian from the site of Adab (modern Bismaya) records the delivery of wool by two shepherds.
A780, baked clay, Iraq, Isin-Larsa – Old Babylonian period (ca. 2004 - ca.1595 BC)
This week we’re looking at cloth in the ancient world! Clothing in the ancient world was made from natural fibers, including linen, cotton, silk, and wool. The production of fabric could be quite intensive and expensive meaning that in addition to being worn or used as soft furnishing in the house, cloth could also be used as money. The example here is a linen cloth that may have been used in the burial of the deceased individual. The linen cloth here might have been wrapped around the deceased person or it might have been used as a garment that was wrapped around the wearer and could have been worn in multiple ways.
E16889, linen, Egypt, New Kingdom? (16th-11th centuries BC)
Last season, Chicago House master mason Frank Hemholz and Mahomoud Abdel Harris, foreman for the stone team, removed the first stone of the Taharka Gate to address climate caused structural issues. The team is now about to start rebuilding the monumental gate at Medinet Habu in Luxor, Egypt.
Happy Friday! How did you get to work today?
Some of you drove, others walked or took public transit, but we’re guessing no one rode a horse this morning to the office. Horses revolutionized transportation in the ancient world—they allowed people to move much faster than they could before. To ride a horse, there are some pieces of equipment we still use today from antiquity, and one of those is a bit, which you can see a 2000-year-old example of above. Bits go inside a horse’s mouth and are connected to the reins, helping the rider control speed and direction.
Do you think we still use any other ancient pieces of horse-riding equipment? Let us know in the comments!
A22945, bronze horse bit, Iran, Achaemenid period (550-330 BC)
to the OI excavations at the site of Khorsabad, ancient Neo-Assyrian capital of Dur-Sharrukin! Here we see some of the reliefs from the palace in situ, before they were removed from the excavations. The placement of the horses in the corner of the courtyard with the niche was supposed to create an optical illusion of an infinite line of horses.