Special Exhibit in Chicago: Inventions of Writing

From the Oriental Institute Museum’s website, via ANE-2:

A new exhibition at the Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago will show visitors how scribes in the ancient Middle East invented writing, thus transforming prehistoric cultures into civilizations.

Writing is one of humankind’s greatest achievements. Writing took a variety of forms, many of which are displayed in the exhibition, “Visible Language: Inventions of Writing in the Ancient Middle East and Beyond” that runs from September 27 to March 6 at the museum, 1155 East 58th Street.

Exhibit curator Christopher Woods, Associate Professor at the Oriental Institute, said, “In the eyes of many, writing represents a defining quality of civilization. There are four instances and places in human history when writing was invented from scratch – in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and Mesoamerica – without previous exposure to or knowledge of writing. It appears likely that all other writing systems evolved from the four systems we have in our exhibition.”

Among the items on display will be the earliest cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq),
dating to about 3200 BC, which are on loan from the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin. They have never before been exhibited in the United States. The pictographic signs, a precursor to writing, are part of a writing system that developed into cuneiform, a wedge-shaped script that was incised on clay tablets. Examples of that form of writing will also be exhibited.


A computer kiosk will include videos and interactive presentations that enhance the exhibit. One video will show visitors how ancient scribes wrote cuneiform on clay tablets and painted hieroglyphs on papyrus.

Interactive presentations will show how Oriental Institute scholars have been the first to use CT scans to reveal the contents of sealed clay “token balls” which are thought to be a precursor of
Mesopotamian writing. Another interactive will demonstrate how the newest photographic techniques allow previously illegible texts to be read. Others will show how ancient cuneiform signs changed over time, and how early letters gradually evolved into the letters of our Latin alphabet.

A “Just for Fun” portion of the exhibition will help visitors compare writing systems and to write their name and simple sentences in various scripts. From the computer station, visitor will be able to send an e-post card in hieroglyphs or cuneiform to their friends.

A fully illustrated catalog edited by Professor Woods accompanies the exhibit.

The exhibit is supported by a grant from Exelon Corporation, the Women’s Board of the University of Chicago, and private donors.

The museum is open Tuesday, Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Suggested donation for admission is $7 for adults, $4 for children. For additional information, go to www.oi.uchicago.edu.

Cuneiform inscription from Early Dynastic per, tb072705908 bl 
Cuneiform tablet, Early Dynastic period, on display at the Oriental Institute Museum

Cameo Stone Discovered in Jerusalem’s Central Valley

This Roman-period discovery appears to have been announced to heighten interest in the 11th Annual City of David Archaeology Conference to be held Wednesday on Jerusalem.  The Givati Parking Lot is located just south of the Dung Gate in the (now filled-in) Central Valley on the west side of the City of David.  From the Jerusalem Post:

A 2,000 year-old cameo stone bearing an image of cupid (Eros in Greek mythology) has been found in the Givati Parking Lot Excavation,  part of the Jerusalem Walls National Park. The cameo, measuring 1cm in length and 0.7mm in width, was discovered during the excavation being conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority, funded by the Ir David Foundation.  Dr. Doron Ben Ami of the Israel Antiquities Authority said:  “the cameo is made from two layers of semi-precious onyx stone. The upper layer, into which the image of cupid is engraved is a striking blue color which contrasts with the dark brown background color of the lower layer. The brown layer is the side of the cameo which would have been inserted into the round metal setting of a piece of jewelry, apparently an earring.

See the Jerusalem Post for the full report and Haaretz for a large photo.


11th Annual Archaeology Conference in City of David

11th Annual Archaeology Conference
City of David, Jerusalem, Israel

Wednesday, September 1, 2010
From 4:00 pm visit new excavation sites in the City of David

The City of David

18:30  Gather in the City of David, Area E

19:00  Opening Remarks

Ahron Horovitz, Director of the Megalim Institute
Representative of the Israel Antiquities Authority
Guy Alon, Israel Nature and National Parks Authority

19:15 First Session – Chair: Prof. Aaron Demsky

Prof. Jodi Magness

Archaeological Evidence of the Sassanid Persian Invasion of Jerusalem

Prof. Zohar Amar, Dr. David Illouz

The Persimmon in the Land of Israel

Ms. Sara Barnea

The History of the Mapping of the Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives

20:40 Break


Second Session – Chair: Dr. Hillel Geva

Dr. Doron Ben-Ami, Ms. Yana Tchekhanovets
The Givati Parking Lot – Roman-Period Discoveries and Finds

Eli Shukron, Prof. Ronny Reich
The excavation between the stepped Shiloah Pool and the interior face of the damming wall at the southern end of the Tyropoeon Valley, Jerusalem

Prof. Ronny Reich, Eli Shukron
The Large Fortification Near the Gihon Spring in Jerusalem, and its Relationship to Wall NB Discovered by Kathleen Kenyon

22:00 Estimated end of conference

Entrance is free, but spaces are limited (there is no advance registration)

It may be cold at night so dress accordingly

Parking is available in the Mount Zion Parking Lot and the Givati

Parking Lot (for a fee)

Public Transportation: Buses 1, 2, 38.


