The University of Chicago News Office
January 22, 1996 Press Contact: William Harms
(773) 702-8356

For Immediate Release

On Monday, February 5, renovations of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute Museum move forward with the closing of the Egyptian gallery.

The Assyrian, Mesopotamian, Nubian and Special Exhibits galleries at the museum, located at 1155 E. 58th St., will remain open to the public until later in the year. The institute’s Suq gift and book shop will continue normal operations throughout the renovation project, which is expected to continue through spring 1998.

The closure of the Egyptian gallery is the latest step in the packing of artifacts in preparation for the first renovation of the institute facility in more than 60 years. The renovations will include the installation of climate control in the galleries and artifact storage areas; the construction of a 14,000- square-foot wing for artifact and archival storage; the creation of a public activity center for educational programming, an Archaeological Research Center and an expanded computer laboratory adapted for the analysis of archaeological data; the relocation of the conservation laboratory and an expansion of the Research Library stacks.

The Oriental Institute’s Legacy Campaign to raise the $10.1 million cost of the project passed the halfway mark in December. The architectural firm engaged for the project is Hammond, Beeby and Babka of Chicago.

The new climate-control system will protect the museum’s priceless artifacts from the extreme range of relative humidity and temperature in Chicago. These weather variations cause irreparable damage to ancient objects by subjecting them to repeated expansion and contraction.

Once the temperature and humidity in the galleries are stabilized, artifacts of wood, fabric or other delicate materials can be exhibited to the public. Previously, they had to be stored in a small, climate conditioned area of the basement. This will allow for the display of a whole new range of objects such as furniture, textiles, clothing, Book of the Dead papyri, Egyptian mummies and animal mummies.

The installation of climate control involves major duct work in the galleries, necessitating the temporary removal of all the artifacts. Karen L. Wilson, Curator of the Oriental Institute Museum, said, “It is painful to have to close our doors to the public, but when this renovation is completed, we will have entirely new exhibits, in comfortable galleries that provide the most favorable conditions for viewing our artifacts. This offers us the opportunity to completely rethink the exhibits and to ensure that the most important portions of our collection are made accessible to the public.”

Among the anticipated changes is a new, permanent exhibit featuring the institute’s famed collection of artifacts from Nubia, one of Africa’s least-known, and most ancient, civilizations. Wilson is also planning to create a “Khorsabad Court,” showcasing the institute’s collection of monumental carved stone slabs. These Assyrian masterpieces were excavated at the site of Khorsabad in northern Iraq in the late 1920s.

The museum collections include 100,000 registered artifacts from ancient Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Israel and Palestine. The institute has one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of artifacts from Mesopotamia (ancient Iraq). Special emphasis will be given to the lands of the Bible, with a gallery devoted to the artifacts that the institute excavated at Megiddo, thought to be the site of ancient Armageddon.

A Special Exhibits gallery will allow institute curators to mount temporary displays from the museum’s collection, or to present loan shows from other museums. Although the exhibits will be newly installed, Wilson said that the historical integrity of the museum will remain intact and that the painted ceilings, light fixtures, period display cases and architectural elements based on Middle Eastern motifs will not be affected.

Although the galleries will be inaccessible during part of the renovation, the public can still visit the Oriental Institute on the World Wide Web via the Internet ( Through the Oriental Institute home page, computer users can view highlights of the collection and historic photographs from institute excavations, check on recent and new research projects and even browse the Suq.

The Educational Programs office of the Oriental Institute will continue to offer programs for children and adults, at the institute and other locations.

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago is one of the world’s foremost research and teaching centers for the languages, history and culture of the ancient Near East, including those of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persian, Syria, Palestine, Israel, and Anatolia.
Last modified at 03:50 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

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