Director, Core Reference Group, Encyclopaedia Britannica, visited:
"Before the Pyramids" at the Oriental Institute: Like Hyde Park generally, the Oriental Institute is a sleepy place during the summer; on the day I visited, the front-desk attendant was drowsing over his portable DVD player. But "Before the Pyramids" rewards wakefulness. It's a tidy exhibit in the museum's small temporary-exhibits space that's been running since March, which means I'm a bit late. Shame on me. Two big-deal objects are on loan from the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford: the Battlefield Palette, deemed "one of the masterpieces of Predynastic art" by its accompanying text, and a statue of King Khasekhem, identified as "the earliest known inscribed royal statue from Egypt." The remainder of the objects are the museum's stock in trade: pottery, fragments of writing, tools, religious offerings, all dated from roughly 4000 to 2600 BCE. Scattered throughout are flashes of imagination, in the form of everyday objects that incorporate animals: a tilapia-shaped disk used to grind cosmetics, a bird-shaped stone jar, another disk that melds bits of a bull and a fish. Perhaps they're ancient kitsch, but they're a welcome distraction from the era's dull mass-produced pottery.