Harvard Semitic Museum

While I wish each day took me to a museum, gallery, or place around the world (one day!) — I am incredibly lucky to work at a university that has so many museums and libraries on campus.

With yet another heatwave in Boston (I promise I'm not complaining, but walking to work makes me appreciate AC so much more than before) I figured walking around inside would be a good option to the outdoors, and what better way to wander than inside a museum?!

Harvard University is one big knot of tradition and progression, and the academic traditions are pretty incredible.

Potsherds from Egypt

At the outset, students spoke in Latin to one another, Greek was an expectation, and Hebrew a requirement.

Law of Hammurabi, plaster cast

Over the past 400 years, Harvard has amassed amazing Middle Eastern collections, both in their museums and libraries.

The famous archaeological discoveries in the late 19th and early 20th century in Egypt, present-day Israel, and the Middle East only reinvigorated Western passion for the 'ancient.'

So, on a hot summer day last week, I thought a trip inside the Harvard Semitic Museum sounded intriguing!

The museum itself isn't huge, with staff offices tucked amongst the exhibits, but it's the perfect place to spend a few moments learning about the past.

Ask the guide, and they'll tell you most people start from the top floor and work their way down — starting in Mesopotamia, moving on to Egypt, and then Israel — more or less going chronologically.

Hunting Lion from Chariot & Libations with Musicians, mid-late 9th century BC

Four headless prisoners, mid-late 9th century BC

Hunting Lions and Dying Lioness, mid-late 9th century BC

The Mesopotamia exhibit brought me immediately back to Pittsburgh — in my last year at university I studied Assyrian art and the stelas and details at Harvard reminded me of those classes. And just like Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Art, Harvard has plaster casts, rather than real items on display.

Stela of Esarhaddon, 673 BC

Once a useful way to teach students before technology made it possible to look at things instantaneously online, plaster casts have recently come back into the spotlight with increased awareness about museums' appropriation of artworks and artifacts. I talk more about this issue here.

Display of making plaster casts

Elamite Deportees, A Shared Meal, Tents in Camp, mid-7th century BC

Egyptian excavation exhibitions never cease to interest me, perhaps it's just centuries-worth of romanticized archaeologists' stories.

Throne of Hetepheres

Coffin of Padimut, 22nd Dynasty, 945-712 BC

Dream Stela of King Thutmose IV, 2576-2551 BC

Thanks to a Harvard professor, the University was involved with Egyptian excavations and has tools, artifacts, and mummies to display.

Foundation peg to a shrine

From here, a singular room is dedicated to the makeup of life in the ancient Hebrew culture, centered around a middle-class home replica.

Middle-class family home replica from ancient Jerusalem

Mesha of Moab

Temple replica

Whether you're interested in the art or the history, or looking for a little something cultural while in Cambridge, pop by!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *