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?


Chuck Jones said...

I may interest you to know that these statues were not among those objects known to have been looted from the Iraq Museum.

Documentation on some of what is missing is available at the Iraq Museum Database project at the Oriental Institute:

and that a digitized version of the primary publication of these statues is also accessible, free of charge at:
Msny other books on the Diyala excavations and on other projects of the Oriental Institute are also available online via:

Julia Buckley said...

Thank you, Charles! That is good news, indeed. I didn't realize that ANYTHING had survived the looting, to be honest, and even articles I read at the time seemed to imply that the museum was just a burnt-out shell.

I will study the website--thank you!

Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the note. I seem to recall reading that objects were salvaged after initial fears that looters and destruction had got everything. I was relieved to learn this even if Donald Rumsfeld could not have cared one way or the other.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Julia Buckley said...

Yes--I was obviously reading the gloom and doom articles, but it is a mood lightener, in this time of many troubles, to know that some things were saved. Ah, antiquity--ah, humanity. (To paraphrase Melville).