HT: Joe Lauer


Restoring Israel’s Antiquities

Haaretz has an interesting story this weekend on the work of a ceramics restoration specialist in the Israel Antiquities Authority.  Her job is to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Many years before the corruption allegations, something entirely different was uncovered at the Holyland project site in Jerusalem: traces of several ancient communities, including shards of two clay vessels. The piles of potsherds were delivered to the table of Elisheva Kamaisky, a ceramics restoration specialist for the Israel Antiquities Authority, who reconstructed the jugs in a gentle work of piecing together a complex jigsaw puzzle.
“I love the earliest periods because they didn’t use tools then. No two vessels are the same. I’m full of awe in front of their technical abilities. In the Roman period mass production starts, and then if you’ve seen one vessel you’ve seen them all,” she says. “The beautiful thing about ceramics is that the same techniques are used today. True, we have electric furnaces and control the heat better, but the basics are the same in the most ancient jug and the ceramics NASA uses to coat its spaceships.”
Kamaisky is one of the Antiquities Authority’s six-member restoration team who reconstruct objects and implements of the material culture in the country since human habitation began. They receive potsherds, threadbare cloths, metallic weapons, golden coins, delicate glassware and more. Unlike their colleagues in the rest of the world, Israeli law bars them from working with human remains.
Archaeologist Zvika Greenhut says restoration work is important “because it’s the only way you can see the entire picture. For example, in one dig I worked on in Motza we found a room full of pitcher shards. But only when we started piecing them together did we understand that the room couldn’t possibly hold all these vessels. There were two possibilities: Either they were all stored one inside each other, or there were shelves that held them but didn’t survive into our time. It was clearly a storeroom and this means something about that culture.”

The full story is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

Cooking pots from Iron Age, tb061804661 bl

Restored Iron Age cooking pots, Eretz Israel Museum

Geography Quiz

I may get in trouble for this one, but with limited time, it’s either this or nothing today.  And it is ostensibly related to biblical places.  Published at Arutz-7, this feature is entitled “Do You Know Your Geography of Israel?”  You can take the test by identifying the locations of thirteen photos.

UPDATE 9/6: I regret posting this “quiz.” I was first intrigued by a “geography quiz” of Israel and then surprised at the “answer.” I posted it more for amusement value than as a declaration in support of certain “truths.” I have no knowledge that the claim of this quiz is accurate and no interest in promoting it as accurate (even if it is). But this was certainly not clear in my original posting. 

Deleting this post would halt my continued perpetuation of this “story,” but it would not provide the opportunity for the clarification that I am making now. For some specifics of the problems with this “story,” see Tom’s second comment below.


Diamonds in the Kishon River

The Kishon River drains the Jezreel Valley into the Mediterranean Sea, and it was the location of the slaughter of the prophets of Baal during the time of Elijah (1 Kgs 18:40).   From Arutz-7:

The Kishon River, considered the most polluted river in Israel, will soon be the object of a major cleaning and purification project. The initiative is a joint project of the Ministry of the Environment, the Kishon River Authority, and factories and chemical plants on the river’s banks. At the same time, the Shefa Yamim company continues to seek diamonds under the Kishon riverbed, based on advice from the late Lubavitcher Rebbe. The company, which has already found diamonds and associated minerals in the vicinity, plans a stock issue of $100 million in the coming months. The Kishon River’s pollution stems in part from daily contamination for over 40 years by runoff of mercury and other metals from nearby chemical plants. It has been claimed that there are more chemicals than water in the Kishon. The river runs 70 kilometers from Jenin in Samaria, via the Jezreel Valley and Zevulun Valley, and into the Mediterranean Sea near Haifa.

The full story is here.


Archaeology and Women

Digging Up Women” is the title of a new article posted at The Bible and Interpretation.  Elizabeth McNamer provides some insight into the daily life of women using biblical texts and archaeological finds from Bethsaida.  She writes:

Most of the artifacts found at Bethsaida are in the domain of women: loom weights, ovens, cooking pots, jugs, juglets, grinders, flourmills, fish plates, olive bowls, pruning hooks, oil lamps, water jugs, jewels, wine jars (and cellars), needles, ungent jars, eating utensils. Clothes were made of linen and wool. Making wool was a time-consuming task. It involved sheering the sheep, sorting and grading, spinning the yarn, and dying the wool, setting up the loom to make the fabric and then making it into clothing. Spinning was mandated by the Talmud (even rich women were required to spin). So many linen spores have been found at Bethsaida that we think there may have been a linen factory there. (It was required for sailing boats and for shrouds for the dead among other things). To clothe a family of six would have required about three hours a day of labor (and taking the Sabbath off). If she produced more than her family required, there were local markets and fairs at which the surplus could be sold.

