Biblical Archaeology Review 37:1, January/February 2011

Strata: Exhibit Watch

Through March 6, 2011
The Oriental Institute
Chicago, Illinois

Visible Language, an intriguing new exhibit now on display at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, highlights the origins and development of writing among the ancient civilizations of the Near East, China and Mesoamerica. Included in the exhibit are the earliest cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia, impressed with pictographic signs more than 5,000 years old, as well as tags and labels made of bone and ivory that represent the first uses of writing among ancient Egyptians. The exhibit also showcases early examples of Chinese oracle writing inscribed on bones and Mayan hieroglyphs incised on 1,300-year-old ceremonial altars. Visible Language explores the origins of the alphabet, which appears to have developed in southern Sinai around 1800 B.C.E,a before spreading to Canaan, Arabia, Greece and beyond.

Among the more than a hundred objects on display is this beautifully inscribed, 5-inch-tall ornamental peg made of blue frit ceramic that dates to the reign of the Persian king Darius I (522–486 B.C.E.). Discovered in a palace at the Persian capital of Persepolis, the peg honors King Darius in three different languages—Old Persian (top register), Akkadian and Elamite (bottom register)—each of which uses its own unique wedge-shaped script.

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