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Explore: Mesopotamia - ROM’s Lecture Series Addresses Exhibition’s Many Themes


Toronto, Ontario – Mesopotamia: Inventing our World, presented by RSA Insurance, is on display at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) from June 22, 2013 to January 5, 2014. The exhibition gives rise to an informative and entertaining series of lectures delivered by a respected slate of renowned speakers, Addressing numerous aspects of the exhibition, including ongoing issues in contemporary Iraq, the lectures take place at the ROM throughout the engagement of Mesopotamia.

Explore: Mesopotamia Lecture Series

Thursday, June 27, 7:00 – 8:00 pm

Kings of the Universe: The Rise and Development of Political Leadership in Mesopotamia

Dr. Clemens Reichel, Associate Curator, Royal Ontario Museum

Ancient Mesopotamia was home to some of the world’s earliest states and empires. Politically, these entities were controlled by rulers that were both powerful as well as charismatic--from tribal leaders in Neolithic village context to powerful kings of Sumer, Assyria, and Babylonia that controlled much of the known world. This lecture will describe the significant changes in political ideology over time by exploring Mesopotamian leaders through monumental architecture, art, and ancient inscriptions.

Dr. Clemens Reichel is the ROM’s curatorial representative of Mesopotamia: Inventing Our World; Assistant Professor of Mesopotamian Archaeology, Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto, and Associate Curator (Ancient Near East), Department of World Cultures, ROM.

A graduate from the University of London (M.A., 1990) and the University of Chicago (Ph.D., 2001), Dr. Reichel was a Research Associate at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute from 2001 - 2008. He has excavated extensively on sites in Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. Since 2004 he has directed the Hamoukar Expedition, a large Late Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age site in northeastern Syria, in conjunction with the Syrian Department of Antiquities. Since 1999 he has coordinated the publication of over 15,000 objects, excavated by the Oriental Institute’s Diyala Expedition between 1930 and 1938, in an on-line database. Following the Iraq War and subsequent looting of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad in 2003, he organized the creation of an on-line database of artifacts likely to have been stolen from the museum. Dr. Reichel’s research interests concentrate on complex societies and the evolution of urbanism. He has a comprehensive background in Sumerian and Akkadian, Mesopotamia’s ancient languages written in cuneiform writing. His publications include studies on “text archaeology,” the history of writing, ancient warfare, aspects of divine kingship in Mesopotamia, and current threats to Iraq’s cultural heritage.

Clemens Reichel’s talk is followed by questions from the audience.

Thursday, September 12, 7:00 – 8:00 pm

Lions, Temples and Tablets on the Plain of Antioch: Assyrian Imperialism on the Mesopotamian Periphery

Timothy Harrison, Prof Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto

The excavations by the University of Toronto (U of T) at Tell Tayinat, located on the Plain of Antioch in south eastern Turkey, have uncovered the impressive remains of an Assyrian settlement (ca. 8th-7th Cent. BCE), including a temple and a cache of cuneiform tablets, and most recently a citadel gate adorned with spectacular monumental sculptures. Historical sources attest that Tayinat (ancient Kunulua) was destroyed by the great empire builder Tiglath-pileser III in 738 BCE, and then transformed into an Assyrian provincial capital equipped with its own governor and imperial administration. This illustrated lecture highlights the exciting discoveries of the U of T’s ongoing excavations at ancient Tayinat, and what they reveal about the nature of Mesopotamia’s cultural and historical influence on its ancient Near Eastern neighbours.

Dr. Timothy P. Harrison is Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology, and Chair of the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto. Prior to his 1997 appointment at Toronto, he was a Research Associate at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. He earned his Ph.D in Near Eastern Archaeology from the University of Chicago in 1995, completing a dissertation on the Early Bronze Age in the Highlands of Central Jordan. He has directed excavations at the Bronze and Iron Age site of Tell Madaba, in Jordan, and currently is directing the Tayinat Archaeological Project excavations on the Plain of Antioch in southeastern Turkey. These projects form part of a wider, interregional research effort that seeks to shed light on the early development of urban life and state-ordered society amidst the diverse cultures that have given shape to the eastern Mediterranean world. In addition to his own projects, Dr. Harrison has participated in numerous other excavations and field expeditions in Israel, Jordan and Turkey. In 2007, he was elected President of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR).

Timothy Harrison’s talk is followed by questions from the audience.

Thursday, September 26, 7:00 – 8:00 pm

New Light on an Administrative Device from the Dawn of Writing in the Ancient Near East

Dr. Christopher Woods, Professor of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, University of Chicago

Small, unassuming clay balls have come to play a central role in the debate over the origins of writing, having been made famous by Denise Schmandt-Besserat and her theory of the origins of writing. The balls, which range from the size of golf balls to baseballs, are better described as envelopes, as they are hollow and contain small clay artifacts commonly referred to as clay counters, or “tokens" The envelopes with their associated tokens have been excavated in Iran, Syria, and Iraq, and are contemporaneous with, or slightly earlier than, the first texts (c. 3200 BC). It is thought that the envelopes represented an early administrative device serving, essentially, as receipts for various economic transactions. Schmandt-Besserat connected these early administrative devices directly to the origins of writing in the ancient Near East, arguing that both the numerical and logographic signs of cuneiform evolved out of the earlier token system. A major obstacle in testing this theory and understanding these proto-literate accounting devices has been our inability to easily inspect the contents of the majority of clay envelopes. Major advances in computed tomography (CT) and digital imaging technology have occurred in recent years and it is now possible to determine the exact number of tokens and whether they have markings or not; critical data for understanding their meaning. In collaboration with North Star Imaging of Rogers, MN, a leading manufacturer of state-of-the-art industrial CT systems, and Kinetic Vision of Cincinnati, OH, the Oriental Institute is currently scanning and analyzing the clay envelopes excavated from Choga Mish, Iran in the 1960s and early 1970s. In this presentation, Dr. Woods discusses the imaging project, the current state of the ongoing investigation, and initial results.

