February 26, 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015 - ,,,, No comments

A Museum in Mosul That Needs a Break, Not Breaking

Today we have discouraging information on the fate of the collection of the Mosul Museum.  The museum which opened in 1951 specializes in antiquities from the Assyrian empire which flourished within the provincial borders of present-day Province of Nineveh.  It also houses a significant collection of sculptures and other stone relics from Hatra – the capital of the first Arab Kingdom.  By most estimates it is the most important museum in Iraq outside of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad.

In June 2014 it was rumored that militants had destroyed parts of the museum collection.  This rumor was then briefly dispelled by journalists speaking with Iraqi's museum authorities saying that miltants had entered to the museum but left its contents untouched, but not before adding that it had been marked for destruction.  Afterwards they set about attacking and destroying one Shia mosque and shrine after another but verifiable news on the fate of museum's collection was not forthcoming despite whispers in late 2014 and early 2015.

February 27, 2015 the Islamic State group released a video showing militants using sledge hammers, pneumatic equipment and their bare hands to topple or smash antiquities and plaster casts of objects housed within the museum as well as outside at the Nirgal Gate of the Assyrian city of Nineveh on the Tigris River opposite the modern city. 

Eleanor Robson, Professor of Ancient Near Eastern History at University College London and the British Institute for the Study of Iraq's voluntary Chair of Council was the first to confirm that the video is authentic. ARCA has elected to remove its original link to the video in an effort not to franchise the caliphate's corporatized terror.

A speaker on the video is seen standing in front a partial relief of a lamassu (a winged bull) saying that "These ruins that are behind me, they are idols and statues that people in the past used to worship instead of Allah." Citing that the Prophet Mohammed took down idols with his bare hands when he conquered Mecca, apparently in reference to the Muslim prophet's destruction of 360 idols in the the Ka'b, the team of insurgents is then filmed destroying numerous objects from within the collection in what looks to be its four ground-floor galleries.

The Mosul Museum sits on the west side of the city not far from the Provincial Governor's Office. Located on grounds that once were the gardens of the former palace of King Faisal, the museum has been shuttered since April 2003 plagued by both looting in 2003 and ongoing security concerns.   

At that time of the museums closing staff removed approximately 1,500 of the more portable objects in the collection transferring them to the Baghdad Museum for safekeeping.   Unfortunately shortly thereafter both the Mosul Museum and the Baghdad Museum were hit with looting and vandalism.  

During the April 2003 looting 30 bronze panels that once decorated the gate leading into the Assyrian city of Balawat were taken.  Other pieces that were left behind were heavily damaged, including a life-size stone lion from the Hellenistic site of Hatra.  It is unclear at this time which part of the Mosul collection inventory was lost from the 2003 looting incidents and which part survived.  It is also not clear if the transferred pieces of the Mosul collection were returned from Baghdad in advance of the museum's anticipated reopening,  which was anticipated to occur in 2014 before insurgents took over the city. An UNESCO report from 2009 seems to show that the museum was in  a state of preparatory transition, but ARCA has identified no imagery from the interim period of 2009 to 2015 which would demonstrate if an opening was in fact in the works.

What is known is that when the museum was shuttered in 2003 heavier objects, including several pieces of cuneiform-inscribed brick; stone reliefs from Hatra kings; and the Mihrab (prayer niche) of the Mosque of Banal al Hasan in Mosul were left behind as they were either too heavy or too delicate to be relocated, as were several of the heavier statues one can see in the propaganda video. Analysis of the video also shows that museum authorities had made preparatory attempts to protect objects from potential damage and dust by wrapping statuary and reliefs in plastic sheeting.

The galleries in the museum are organized into four sections.  One gallery is dedicated to Assyrian antiquities (Nimrud), one to artifacts from the ruins at Hatra, one to Islamic artifacts, and a fourth to prehistoric artifacts excavated by archaeologists at Hassuna and other sites around Mosul. The images to the right of this blog post, taken from a 2009 UNESCO report on the Preliminary Assessment of Mosul Cultural Museum Mosul, match video footage seen at 2.54 and 3.35 minutes into the destruction propaganda video.

For further image stills of the video, please see the excellent report by Dr. Sam Hardy here. 

Not being a stone mason, it looks like the objects at minute marks 1.21, 1.28. 1.51, 2.47, 2.49, 2.54 2,56 and 3.55 are casts or partially consolidated cast and stone artifacts.  Objects at 2.44, 2.53, 3.24, 3.50, 4.26, 4.33, and 4.45 appear to be original. 

Mosul sits in the middle of 1,791 registered archeological sites, including four capitals of the Assyrian empire.

     By Lynda Albertson



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