Ms .45's mp3/bureaucratic/gaming blog.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Give me back my headless lion woman!

Fighting for Iraq's culture

Great little article by one of the Marines in charge of preserving any Mesopotamian antiquities that may still exist in Iraq (there's a great opportunity for some enterprising screenwriter to do "Grandson of Indiana Jones" right there), in which he acknowledges the pushing-shit-uphill aspects of his job - "diverting resources to save cultural artifacts during a war may seem like cutting funds for the police and firefighters in order to expand the public library."

He raises practical issues to drum up support for his activities, such as the strong possibility that if you buy antiquities of dubious provenance you may well be supporting the insurgency (this may not be a problem for you, of course) and that in not looking after the antiquities, the West is demonstrating to the Arab world that we don't give a fuck about their culture, losing the battle for hearts and minds.

I have another issue, which is that Mesopotamian antiquities aren't just Arab culture, they're everyone's culture. Mesopotamia was the site of the earliest literate and Bronze Age societies: that is your and my heritage, whether you are Arab, African or Anglo. It is called the Cradle of Civilization for a reason.

Here's some examples of what we're missing when antiquities in Iraq are looted:

Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago
holds some gorgeous little statues, including the Pazuzu demon, whose enmity towards the demon of childbed illness makes him handy to have around when you're giving birth. This institute also has more information about the quest to recapture artifacts stolen from the Iraq Museum.

Treasures of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad Extremely rich site of artworks, like these two new wavers and this gnarly old bat. Also check out the Iraq Cultural Heritage Worldwide site, which brings together artworks and articles from the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of New York (there's a Swedish museum mentioned, but its site doesn't seem to be online). You can use the drop down menu to navigate, then break out of the frame by opening links in a new window.

What I love about the Mesopotamian sculpture in particular is that it seems to be vastly more naturalistic than other antiquities, the gnarly old bat above being a prime example. The fact that statuary seems to have retained its eyes (like so) more often than others seems to help. Even this lioness has a kind of pathetic facial expression. Whereas, for instance, Egyptian artworks have a distancing effect - I can appreciate how beautiful and important they are, but the Iraqi antiquities make me feel like I'm looking at photographs of ancient people.

That said, I don't know anyone who looks like this.

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