First, I’m sorry for not posting last week. My schedule has been getting steadily busier of late and thus I may not post EVERY Thursday. But there should be a post up this Thursday. However, for something completely different, I felt inspired to write about this topic today, even if it’s a bit off from the usual material I cover. And, as a preface, I was not asked to write this post by anyone, I am writing simply because I felt moved to write on this topic.
Mesopotamia, Iraq, and the Destruction of Cultural Heritage
So this morning I was walking through the Field Museum’s second floor on my way to my volunteer work when I spotted a new, if small, exhibit that I had never seen before. (I’m here all the time now so I KNOW it wasn’t there last week.) It was, in short, a few display cases of Mesopotamian artifacts from the Field Museum’s extensive collection and several signs describing the objects. There were also several signs which discussed the destruction of cultural artifacts and archeological sites in Iraq, which was the reason why the exhibit was created. And it inspired me to write this post.
Many of you know about the destruction of several historical sites and objects in Iraq, including the artifacts at the Mosul Museum and the Nimrud Archeological Site, by a terrorist group known as ISIS (who give a terrible name to peaceful Muslims everywhere). Starting in January, many priceless artifacts have been smashed or sold on the black market to fund ISIS’s continuing operations in the Middle East. In March, ISIS began irreversibly destroying the Nimrud Archeological Site, including the beautiful seventh century winged bulls. This destruction has continued into April. For context, we’re talking about THE Nimrud, one of the major cities in Ancient Assyria, which was one of the oldest civilizations in the WORLD. This city dates from as early as 1250 BC! The Assyrian Empire is known as the “cradle of civilization,” and the Mesopotamian region has a rich and extensive history which extends from prehistory to the modern day. Nimrud is an immensely important site, not just for Iraq but the WORLD!
In response, the Field Museum placed this sign within an empty case in the main hall of the museum in March, which is now placed in front of this exhibit.
Imagine of all out display cases – like this one – were empty.
As custodians of one of the great natural history museum collections in the world, the Field Museum is heartbroken by the recent destruction at the Mosul Museum and at other cultural heritage sites in Iraq.
I do not know a lot about Mesopotamian history, but I remember when I visited the British Museum several years ago I was absolutely awed by the winged bulls which were on display in the museum. It deeply saddens and troubles me that Mesopotamian objects such as these beautiful sculptures at Nimrud are now destroyed. When I first learned about the destruction on the news, I felt as if I was watching the Library at Alexandria burn down. What is happening to these sites in Iraq is just awful!
I’m not writing this post as a call to action. I will not shove politics down your throat. Rather, I am passing on the eloquent words that the Field Museum has written in protest to the destruction of these artifacts and archeological sites. As a sign on this small exhibit in the Field Museum reads, “Iraq’s cultural heritage is everyone’s cultural heritage.” It is indeed a loss for us all. We cannot get these objects and sites back. Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever. Think about that. Think about all the knowledge that has been irreversibly lost. And honestly, should we stand by and let more objects and sites be destroyed (or let more people be horribly murdered)?
It is truly a shame when bigotry and ignorance is allowed to run rampant and ruin things for the rest of us, but this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened, and it certainly will not be the last. But I hope it gives all of us pause. Furthermore, I hope it makes us better appreciate the objects that are preserved by the Field Museum, the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, the British Museum, and many others. I have been known to joke that the British Museum is full of all the stuff the British Empire stole from everyone else, but in light of recent events I am glad that other museums like the British Museum have Mesopotamian objects preserved in their collections. They allow us to view objects from world cultures that we may never have been able to see otherwise, and hopefully through that experience we can better understand the people around us.
So, next time you are at a museum, take the time to appreciate the objects you see on exhibit as being unique and fascinating pieces of history – a history we all share. Objects connect us not just to the past, but to the shared human experience which transcends time and space. And if you’re in Chicago, be sure to check out the Field Museum and this small exhibit that has been set up to remind us of how precious these museum objects are.
And ISIS, go to hell.
– The Valkyrie