Archeology Mesopotamia

Finding the past at the Oriental Institute

Wednesday, March 04, 2015 Tariq Al saud

Sadly to say that but many of the oldest monuments in the world that belong to the Assyrian empire were destroyed within the last few days by ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) trying to conquer the Middle East and which is now dominating the city of Mosul. They entered the Museum of Mosul and they destroyed it. They toppled and destroyed much of the museums major works and antiquities. Some were pushed by hands, others they used drills and cutters to rip apart some of  the biggest works including the winged bulls or Lamasso. They destroyed all the stone and clay tablets and vessels that were made in about 1000 B.C. 

In recognition of that atrocity and to preserve the heritage of the Middle East, we wanted to remind people of one of the city’s best hidden treasures. — the Oriental Institute. The Institute is an research center whose goal is to integrate archaeological, textual, and art historical data to understand the development and functioning of the ancient civilizations of the Near East. It sponsors both book-based and archaeological research projects. One of the great strengths of the Institute’s archaeological program is its vast regional coverage across geopolitical boundaries and its time depth; experts in Mesopotamian, Syro-Palestinian, Anatolian, Iranian, Egyptian, and Nubian archaeology and textual studies all work in the same building to offer research and education. This small but powerful research facility is unmatched anywhere in the world. The oriental Institute Museum offers a wide variety of programs — includes family events, school programs, adult education classes, symposia, concerts, films and much more. It keeps history alive and interesting for those who are value the civilizations and what we can learn from them. 

The Assyrian and Mesopotamian Galleries are biggest areas in the Oriental institute Museum. It divided into 3 main halls. The Dr. Norman Solhkhan Family Gallery which it contains the Carved reliefs and artifacts from the Assyrian Empire. The Edgar and Deborah Jannotta Mesopotamian Gallery contains a great collection of antiquities from Babylon, Sumer, Akkad and tells the tales of city-state life at that time. The gallery explains the ritual life of temples, the early farmer's homes, the first law by Hammurabi and has the first beginning forms of writing. The Yelda Gallery which contains a 40-ton sculpture of a human-headed winged bull or (Lamasso) reigns over the recreation of a courtyard from the palace of Assyrian King Sargon II. 

An impressive and important exhibit hall, the Yelda (Khorsabad) Court is amazing. When you enter this place you will find yourself traveling back in time to the Courtyard of the King Sargon II's palace. Two escalated side walls from the palace are on display. They are carved with figures that explain the life in the palace. Lamasso (the winged bull) stands between them with a hight of 10 feet and presided over the palace. There are also 2 figures of the Enki (the Lord of Earth).They stand guard at the Mesopotamian Gallery. While large and inspiring, they are but small fragments that tell of the scale of the size of the original structure.

Visiting the Mesopotamia Gallery

Mesopotamia is Greek and means “land between the rivers.” The rivers framing Mesopotamia are the Tigris and Euphrates and is now modern day Iraq. The present day images of Iraq do not demonstrate to the present what the past had to offer. The rivers once flowed southeastward to the Persian Gulf and historically flooded Mesopotamia at least once a year. As the floodwater receded, it left a thick bed of mud called silt. Farmers planted grain in this rich, new soil and irrigated the fields with river water. The results were large quantities of wheat and barley at harvest time. The surpluses from their harvests allowed villages to grow. When one thinks currently of Iraq, they typically only think of the desert. History show us that Iraq was an amazing civilization. 

Quick archeology lesson.

People first began to settle and farm the flat, swampy lands in southern Mesopotamia before 4500 B.C. Around 3300 B.C., the people called the Sumerians arrived on the scene. Good soil was the advantage that attracted these settlers. However, there were three disadvantages to their new environment.
  • Unpredictable flooding combined with a period of little or no rain. The land sometimes became almost a desert.
  • With no natural barriers for protection, a Sumerian village was nearly defenseless.
  • The natural resources of Sumer were limited. Building materials and other necessary items were scarce. 
  • Over a long period of time, the people of Sumer created solutions to deal with these problems.
  • To provide water, they dug irrigation ditches that carried river water to their fields and allowed them to produce a surplus of crops.
  • For defense, they built city walls with mud bricks.
  • Sumerians traded their grain, cloth, and crafted tools with the peoples of the mountains and the desert. In exchange, they received raw materials such as stone, wood, and metal.

These activities required organization, cooperation, and leadership. It took many people working together for the Sumerians to construct their large irrigation systems. Leaders were needed to plan the projects and supervise the digging. These projects also created a need for laws to settle disputes over how land and water would be distributed. These leaders and laws were the beginning of organized government—and eventually of civilization. These foundations walls, building materials and remnants are one display for people to see and investigate.

The Edgar and Deborah Jannotta Exhibition.

Following seven years of renovations, the Edgar and Deborah Jannotta Exhibition on Mesopotamia measures 5428 square feet and extends back from the Paleolithic (100 thousand years ago) until the Sassanian era (fifth century AD).

In the Mesopotamian Gallery, you will find out more about the city-state system that Sumerians built at 3000 B.C.  Although each Sumerian city shared the same culture, they developed their own governments, each with its own rulers. Each city and the surrounding land were controlled and formed a city-state. City-states functioned much as an independent countries do today. Sumerian city-states included Uruk, Kish, Lagash, Umma and Ur. Ur is an excellent example. As in Ur, the center of all Sumerian cities were the walled temples with a ziggurat in the middle. Priests and rulers appealed to the gods for the well-being of the city-state. The Institute will take you will take you on a tour among the temple rituals, the palace rules and the 3 more important inventions in our world. 

The Top 3 Inventions

These top inventions are the Cuneiform Writing, the Wheel and the law code by the babylonian king Hammurabi. All are examples found in the Institutes collections including the first know examples of laws written in existence. Hammurabi’s law code prescribed punishments ranging from fines to death. Often the punishments were based on the social class of the victim.

An examples of just some of the laws are:
142. If a woman hates her husband and says to him “You cannot be with me,” the authorities in her district will investigate the case. If she has been chaste and without fault, even though her husband has neglected or belittled her, she will be held innocent and may return to her father’s house.
143. If the woman is at fault, she shall be thrown into the river.

The Institutes has found great collectables from the cities of Lagash, Larsa, Ur, Erido, Kish, Akkad, Babylon, Umma and Uruk just to name a few. You will have the opportunity to enjoy a wide range of arts and crafts from these ancient civilizations including finds from the first urban civilization in the world. This includes porcelain, clay tablets, stone statues, pots made of stones and precious metals that help to describe what the civilization was like.

The Institutes has antiquities from Mesopotamia (Iraq) from about 5000 B.C and more. There is much to discover about all the hidden treasures in Oriental Museum. Unlike many more widely known museum collections, whose objects were acquired by purchase, the majority of the artifacts in the Oriental Institute Museum were found as a result of archaeological excavations sponsored by the Oriental Institute. These excavated artifacts have an additional and special importance, not only because they are known to be authentic, but also because scholars gain scientific and historical information from the circumstances of their discovery.

Next time you want to visit another world, take a tour of the Oriental Institute. It is open to the public. The admission is by donation. The Institute's Museum is open daily until 5:00 and Wednesday until 8:00. It is closed on Monday. The Oriental Institute is located on the campus of the University of Chicago at 1155 East 58th Street, Chicago, IL 60637. 

Written by Tareq Al Saud for HalfStack Magazine.

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