Conservation begins on this Egyptian relief depicting Ramesses II standing before the solar goddess Raet-Tawy. (at Harvard Semitic Museum)
On Monday, April 14, 2014, the Harvard Semitic Museum will permanently remove its exhibit on the site of Nuzi and its inhabitants, the Hurrians. Installed in 1997, this museum has housed the collection for 17 years. But all good things must come to an end, and to prepare our galleries for an exciting new exhibition on David Gordon Lyon, we are finally retiring this unique collection of artifacts. In honor of this event, we’d like to provide a little backstory - after all, every good archaeologist knows that context is everything.
The term “Hurrians” refers to those civilizations that spoke Hurrian in the Near East during the Bronze Age. During the 15th and 14th centuries BCE, these people inhabited Mittani, a kingdom encompassing much of northern Mesopotamia and Syria. Nuzi, a Hurrian city in Mittani, is the ancient name for what is now Yorghan Tepe, Iraq. It was a provincial city with a palace for its governor and administrative officials, a temple, and a largely agricultural domestic town in the surroundings. Its excavation, carried out from 1925-1926 by Edward Chiera and sponsored by the Harvard Semitic and Fogg Art Museums, unveiled a rich collection of artifacts, including some of the earliest glassware vessels, gorgeous jewelry, and intricately decorated pottery. Yet Nuzi is probably most famous for the discovery of thousands of clay tablets with inscribed texts.
Pictured: Dr. Adam Aja, Assistant Curator of the HSM, with the Nuzi tablets. Photo by Justin Ide, courtesy of the Harvard Gazette.
Over 5,000 tablets in total were uncovered, in various stages of preservation. These texts were predominantly written in cuneiform, the script of the ancient Babylonian language. In general, the documents focused on aspects of economics: trade agreements, legal decisions, and administrative records. Many of these tablets are housed in our collections spaces, where ongoing restoration projects are in effect. Trained interns and graduate students spend hours cleaning, documenting, and preserving these tablets to prevent their further decay. Though the exhibit is coming down, this particular work shall continue for years - for a better sketch of this project, read this article!
Evidence of a thriving religion was also revealed by the excavation. In the domestic sphere, small figurines alluded to votive worship and an emphasis on prayers for fertility. In the public sphere, the temple was determined to have two distinct sanctuaries. The discovery of fragmentary ceramic lions within close proximity to one of the shrines allowed scholars to identify worship of Ishtar-Shawushka, the Akkadian-Hurrian goddess of war and sex. Last spring, the Semitic Museum made headlines by using 3D scanning technology of these fragments to reconstruct a complete version of one of these lions. For more information, see this article in Time magazine.
Pictured: the reconstructed Nuzi lion
For 17 years, this collection has provided the public a window into a civilization easily lost in the sands of time. As we exit one chapter of this museum’s history and move on to a new, fresh exhibition, we would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to visit our collections and admire this rich, fascinating culture. And while it is sad to see such a long-standing showcase leave, we can guarantee that its replacement will be equally (if not more!) intruiguing.
Replica of the Silver Calf discovered at Ashkelon in 1990 next to a pottery shrine. #ashkelon #archaeology #calf (at Semitic Museum at Harvard)
Figurine of a man on a horse. from the Cesnola collection. #Cesnola #harvard #museum #figurine (at Semitic Museum at Harvard)
A skeleton of an Iron Age woman with her feet chopped off has been discovered in a field in Wiltshire.
The remains were found along the A303, near West Knoyle, by archaeologists ahead of a new water main being laid.
Wessex Water said the woman’s feet were found “reburied alongside her”…
Egyptian mummified shrew: animal sarcophagus with the wrapped mummy still inside. Purchased in Cairo in 1902. #mummy #egypt #shrew (at Semitic Museum at Harvard)
Ask an Archaeologist sat down with Dr. Joe Greene of the Harvard Semitic Museum at Harvard to answer user submitted archaeological questions.
Grain mummy with coffin
This grain mummy is in the shape of Osiris and lays in a wooden coffin with a falcon lid. The grain mummy is filled with barley or grain and then water is poured over it. When the barley or grain starts to grow the mummy becomes the symbol of new life and a good harvest. These grain mummies were ofter used in temples rituals and were buried inside the temples compounds. Osiris is wearing the red crown of Upper Egypt.
Egyptian, Hellenistic Period, 330 - 30 B.C.
Location and date unknown
Source: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Oldest Love Poem.
The world’s oldest known love poem. According to the Sumerian belief, it was a sacred duty for the king to marry every year a priestess instead of Inanna, the goddess of fertility and sexual love, in order to make the soil and women fertile. This poem was most probably written by a bride chosen for Shu-Sin in order to be sung at the New Year festival and it was sung at banquets and festivals accompanied by music and dance.
Bridegroom, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet,
Lion, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet.
Bridegroom, let me caress you,
My precious caress is more savory than honey,
In the bedchamber, honey-filled, In the bedchamber, honey-filled,
Let me enjoy your goodly beauty,
Lion, let me caress you,
My precious caress is more savory than honey.
Bridegroom, you have taken your pleasure of me,
Tell my mother, she will give you delicacies,
My father, he will give you gifts.
You, because you love me,
Give me pray of your caresses,
My lord god, my lord protector,
My SHU-SIN, who gladdens ENLIL’s heart,
Give my pray of your caresses. (x)
Courtesy & currently located at the Museum Of The Ancient Orient, Istanbul Archaeology Museums. Photo taken by Yuxuan Wang.