Aug. 15, 1996
Vol. 16, No. 1

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    Ancient rituals to be re-enacted today

    Egyptian ceremonies that have not been regularly enacted for 2,000 years will be performed at 11 a.m. today, Aug. 15, to commemorate the groundbreaking for the expansion and renovation of the Oriental Institute.

    The University community is invited to witness the rituals, which are based on ancient Egyptian religious practices and were originally performed whenever a temple was built. The rituals are recorded in sculpture, painting and hieroglyphic texts on the walls of ancient Egyptian monuments.

    The groundbreaking ceremony, known in antiquity as "Giving the Temple to Its Lord," will be enacted by Oriental Institute Director William Sumner. He will be assisted by children dressed in ancient costume who will act as "attendant deities."

    "As one of the world's centers of Egyptology, we thought it particularly appropriate to use the ancient rituals to commemorate the groundbreaking," said Karen Wilson, Museum Director. "The ancient Egyptians left very detailed records of the ceremonies associated with building, and it will be fascinating to see parts of these rituals re-enacted after 2,000 years.

    "Our Egyptologists have translated the hieroglyphic texts that will be recited to accompany the various steps of the event. Some of these are very poetic -- one recitation reads in part, 'Your monument will be steady like the vault of heaven on its four supports . . . it will be immune to destruction on earth eternally!' "

    The sequence of rituals mimics the actual steps taken in laying out a building: "driving in the stakes," to survey the building's footprint; "stretching the cord," to outline its perimeter; "hacking the earth," equivalent to turning the first shovel of earth; scattering white plaster and burning incense to purify the building; and placing model bricks in the earth.

    The groundbreaking is the official start of a project that includes the construction of a 14,000-square-foot wing for artifact and archival storage, library stacks and a state-of-the-art conservation laboratory and the installation of climate-control equipment in the galleries and artifact storage areas. The project will also create a multifunction room for educational programming, an Archaeological Research Center for Oriental Institute faculty members and graduate students, and an expanded computer laboratory adapted for the analysis of archaeological data. The Oriental Institute's Legacy Campaign, now entering its third year, has raised $6.9 million of the $10.1 million needed for expansion and renovation.

    The Oriental Institute Museum collections include more than 100,000 registered objects from ancient Egypt, Nubia, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Turkey, Palestine, Syria and Jordan. This project is the first renovation of the building since it was completed in 1931.

    Although the galleries will not reopen until spring 1998, the public can still visit the Oriental Institute on the World Wide Web via the Internet (http://www-oi.uchicago.edu/OI/default.html). Through the Oriental Institute home page, computer users can see highlights of the collection and historic photographs from institute excavations, check on recent and new research projects, and even browse the Suq gift and book store. (See story about the Oriental Institute's Virtual Museum on page 5.)

    In addition, selections from the Oriental Institute's permanent collection can be seen in three special exhibits at the Smart Museum of Art, beginning Tuesday, Sept. 10. (See the Calendar, pages 6-7, for gallery hours and more information.)