Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago

The University of Chicago was founded in 1890.  The oil magnate, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., played a large financial role in its creation.  Two years later, the university began a Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.  Today, this department ranks among the top Ancient Near Eastern programs in the United States, primarily focusing on the ancient civilizations of Anatolia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia.

In 1919, James Henry Breasted, an Egyptologist at the University of Chicago, founded the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.  Receiving funding from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (the son of the oil magnate), the goal of the Oriental Institute was and still is to be a place where scholars may conduct further research on the Ancient Near East.

In 1931, the University of Chicago completed construction on a building specifically designed to house the Oriental Institute.  This building contains a museum and an archive/library.  The library does not circulate its materials, meaning that you cannot take any of its books home.  Unfortunately, I have not seen the Oriental Institute’s library, because it is only open to faculty, staff, students, and members.

Assyrian Reliefs taken from Sargon II’s Palace at Dur Sharrukin

The museum portion of the Oriental Institute houses artifacts from archaeological digs that the University of Chicago conducted from the 1920s through 1940s.  These include ancient Assyrian, Egyptian, Israelite, Nubian, Persian, and Syro-Anatolian artifacts.  Tours of the museum are available, either by docents or by downloading a free app.  Visitors to the museum may also watch short films at the museum related to the Ancient Near East.  Additionally, prior to COVID-19, the Oriental Institute frequently hosted events and lectures.

I once visited the Oriental Institute with a librarian group.  During our time there, we went on a tour of the conservation lab, which is on the upper floor of the building.  It was amazing to see where staff maintain and preserve the museum’s priceless artifacts.

After the Oriental Institute underwent renovations in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it renamed its ancient Assyrian wings after two modern Assyrian donors to the museum.  The Dr. Norman Solhkhah Family Assyrian Empire Gallery is named after an Assyrian philanthropist originally from Iran, Dr. Norman Solhkhah.  This section of the museum contains reliefs from Dur Sharrukin, the palace of the Assyrian King Sargon II.  It also contains the Sennacherib Prism, where the Assyrian King Sennacherib describes his campaigns against Israel and Judah.  The Judean perspective of the campaign can be found in the Bible in 2 Kings 18-19.

The Sennacherib Prism at the Oriental Institute

The Yelda Khorsabad Court Gallery is named after Dr. Sharukin Rami Yelda, an Assyrian orthopedic surgeon originally from Iran.  This section of the museum contains a 16-foot winged-bull, or lamassu, that the University of Chicago discovered in 1929.  Originally discovered in over a dozen pieces, the Oriental Institute pieced the lamassu back together after it arrived in Chicago from Dur Sharrukin in Khorsabad, Iraq.

This is an Assyrian lamassu, or winged-bull, from Dur Sharrukin in Iraq. ISIS damaged the archaeological site where it came from in 2015.
If you look carefully at the lamassu, you can find Cuneiform text.

Although the Oriental Institute’s website is not the easiest to search, it provides free access to a valuable number of the University of Chicago’s publications.  These include the Assyrian Dictionary, an Akkadian dictionary that took 91 years to make; the Demotic Dictionary, an ancient Egyptian language dictionary; books about important excavations, and more.  A guide to the publications available online can be found here: https://oi.uchicago.edu/research/catalog-publications

In case you are interested, the University of Chicago also has one of the best libraries I have ever seen.  Here is my post about it: https://arkeh.travel.blog/2020/01/11/university-of-chicago-regenstein-mansueto-libraries/

Sources and Further Reading
About. Oriental Institute. https://oi.uchicago.edu/about (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Catalog of Publications.” Oriental Institute. https://oi.uchicago.edu/research/catalog-publications (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Dr. Norman Solhkhah.” Atour. April 20, 2020. https://www.atour.com/people/20100420b.html (accessed November 28, 2020).

“The Dr. Norman Solhkhah Family Assyrian Empire Gallery.”  Oriental Institute. https://oi.uchicago.edu/museum-exhibits/assyrian-empire-gallery (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Dr. Sharukin Yelda.” U. S. News and World Report Heallth News. https://health.usnews.com/doctors/sharukin-yelda-44317 (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Emeritus Physician’s Estate Giving Honors Family Legacy.” Swedish Hospital Foundation. March 1, 2015. https://swedishhospitalfoundation.org/emeritus-physicians-estate-giving-honors-family-legacy/ (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Iranian Immigrants Give Back to Chicago Hospital.” The Iranian. April 9, 2007. https://iranian.com/PhotoDay/2007/April/yelda.html?site=archive&__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=c346fa52521a7721623c90f94c3db4c7e08b64f4-1606615762-0-AZMzQVKvmPoTqkyKISbIPcBriGg6xehbCB6kO5Xs4oEsUSMyyR3pEKmloZSQCdsQzgZmHyalbYjTTB7v9gjLNbyJSux1rYoIukmfVyEZQO-CYVAaH5LJsBEQWx2REFovxRnRFlWIbYEEnOkb0KAy2pQ8Qh4yRXX_bAJ2DZOPmIXTOA3gZC2CsgQ4F1_Ed2VXic9gdnQNvn_a28PYNZWlpfTq2k5wVg97PgtQmF7g0XbAOmKAu9oe8CNXjX6p_oc_87o2F_YldzO7Afr5011vAinDjsmyfmvlv_OeZiONydVOgJzrHelyq6-z5cU2Sbczwf3RiEVLc6MG4oJHopgoZRV-T9mCyvwefGbDF0E353Y6 (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Oriental Institute Museum.” Google Arts & Culture. https://artsandculture.google.com/partner/the-oriental-institute (accessed November 28, 2020).

Rome, Kristin. “Iconic Ancient Sites Ravaged in ISIS’s Last Stand in Iraq.” National Geographic. November 10, 2016. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2016/11/iraq-mosul-isis-nimrud-khorsabad-archaeology/ (accessed November 28, 2020).

Shoumanov, Vasili. Assyrian Yellow Pages 2020. Chicago: 2020.

“The Yelda Khorsabad Court Gallery.” Oriental Institute. https://oi.uchicago.edu/museum-exhibits/khorsabad-court-gallery (accessed November 28, 2020).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s