Thousands of Years: Gone in One Day

You may have noticed my rather prolonged absence from the ways of the WordPress blog. I contracted a rather interesting variety of tonsillitis and am claiming this as a legitimate excuse to have been kept from the blogosphere.

Tribute-bearers. Assyria 865-860 BC. From Ashurnasirpal II's Northwest Palace at Nimrud. British Museum, ME 124562. Image © L M Clancy, 2009.
Tribute-bearers. Assyria 865-860 BC. From Ashurnasirpal II’s Northwest Palace at Nimrud. British Museum, ME 124562. Image © L M Clancy, 2009.

But the latest news that has been filtering its way to us deserves attention. We have been receiving dire reports in recent weeks that has picked up an even more sinister momentum in the last few days. Videos showing was appears to be the systematic destruction of the archaeological site at Nimrud and the destruction of statues “using sledgehammers and drills in what seems to be a museum in the city of Mosul.” Is this just Bamiyan in a terrible reminder of history repeating itself, all over again.

This latest round of iconoclasm destroys not only the physical archaeological artefacts and structures but has far deeper and profound ramifications for the local people and culture and for a wider world-wide intellectual community. Indeed all humankind, whether they know it or not. Unsurprisingly there has been wide-spread condemnation of the destruction in the strongest of terms.

“I would characterise this as the worst form of ethnic cleansing, of cultural cleansing. I would also characterise this as warfare and a crime against humanity.”

– Irina Bokova, Director General, UNESCO

Sometimes we tread a fine line, as archaeologists, historians and other parties with a vested interest in the past. Between getting too wrapped up in the significance of the past, forgetting the very real and very current threat to human lives, in the direst and most gruesome of circumstances. It is important not to loose site of the terrible human loss of life, even amongst the fresh rubble of Nimrud.

But, whether you agree with the phraseology of Bokova, and despite what I have just affirmed, there is a hurt in the destruction of history that seems to be felt on a greater scope. The deliberate destruction of such sites not only denies humanity the knowledge that would have been attained for the rest of time, not only delivers a cultural blow to the heritage and cultural identity to the people who associate with the heritage of their country, but disregards the lives of the people in ancient Assyria who created Nimrud in the first place. This all of course is probably the whole point of the exercise. The socio-political complexities and the cultural motivation behind IS’s actions is difficult to understand and even more difficult to project the impact that it has had on the cultural identification of the people of Iraq to their own rich heritage. Add to the mix the deprivation of information to a wider community of scholars and academics and we start to understand why Bokova commented in the strongest terms possible on the impact on current humanity, not just the erasure of human past.

The archaeological significance of Nimrud should not be underestimated. From the image of tribute bearers with their overlying cuneiform text, to the reconstruction of the 13th Century BC site as seen below. IS is capitalising on the fact that both local and international communities will have an immediate and visceral reaction. It is for these reasons that I will not publish images of the actual destruction of the site on this blog. If you have read this far, I have no doubt you have already seen the footage of the statues been toppled, drilled, hammered and hacked at. If you, by some freakish circumstance have not, feel free to use the links to the BBC articles at the bottom to get the full picture. Just like after the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001, I hope that this will galvanise the archaeological and international community to drag whatever can be positively gained from the wreckage. I fear that it will be even more difficult to do so than ever before.

Ultimately, we can only hope that this latest episode will be swiftly confined to the darkest chapters of our twenty-first century history books. We can only hope.

A digital reconstruction of the palatial structures at Nimrud on the banks of the Tigris river.
A digital reconstruction of the palatial structures at Nimrud on the banks of the Tigris river.


“A little bit of you and me might change the world.”

Malloy smiled, “it wouldn’t show up until a hundred years after we were dead.

We’d never see it”

“But it’d be there.”

— James Jones, From Here to Eternity

Emma pinxit

Read the BBC news articles here:


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