North Central College - Naperville, IL

Exhibit highlights work of North Central alumnus, Indiana Jones inspiration

Print Email Share

Contact: Ted Slowik, Director of PR and Media Relations, 630-637-5307,

March 17, 2010—The work of James Henry Breasted, an 1890 alumnus of North Central College in Naperville, is being honored with an exhibit at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago through Aug. 31.

“Pioneers to the Past: American Archaeologists in the Middle East, 1919-1920,” follows Breasted's travels through Egypt and Mesopotamia in the unstable aftermath of World War I. Breasted, a leading Egyptologist, founded the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago in 1919, and the goal of this journey was to acquire artifacts for the new institute and to select sites for later excavation.

Breasted (1865-1935) is widely believed to be the real-life inspiration for the Indiana Jones character portrayed by Harrison Ford in a series of Steven Spielberg movies.

Breasted’s story is told by never-before-exhibited photos, artifacts, letters and archival documents, including his elaborate passport and the wind-torn American flag he carried on the trip. He made important purchases of antiquities during his trip. Excerpts from his letters that describe the dealers and his negotiations are juxtaposed next to these objects, most of which have not been exhibited for decades.

Breasted’s inspiration as a pioneer in archeology likely came from a variety of influences. After several semesters at then North-Western College—now North Central College in Naperville—Breasted pursued the ministry at Chicago Congregational Seminary where he was introduced to the Hebrew language. He returned to North-Western to complete his degree before going to Yale University for a Ph.D. in philosophy.

By tracing his travels, you can also learn about issues still relevant today, such as the interactions between archaeology and politics and the importance of historic artifacts to natural identity.

“This exhibit gives us a fascinating glimpse of a pivotal moment in history—the birth of the modern Middle East as we know it today and at the same time, the genesis of modern archaeological research in the cradle of civilization,” says Oriental Institute Director Gil Stein.

The exhibit is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by noted archaeologists and historians, as well as a reprint of the 1943 biography of Breasted written by his son, Charles.

Breasted was a widely known member of the University of Chicago faculty whose field of work captured the attention of religious-minded philanthropists—like John D. Rockefeller Jr.—who were intent upon learning more about the ancient Near East. In the years before oil irrevocably changed Western perceptions of the ancient Fertile Crescent, few adventures stimulated popular expectations more than Breasted’s archaeological explorations.

North Central College Trustee Misty Gruber and her husband Lewis Gruber will host an exclusive event for alumni and friends at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 19, at the museum. This is the first event in the Sesquicentennial Legacy Series, which was created to chronicle the heritage of North Central College alumni and friends whose accomplishments continue to inspire new generations. The College was founded in 1861 and will mark its Sesquicentennial in 2011. Alumni and friends may contact the College’s Office of Alumni Relations at 630-637-5200 or by April 14 to R.S.V.P.

The Oriental Institute Museum is located at 1155 E. 58th St., Chicago. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $7/adults, $4/children; call 773-702-9514 or visit to learn more.