Dr. Christopher Woods is Professor of Sumerology, Oriental Institute and in the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, University of Chicago.

Christopher Woods’ talk is followed by questions from the audience

Thursday, October 10, 7:00 – 8:00 pm

The Royal Cemetery at Ur

Dr. Richard Zettler, Chair, Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania; Associate Curator in Charge, Near East, Penn Museum


Richard L. Zettler is the Department Chair, Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania; Associate Curator in Charge, Near East, Penn Museum. He is an archaeologist specializing in Mesopotamia. He received his MA and PhD (1984) in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago. He worked at Nippur and Umm al-Hafriyat in southern Iraq, as well as Üç Tepe in the Hamrin or upper Diyala River basin in the late 1970s, and directed excavations at Tell es-Sweyhat on the upper Euphrates in Syria, from 1989-2007. He taught at the University of California, Berkeley in 1985-86 prior to arriving at the University of Pennsylvania in 1986-87. Dr. Zettler is currently working on the publication of the excavations of the temple of Inanna at Nippur, which took place in the 1950s and early 1960s, and his own excavations at Tell es-Sweyhat. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Zettler is Associate Curator-in-Charge of Penn Museum’s Near East Section, which houses more than 100,000 artifacts from excavations across the Middle East. He co-curated Penn Museum’s Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur, a highly successful traveling exhibit which appeared at venues across the US from 1998-2007. He collaborated on the re-installation of the Museum’s collections from the Royal Cemetery of Ur, entitled Iraq’s Ancient Past: Rediscovering the Royal Cemetery of Ur.

Richard Zettler’s talk is followed by questions from the audience.

Thursday, November 7, 7:00 – 8:00 pm

Revealing Meaning in the Art of the Ancient Near East

Dr. Irene Winter, Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts Harvard University


Dr. Irene Winter received her MA in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago, and her PhD from Columbia University in History of Art and Archaeology. She is currently Boardman Professor of Fine Arts emerita at Harvard University. In 1996-7 she was Slade Professor at Cambridge University; delivered the Flexner Lectures at Bryn Mawr College in 1999; and presented the Andrew H. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts at the National Gallery in Washington DC in Spring 2005. Professor Winter has participated in archaeological excavations at Godin Tepe and Hasanlu, Iran, and at Tell Sakhariyeh, Iraq. She has been awarded numerous fellowships, prizes, medals of distinction and grants throughout her career. Her principal work is on the art and archaeology of the Ancient Near East on topics ranging from ivory carving to royal sculpture and cylinder seals. Two volumes of collected essays, entitled On Art in the Ancient Near East, were published by Brill in 2010. The Mellon lectures will be published as Visual Affect: Aesthetic Experience and Ancient Mesopotamia.

Irene Winter’s talk is followed by questions from the audience.

Thursday, November 21, 7:00 – 8:00 pm

Foresight, Forecasting, and the Future in Ancient Mesopotamia

Dr. Francesca Rochberg, Professor of Near Eastern Studies, University of California, Berkeley

Images uncovered from splendid palaces at Nineveh and Nimrud, coupled with vivid accounts in the Bible where Assyria was reviled by the prophet Isaiah, give us something of the face Assyria presented to the outside world. A more behind-the-scenes look at the internal workings of this first of all empires, however, takes us to the systematic institutional implementation of foresight by Assyrian kings. State- sponsored divination by the stars and by the liver of a sacrificial sheep were the techniques employed by kings to know the future and gauge their chances of success. From cuneiform tablets produced by the diviners of the 7th century BCE Assyrian court, we are afforded an intimate look at the Assyrian Empire, and gain insight into the context, practice, and purpose of Assyro-Babylonian divination and its role in the earliest and most fully documented cultivation of foresight.

Francesca Rochberg is the Catherine and William L. Magistretti Distinguished Professor of Near Eastern Studies in the Department of Near Eastern Studies, the Office for the History of Science and Technology, and the Graduate Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of California, Berkeley. She is currently a Senior Fellow of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at NYU. She has also been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Visiting Fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford, and a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. In 1982 she was the recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship, and in 2008 was elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society Dr. Rochberg has published and lectured widely on Babylonian celestial sciences and produced editions of cuneiform texts that set Babylonian science in various contexts, from cultural to cognitive history.

Francesca Rochberg’s talk is followed by questions from the audience.

Wednesday, December 4, 7:00 – 8:00 pm (FRENCH LANGUAGE LECTURE)

Regards de l’historien sur la chute de Babylone en 539 av.J.C

Paul -Alain Beaulieu, Professor, Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto


Price for Paul-Alain Beaulieu’s lecture

General Public: $20.00

Member: $18.00

Student: $14.00

All lectures take place in the Signy and Cléophée Eaton Theatre (except December 4th lecture to take place in RBC Foundation Glass Room).

Tickets are now available:

Individual lectures (other than December 4):

$25 Public/$22 ROM Members/ $18 Students

Special value! Purchase tickets for the series and get one lecture free (six lectures for the price of five)

$125 Public/$110 ROM Members/$90 Students

To register for lectures go to

Additional information on the full Mesopotamia lecture series may be found here:

Mesopotamia is presented by the British Museum in collaboration with the Royal Ontario Museum.

Program Patron



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