October 9, 2003

New exhibit will feature Mesopotamian artifacts

The Edgar and Deborah Jannotta Mesopotamian Gallery—the most comprehensive collection of Iraqi art outside of Bahgdad—will open at the Oriental Institute on October 18, exhibiting ancient artifacts that date back as far as 700 B.C.E. The opening comes months after the looting of thousands of artifacts from the Iraqi national museum refocused attention on the region's rich history.

The exhibit centers on ancient Mesopotamia, displaying artifacts uncovered by Institute archeologists while on expeditions in Iraq in the late 1920s and 1930s.

"The recent events in Iraq have increased the world's appreciation of the incredible ancient heritage of Iraq," said Gil Stein, director of the Oriental Institute. "We are proud to play a key role in bringing world attention to that heritage."

According to Karen Wilson, the museum's director, the gallery documents the powerful sweep of the rise and growth of civilization in the region—from its foundations in prehistoric times up to the time of Islamic conquest.

The most highly anticipated set of artifacts to be displayed will be from theYelda Khorsabad Court. The Court is made up of materials that were found at the Khorsabad excavation site in Iraq, and area that takes its name from a modern Iraqi village that stands on the ruins of an ancient city called Dur-Sharrukin, according to the Oriental Institute's website.

Perhaps the most overwhelming piece from the exhibit is the 16-foot tall lamassu sculpture. A lamassu, or guardian figure, has the head of a man with a horned crown, the wings of a bird, and the body of a bull. The lamassu stood guard outside the throne room of the Assyrian king Sargon II in his royal palace in Dur-Sharrukin (Fortress of Sargon), the city he founded in approximately 721 B.C.E.

"It is just astounding to see the size and beauty of these things," Wilson said.

The show took three years to put together. Wilson first had to sift through the entire collection—about 20,000 pieces. Then, the Institute worked with a designer to arrange the layout of the show, write the text for the labels, and put the objects and texts in the cases.

The opening marks another landmark in the Institute's extensive restoration and expansion project, started in 1995 to install climate control and to increase its gallery capacity.

The Oriental Institute is open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free, donations are welcome. For more information, call (773) 702-9514.