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King Tut and Highlights of the Oriental Institute: A Chicago Family Day Trip

Updated on April 14, 2014

Exploring Ancient Cultures at the University of Chicago

The Oriental Institute packs more than 200,000 artifacts into a rather small museum located on the University of Chicago's campus. Founded in 1919, the museum focuses on the Near East, with items from digs in Egypt, Israel, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran.

We were able to view all the exhibits in about three hours, mainly because there were some cases that we simply walked past.

Admission is free, though donations are suggested.

All photos are by us unless otherwise stated. Pictured here is an idealized image from one of the mummy coffins in the collection. For more information on the mummy, see below.

Toys, Vases and Other Artifacts from Ancient Mesopotamia

The first room of the institute is dedicated to the smaller artifacts of Mesopotamia, an ancient area that was mainly based in modern-day Iraq with parts in Syria, Turkey, Iran and Kuwait. The area was home to ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians, among others.

There is case after case of vessels, vases, small statues, toys, tablets and more, and if you wanted to look at every single item you would be in this room for a long time.

I did like the clay pull-toy from 2350 B.C.-2150 B.C. Also cool were the bearded worshipers from 2700 B.C.-2600 B.C. (see photo) and the libation vessel in the form of a bird from 3100 B.C.-3000 B.C.

Oriental Institute Chicago
Oriental Institute Chicago

The Assyrian Empire and the Khorsabad Court

One of the best rooms in the institute is dedicated to Assyrian artifacts, including two large reliefs from King Sargon II's throne room in Khorsabad (in modern-day Iraq).

The large statue of a Lamassu, a human-headed winged bull, was discovered in 1929. Unfortunately, when it was found it had been broken into pieces. But they were reassembled and the statue now stands at 16 feet and weighs 40 tons. It's huge and takes up almost one complete side of the room, which is a recreation of the throne room.

Other carved reliefs are nearby, including the striding lion from Babylon (604 B.C.-562 B.C.) shown here.

Persia's Large Statues and Other Artifacts

The Persian gallery is highlighted by large statues including the colossal head shown here. Made of grey limestone, it was found in Iran and dates from 486 B.C.-424 B.C.

There are also pottery and metalwork pieces from the empires that existed in ancient Iran.

Take time to look at the photos of the excavation digs from 1929. They really reflect just how difficult it must have been on some of these digs in primitive conditions.

The Colossal Statue of King Tut Looms Over All

King Tut Oriental Institute Chicago
King Tut Oriental Institute Chicago

The highlight of the museum for me was this huge statue of King Tutankhamun, which rises almost to the ceiling. It weighs an amazing 56 tons!

It is actually one of a pair, with the second statue in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Neither statue was found in perfect condition, with the institute's one in worse shape. Still it is impressive.

Nearby is a section on the early Israelites that includes a very tiny fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are the 972 texts discovered in the West Bank between 1946 and 1956. The case that held the fragment is set up so photos are awkward and really can't be taken -- maybe to help protect the fragment.

Mummy Oriental Institute Chicago
Mummy Oriental Institute Chicago

The Institute's Collection of Egyptian Mummies

The coffin here is of Meresamun, a female musician from sometime between 915 B.C.-715 B.C. She was a priestess that worked in the temple of Amun. Obtained in 1920, the coffin has never been opened so the mummy is still inside. A close-up of the coffin's face can be seen in this article's introduction.

There are more mummies to look at, including one of a young boy from the first-second century A.D. that is worth checking out. Behind the young mummy are several canopic jars that are also worth seeing.

Lectures at the Oriental Institute

Oriental Institute Chicago
Oriental Institute Chicago

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    • PennyHowe profile image


      4 years ago

      I did not know this museum existed and so thank you for making me aware of it. I love anything that has to do with Egyptology. I think it is fascinating. Love the photos.

    • michaelangelo1 profile image


      4 years ago

      This is very impressive and really interesting lens and you might want to check this too: 5 Tips How to Make Money by Doing What You Love


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