The article provides some of the “other side” of the story, for archaeology is often most concerned with fortifications, palaces, and other discoveries built and destroyed by men.


Weekend Roundup

Two articles that I contributed made it to the “Most Viewed” list over at The Bible and Interpretation.  Both articles are brief and challenge current thinking:

Probably the most important work of historical geography ever written is The Sacred Bridge, by Anson F. Rainey and R. Steven Notley.  At $100, you may need convincing that it’s worth the sacrifice.  I look at it this way: take the number of years left in your life and divide $100 by that.  It is worth a few bucks a year to have such an extensive reference tool at arm’s length.  Leen Ritmeyer has posted a brief review of the book on his blog.  If you don’t need the original languages, you can cut the price in half by purchasing Carta’s New Century Handbook and Atlas of the Bible.

If you’d like a free classic to offset the expensive purchase, you can download the entire work of George Adam Smith’s Historical Geography of the Holy Land (pdf).  This is the 4th edition (of 26!), but as far as I know, the content is largely the same.  I am not sure if residents outside the US have access.


Palestine Park, Chautauqua, New York

A friend tipped me off that my summer travels this year would have me near Chautauqua Institution in western New York, the location of Palestine Park.  Originally built in 1874, the model of the land of Palestine (as it was then known) has been reconstructed and enlarged over the years to its present size of 350 feet long (110 m) at a scale of 1.75 feet to the mile (0.34 meters to the km).

The model blends into its surroundings and you don’t realize you’ve arrived until you’re standing in it.  This is a view of the area from the “north” with the edge of “Mount Hermon” visible on the right.

100802340tb Approaching Palestine Park

The best view of the model is from the top of Mount Hermon.  Lake Chautauqua stands in for the Mediterranean Sea, but since the park is on the lake’s western shore, the sun rises on the wrong side of this “world.”

100802338tb Palestine Park overview from north

The model includes major landmarks such as Mount Tabor, the Hill of Moreh, and the Jezreel Valley, but I found it difficult to easily identify the physical features because of the uniform shade of the green grass.

100802308tb Palestine Park view north

In the photo below, you can see the Sea of Galilee distinctly, and in the foreground the labeled sites are Nain (left) and Mt. Moreh (center).

100802302tb Palestine Park northern hills

The two major lakes are the most easily identifiable features and both are shaped appropriately.  The Sea of Galilee (below) is surrounded by biblical cities (not exactly in the right places), including Tiberias, Magdala, Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Gergesa.  Perceptive visitors may wonder why the “Mount of Beatitudes” is placed on a high mountain on the lake’s west side.  This reflects a 19th-century view that Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount at the place today known as Mt. Arbel.

100802303tb Palestine Park Sea of Galilee

Every Sunday and Monday evenings a local pastor, allegedly in costume, gives presentations of the model using biblical stories.  Mounts Gerizim and Ebal, located under the boys, would provide an ideal place for many wonderful and important history lessons.

100802307tb Palestine Park Mt Gerizim and Mt Ebal

Jerusalem is uniquely marked on the model with a depiction of the (modern) Old City walls.  The model labels a mixture of sites from the Old Testament, New Testament, and later periods. 

Approximately sixty sites are identified, including the Mount of Olives and Bethany (behind Jerusalem in the photo below).

100802310tb Palestine Park, Jerusalem, Mount of Olives

The model also includes the rugged hill country of Transjordan and labels sites including Macherus, Mt. Nebo, Ramoth-gilead, and Gerasa.  The large lake shown below is the Dead Sea.  For a better photo that includes the lisan peninsula, see yesterday’s post.

100802323tb Palestine Park, Dead Sea, Transjordan

For more information about the premises where the model is located, you can visit the website of the Chautauqua Institution (but Palestine Park is ignored on the site).  The entrance fee for the morning was $16, which I felt was a bit unfair, especially since I only spent about 15 minutes at the model (but more than that walking in from the parking lot).  Wikipedia has a brief article about the place, and you can quickly locate the site on Google Maps here.  If you visit in the summer on a Sunday or Monday evening, you can join the free tour (weather permitting).  At other times , you can enjoy a self-guided tour with the assistance of either a cassette tape or a booklet.

A connection I only learned when writing this post is that the man who directed the creation of the park, John H. Vincent, co-wrote Earthly Footsteps of the Man of Galilee, one of the first works that I selected for the Historic Views of the Holy Land series.  He is listed on the title page as the “Chancellor of Chautauqua.”  There is a whole history of American interest in the Holy Land in the 1800s of which I have been ignorant. 

If you have visited Palestine Park and have any observations or suggestions for potential visitors, feel free to comment below.