Wednesday, September 26, 2007
The Mystery of Extinction
We were looking at our Humanities book at school. In the first ten pages there were several pictures of famous art from Mesopotamia. One was labeled "Statuettes from the Abu Temple, Tell Asmer, Iraq." The tallest marble figure pictured here, our book tells us, is 30 inches high; the statues are from the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and the Iraq Museum, Baghdad.
With horror I realized that the Baghdad Museum is no more. I remember the televised images all too well: the destruction, the chaos, the looting. These precious pieces of art, these links to the past, are simply gone--buried in rubble, burned, or lost to looters who probably never did understand the true value of the things they took away.
Then again, one of the main things that we trace in the Humanities class is how civilizations changed, the map changed, as a result of constant war and conflict. I suppose it's too much to hope that somehow this would be avoided in what we call the modern world.
Still, it's painful to think of anything that existed and yet is now gone: races of peoples, species of animals, great works of art. Extinction may be explainable in Darwinian terms, but it's inexplicable in human terms. How is it that we are so often willing to let these things slip away?