The Oriental Institute

The Oriental Institute is located on the University of Chicago campus at 1155 East 58th Street in the Hyde Park neighborhood. The Institute, an extensive research center and public museum, is known for its leadership in Near Eastern studies and research in supporting active field projects in countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Israel. Over 60,000 people a year visit the Museum at the Oriental Institute to view the extensive exhibits and major collections reflecting the ancient history, art, and archaeology of countries in the Near East.

The Institute, established as the Haskell Oriental Museum in 1896, began with a limited collection of artifacts from ancient civilizations in this area of the world. In the early 1900’s, funds from the newly established Oriental Exploration Fund enabled further expeditions and excavations that yielded more than 1,000 artifacts, now comprising part of the extensive Mesopotamia collection. Through the efforts of noted scholar and scientist, James Breasted, and the donation of over one million dollars in grants from John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the Museum grew into the major tourist attraction it is today.

The galleries at the Museum include artifacts that were discovered through expeditions sponsored by the Institute. These collections have considerable historical significance and value, since they were taken from the actual sites of civilization, rather than purchased or obtained from private individuals. The Persian Gallery, opened in 2000, features over 1500 square feet of 1,000 objects dating from 6300 B.C. to 1000 A.D. Included in the gallery are ceramics from the Islamic period, huge limestone sculptures from the ancient ruins of Persepolis and the Persian Empire, and objects of bronze and bone, an entire civilization in existence until destroyed in 331 B.C. by Alexander the Great.

The 5,000 square foot Egyptian Gallery, opened in 1999, displays over 800 objects from the Predynastic era of 5000 B.C. to the Arab conquest in the 7th century A.D. Climate control in the Museum has enabled further preservation of collections of cloth, wood, papyrus, and rush. A 17’ 4” statue of King Tut, discovered in a 1930 excavation, stands at the entrance, along with displays of pottery, clay, tomb figurines, and relief carvings in the gallery.

The main entrance and visitor orientation center of the Institute and the Museum is located at the Mesopotamian Gallery. Exhibits within the visitor center trace the history and research of the Institute’s excavation projects and there are two kiosks with interactive computer programs for use by families. After a 7-year complete restoration, the Mesopotamian Gallery reopened in 2003 with over 5,000 sq ft of gallery space. Objects dating from the Paleolithic Period to the Sasanian Period, with pottery, clay, stone, and metal vessels from what may be the world’s first urban civilization, are displayed in this gallery. In addition, another area covers the 150,000 years of prehistory of Iraq from nomads to farming villages, followed by artifacts from the Mesopotamian civilization. These exhibits focus on writing, tablets of clay, stone, and metal, and feature the Code of Hammurabi. Intricately carved stone seals reflect combats, scenes of worship, heroes, and animals. Objects used in the daily activities of this civilization are on display, as well as treasured objects and figures from the palace and temples. Perhaps the main attraction of the Mesopotamian Gallery, however, is the Yelda Khorsabad Court, an exhibit that took over 10 years to complete. In the center of this grouping is the amazing 16’ tall statue of the human-headed winged bull from Khorsabad. Surrounded by six 10’ stone carved relief’s, the exhibit reflects the power of the ancient Assyrian empire.

A recent permanent addition to the Museum is the Nubia Gallery, with artifacts from the ancient African civilization of Nubia (what is today southern Egypt and northern Sudan). The Oriental Institute, under the guidance of the U.N. Nubian Savage Campaign, obtained permission before the building of the Aswan Dam to conduct excavations from 1960 to 1968. Rewarded for its efforts, the Institute was given over 15,000 Nubian artifacts, a remarkable collection and one of only three in the U.S., that represent over 4,000 years of ancient history. Dating from 3100 B.C. to the 8th century A.D., the objects include incense burners, bronze statues, clay and pottery, jewelry, and archery, all accurately reflecting the trade that existed at the time between Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

Today, the Institute continues its exploration of the Near East and is presently involved in a long-term excavation project at Zincirli, an archaeological site in southeastern Turkey. The purpose of the project is to gather data on the social, political, and economic influences of this region in the Bronze to Iron Age transition. Other upcoming exhibits will include clothing from Palestine and maps of the Ottoman Empire.

Hours: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, & Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, 10:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., & Sunday, 12 Noon to 6:00 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Admission is free. Suggested donations: adults $5.00, children $2.00.
Photography (with flash) permitted, except for tripods and additional lighting. Museum store on premises. Accessible by public transportation and a parking garage is available on 55th Street, free on weekends.

Note: An extensive research archives at the Institute is available for staff, faculty, members, or students of Near Eastern studies at the University. Archives are open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, & Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Wednesday 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

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