Institute offers gallery-goers a Persian excursion
Archaeologists from the Oriental Institute have been exploring
Iran for remnants of ancient civilizations since they first
surveyed it by air reconnaissance in 1935. Although the Institute
now holds the world's most important archaeological collection
of artifacts from the Persian Empire, a number of these finds
have gone from buried beneath Iranian soil to buried in the
Institute's basement, some for as long as 65 years. The finds
were too delicate for Chicago's notoriously fickle weather,
and a cool, dry storage space was the only place they were safe
from the temperature variations and humidity.
1996, however, the Institute began a $3.45 million renovation
to install state-of-the-art climate- control systems for its
five galleries. This work was completed in May 1999, and the
Institute opened its Persian Gallery on September 9th of this
year. The new exhibit covers what is now modern Iran, featuring
five sites the Institute has excavated in the area, with objects
ranging from 6800 B.C. to 1000 A.D.
In addition to relics that have appeared in other exhibits in
the past, the gallery will display a number of delicate objects
that have never before been shown in public, ranging from 4th-century
B.C. plates and juglets to elaborate bronze and bone votive
pins from the isolated mountain shrine at Surkh Dum-i-Luri (850-600
gallery includes more than 1,000 items that illustrate a range
of artistic styles that flourished in the area from the seventh
millennium B.C. through the tenth century A.D.," says museum
director Karen Wilson. "Our goal is to show how cultures developed
in the area over time and illustrate the involvement of Oriental
Institute archaeologists who did very important work in Iran."
Persian Empire was remarkable," says Matthew Stolper, the John
A. Wilson professor of Oriental studies and an expert on Persia.
"It stretched virtually over a continent. There was nothing
like it before, and its size and durability were not repeated
until the time of the Roman Empire."
half of the Persian Gallery is devoted to artifacts from Persepolis,
which thrived from approximately 520 B.C. until it was destroyed
by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C. This portion of the gallery
includes stone tableware, armor scales, and samples of the thousands
of arrowheads found at the site. Dominating the exhibit is a
series of colossal sculptures made of polished black limestone,
including several bulls and one hybrid bull/bird/human figure.
theme of the new gallery is the development of administrative
practices. When the Institute excavated the site of Chogha Mish
in southwestern Iran between 1961 and 1978, they uncovered important
evidence of the development of administrative accounting systems.
Tokens were sealed inside of clay balls as an early method of
record-keeping. This practice developed into clay tablets with
marks, which quickly evolved into the invention of the written
Mish is the oldest site in the exhibit, with artifacts dating
as far back as 6800 B.C. "Chogha Mish, with its long, uninterrupted
sequence of about five thousand years, provides an excellent
opportunity to observe prehistoric cultural and economic development,"
says Abbas Alizadeh, research associate for the OI's Iranian
gallery also exhibits examples of the world's earliest coinage,
some of which was part of the treasury of the vast Persian Empire.
The coins on display span a range of ages, from two of the world's
earliest-known minted coins of the sixth century B.C. to coins
of the seventh century A.D. in Islamic times, when images that
appeared on the coins were replaced with script.
examples of pottery from the site at Istakhr, an Islamic city
about five miles north of Persepolis, are also on display. Some
of the stones from Persepolis were later carried to Istakhr
where they were used to build a number of structures, including
a mosque. "One of the important things about Istakhr is that
it provides a link between the ancient world and the modern,
as it connects Islam with the cultures that preceded it," says
Donald Whitcomb, another research associate at the Institute.
permanent exhibit is the second to open since the new climate-control
system was installed. Three more exhibits will open over the
next two years, featuring objects from Israel and Palestine,
Syria and Anatolia, and Mesopotamia and Nubia.--C.S.