Before the Pyramids Brings Rare Egyptian Artifacts to Chicago's Oriental Institute Museum

Before the Pyramids Brings Rare Egyptian Artifacts to Chicago's Oriental Institute Museum

Chicago, Monday, March 21, 2011.  A new exhibition, “Before the Pyramids: The Origins of Egyptian Civilization”, opens Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at the Oriental Institute Museum. Nearly 130 artifacts from the Predynastic and Early Dynastic periods (ca. 4000-2685 BC) in Egypt will be showcased in the exhibit. 

The exhibition offers visitors a rare look at beautifully constructed statues, vessels, figurines and other artifacts that document the birth of the most fundamental aspects of the ancient Egyptian civilization.

“It has been decades since there was an exhibit devoted to earliest Egypt,” said Gil Stein, director of the Oriental Institute. “By showing us the origins of the Egyptian state, this gem of an exhibit only enhances our sense of wonder at the later achievements of this civilization when it reached its zenith.”


Statue of King Khasekhem (ca. 2685 BC) from Hierakonpolis.

A highlight of the exhibit is the section on the development of kingship.

Two masterworks of the Early Dynastic period are on special loan to the Oriental Institute from the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford University. One is a statue of King Khasekhem, who reigned about 2685 BC.

Never before shown in the United States, the statue portrays the king seated on a throne, wrapped in a ritual costume associated with the renewal of his power. The base of the statue is engraved with a text that claims that he defeated 47,209 northern enemies.

The second object on loan is the Battlefield Palette, a fragment of a large stone whose form


The ‘Battlefield Palette’ (ca. 3100 BC) is among the most important documents for tracing the rise of the Egyptian State in the late Predynastic period

developed from slabs used to grind cosmetics. It is carved with scenes that show enemies being bound and defeated by animals who represent the Egyptian king.

Other objects come from the museum’s permanent collection.  They include elegant pottery painted with enigmatic scenes of multi-oared boats with emblems of gods, carved vessels of colored stone, ritual knives, figurines left by worshippers at the earliest temples, stone tools, weapons, and examples of the earliest writing from the Nile Valley. The exhibition will run through December 31, 2011. Admission to the exhibit and museum is free. For further informa-  tion programs, contact the Oriental Institute at (773) 702 9507 or on the Web at 1155 East 58th St.

Programming in conjunction with the exhibit includes:

Curator-led tours of the exhibit are scheduled for Wednesday April 6 and Wednesday May 11, both at 12:15 pm.

On Saturday May 21 from 1:30 to 4:00 pm, the Oriental Institute will present “The Scorpion King” a premiere theater screening of a National Geographic film on the earliest kings of Egypt. Renowned archaeologists, Dr. Günter Dreyer of the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo and director of excavations of the royal tombs at Abydos and Renée Friedman of the British Museum and director of excavations at Hierakonpolis, will comment on the film and answer questions from the audience.

About the Museum.
The Oriental Institute museum is part of the University of Chicago. It  holds the Chicago area’s largest collection of Egyptian art and artifacts as well as galleries devoted to the other cultures of the ancient Middle East. The museum is open six days a week, it is closed on Mondays. Hours are 10a.m. to 6p.m on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. On Wednesday the museum stays open until 8:30p.m. Sunday hours are noon to 6p.m.

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