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June 30, 2003 Press Contact: William Harms
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Assyrian bull provides museum focal point



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One of the most spectacular objects in any museum in Chicago is the human-headed winged bull in the Edgar and Deborah Jannotta Mesopotamian Gallery at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.

Standing 16 feet tall, the massive stone sculpture presides over the west end of the gallery. Relief-carved stone slabs showing ancient Assyrian courtiers and foreign tribute-bearers flank the sculpture. The Oriental Institute’s new installation, the Yelda Khorsabad Court, evokes the grandeur and awe-inspiring monumentality of an Assyrian royal palace.

The “bull” represents a lamassu, or guardian figure, and has the body of a bull, the wings of a bird and the head of a man. He wears a horned crown, which in ancient Mesopotamia was reserved for divine figures.

The bull was part of a royal palace in ancient Dur-Sharrukin (Fortress of Sargon), a new capital city founded by the Assyrian king Sargon II shortly after he came to the throne in 721 B.C. Oriental Institute archaeologists discovered the sculpture in 1929, during excavation of the palace in northern Iraq, on the site which is known today as Khorsabad.

The bull weighs an estimated 40 tons and was a difficult object to move both in antiquity and in modern times. In ancient times, crews of men used ropes and levers to remove the monolith from a quarry and drag it to Dur-Sharrukin.

Once it was recovered from an archaeological site, Oriental Institute archaeologists secured permission from the Iraqi government to transport the piece to Chicago. In antiquity, it had broken into a number of large fragments, which had to be transported by truck to the Tigris River, about 12 miles away. The truck broke down repeatedly in the process, and finally, the bull was dragged by cables to the river’s edge in time to be transported by boat, before the river became unavailable due to a seasonal drop in the water level.

After being shipped to New York, the fragments were transported by rail to Chicago. The train, however, had to take a very circuitous route because the largest piece of the bull could not fit through any railway tunnels. Three years after its excavation, the pieces of the bull were reassembled and installed in the nearly completed Oriental Institute building.
Last modified at 04:52 PM CST on Tuesday, July 29, 2003.

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