June 8, 1995
Vol. 14, No. 19

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    Oriental Institute nearing halfway mark in campaign

    The Oriental Institute, which is concluding the celebration of its 75th-anniversary year, has raised $4.7 million toward its goal of $10.1 million for building improvements, according to William Sumner, Director of the Oriental Institute.

    "We're very pleased with our progress to date," Sumner said. "This fundraising campaign is essential to the health of the institute and its collections, and we are grateful to the many generous donors who have contributed to our campaign. We are confident that our supporters will continue to help us uphold the institute's tradition of outstanding scholarship and exhibitions."

    The Oriental Institute's innovation and expansion plans include the construction of a new wing on the south side of the building that will house climate-control equipment essential to the preservation of the museum's world-famous collection of Near Eastern artifacts. The new wing will also provide state-of-the-art storage space, thereby freeing up areas of the present building for much-needed research and conservation facilities.

    "The new wing will greatly improve the institute's ability to work with artifacts we now have," Sumner said. "Researchers will have the space to work on artifacts for an extended period of time, rather than having to pack them away after an initial examination. The materials in our study collections could inspire numerous dissertations -- what researchers need is the space to work with the artifacts."

    Since the size of the conservation laboratory will be doubled, the speed at which artifacts are treated and made ready for purposes such as museum exhibitions is expected to increase significantly, Sumner said.

    The cutting-edge research and extensive collections of the institute attract scholars from around the world for regular visits. In addition, about 60,000 people visit the galleries of the Oriental Institute Museum each year to view the massive Assyrian winged bull, a colossal statue of Tutankhamun and artifacts from royal and everyday life in the ancient Near East.

    Founded in 1919, the Oriental Institute was the outgrowth of early work by James Henry Breasted and other University scholars in the Near East.

    "The Oriental Institute rose from the vision and commitment of three remarkable men whose names endure as exemplars of leaderships in the pursuit of knowledge: William Rainey Harper, James Henry Breasted and John D. Rockefeller Jr.," Sumner said. "As the University's first president, Harper directed a young scholar, Breasted, to develop a department dedicated to recovering the lost story of civilization's rise by salvaging evidence from the ancient Near East at an unprecedented scale." The work was financed through Rockefeller's generosity.

    In the years since its founding, the institute has pioneered modern archaeological approaches. Its scholars have used the latest technology of the day -- including radiocarbon dating, which was developed at the University -- to study the development of ancient cultures. Current researchers are using computer technology to analyze ancient languages and to create three-dimensional models of ancient cities excavated by Oriental Institute archaeologists. Institute scholars also have been at the forefront of efforts to convert ancient scripts into computer images.

    Recent work by scholars at the Oriental Institute has included discoveries concerning the emergence of textiles, tin mining in Turkey and early agriculture in Syria and Yemen.

    A timetable for the renovations has yet to be established. While planning and additional fundraising efforts are under way, the Oriental Institute Museum will be open to the public as usual (see the Continuing section of the Calendar, page 10, for museum hours). The museum will also continue to offer a complete range of educational and public programming for all ages.