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Photos

Assyrian Wall Reliefs from the Sulaymaniyah Museum

Most, if not all, of our readership knows about the intentional destruction of ancient artifacts, buildings, mosques, shrines, and the contents of Mosul museum contents by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The Governorate of Mosul in Iraq is the site of several ancient Assyrian cities (Nimrud, Kouyunjik, and Dur-Sharrukin), in addition to Hatra. The 3,000 year old ancient city of Kalhu (modern-day Nimrud; Biblical Calah) received the bulk of the blow, and a propaganda video issued by ISIS in April 2015 showed the dramatic and shocking explosion of the northwest palace of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II.

The in situ artifacts of Nimrud were composed of palace wall reliefs, mainly from the northwest palace of Ashurnasirpal II,and few lamassu, which are mythical human-headed and winged bulls or lions. Thanks to the great work and excavations conducted by archaeologists from many parts of the world, in addition to Iraqis, artifacts from the Assyrian city of Nimrud are now displayed to the public in many museums and private collections all around the globe.

Detail of a gypsum wall relief from the North-West at Nimrud. What has survived is a left hand of an Apkallu (Akkadian, which means sage). The hand grips on the handle of a buckle. The buckle is supposed to contain a fluid (?water for purification). The cuneiform text of the so-called "Standard Inscription" of Ashurnasirpal II runs over the relief. At the right upper angle, part of the "Sacred Tree" appears. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin.
Detail of a gypsum wall relief from the northwest at Nimrud. What has survived is the left hand of an apkallu (Akkadian word meaning “sage”). The hand grips on the handle of a buckle. The buckle is supposed to contain a fluid, perhaps water for purification. The cuneiform text of the so-called “standard inscription” of Ashurnasirpal II runs over the relief. At the right upper angle, part of the “sacred tree” appears. From the northwest Palace at Nimrud (room and panel numbers are unknown). Northern Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq. Assyrian, 865-860 BCE. On display, the Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraqi Kurdistan. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin.
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Photos

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III at the British Museum

I was attending an event at the Royal College of Physicians of London in early March 2016, and I had a plenty of time to spare. One of my targets was, of course, the British Museum. Two years ago, Jan van der Crabben (founder and CEO of the Ancient History Encyclopedia) asked me to draft a blog article about the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, but I lacked detailed and high-quality images of all aspects of the obelisk. Nowadays, I’m equipped with a Nikon D750 full-frame camera and incredible lenses. So let’s spend some time looking at the obelisk and enjoy its wonderful artistic scenes.

The obelisk lies at the heart of Room 6 of the Ground Floor. The overall surrounding lighting is unfortunately scarce, but who cares, my camera can overcome this very easily! Remember, no “flash” photography is allowed.

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Photos

Ivory in the Ancient World

Ivory, with its ease of carving and exotic rarity, has been used to make art objects for millennia. True ivory actually refers to only the dentine of elephant tusks but it may also refer to the tusks and teeth of walrus, hippopotamus, narwhal and sperm whales, amongst others. The ancient world acquired its ivory either directly or through trade with Africa and India via the Levant, as attested by the Bronze Age Ulu Burun shipwreck which had ivory as part of its cargo.

In the modern day ivory is, of course, a strictly controlled commodity and its trade and use are illegal if taken from endangered species.  In the ancient world, though, ivory could be carved alone or added to metals or wood and used as inlay. The Egyptians buried ivory objects with the dead, the Greeks used it for giant statues such as the Parthenon Athena, and the Romans even burnt it at funerals.  Below are just some of the objects made from this precious and fragile material which have survived the centuries.

An ivory figurine representating a bull-leaper from a three dimensional composition (with two other figures and a bull) depicting this Minoan sporting or religious activity. Hair would have been added using bronze wire and clothes in gold leaf, 1600-1500 BCE. It is perhaps the earliest known attempt in sculpture to capture free movement in space. (Archaeological Museum Herakleion)
An ivory figurine representating a bull-leaper from a three dimensional composition (with two other figures and a bull) depicting this Minoan sporting or religious activity. Hair would have been added using bronze wire and clothes in gold leaf, 1600-1500 BCE. It is perhaps the earliest known attempt in sculpture to capture free movement in space. Archaeological Museum Herakleion, Crete. Photo © Mark Cartwright
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Photos

Erotic Images from Ancient Times

Ancient art and archaeological remains have provided archaeologists and historians today with clues to how the ancients practiced their sexuality and their overall attitude toward sex. To the causal observer, it seems the ancients were more open about their sexuality then we are today. In ancient Rome there were artworks in living rooms or studies depicting erotic images of lovers performing various sexual acts and in ancient Mesopotamia mass-produced terracotta plagues would show couples having sex.

The Secret Cabinet

For the Romans, sex was a part of their everyday lives, state affairs, religious rites, myths, even warfare, and featured prominently in their art. One of the most famous collections of erotic art from Roman culture is the artwork featured in the secret cabinet (gabinetto segreto). The secret cabinet collection is now part of the Naples National Archaeological Museum. It is said when King Francis I of Naples visited with his wife and daughter in 1819 he was so shocked by the contents of the collection he had them locked away. A brick wall was even built over the doorway to keep the scenes from corrupting people.

The following are a few select images of the artwork and artifacts found in the secret cabinet collection.

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Photos

Mesopotamian Reliefs

This post is part of a series of image posts Ancient History et cetera will be putting together each month. Today’s post is all about ancient Mesopotamian Relief!

Mesopotamia (from the Greek, meaning ‘between two rivers’) was an ancient region in the eastern Mediterranean. Surrounded in the northeast by the Zagros Mountains and in the southeast by the Arabian Plateau. Ancient Mesopotamia  corresponds to today’s Iraq and parts of modern-day Iran, Syria and Turkey. Mesopotamia was a collection of varied cultures whose only real bonds were their script, gods and attitude toward women.

A relief is a sculptural technique. To create a sculpture in relief is to give the impression that the sculpted material has been raised above the background material. Like many ancient cultures Mesopotamians also produced artistic relief’s featuring events, places and people of importance.

This bas-relief is part of a series of reliefs which depict the formation and transport of a colossal winged-bull (Lamassu) for the palace of the Assyrian king Sennacherib. In this relief, the king stands in a rickshaw (a royal chariot which pulled by two servants) and he watches the progress of the work. A servant fans the king and another one holds a sunshade over the king's head. From court VI, probably panel 60 of the South-West palace at Nineveh (modern Mosul Governorate, Iraq), northern Mesopotamia. Neo-Assyrian period, 700-692 BCE. (The British Museum, London).
This bas-relief is part of a series of reliefs which depict the formation and transport of a colossal winged-bull (Lamassu) for the palace of the Assyrian king Sennacherib. In this relief, the king stands in a rickshaw (a royal chariot which pulled by two servants) and he watches the progress of the work. A servant fans the king and another one holds a sunshade over the king’s head. From court VI, probably panel 60 of the South-West palace at Nineveh (modern Mosul Governorate, Iraq), northern Mesopotamia. Neo-Assyrian period, 700-692 BCE. (The British Museum, London). Photo © Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg)
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Travel

Never Before Seen: The Belula Pass Rock Relief

I visited one of my relatives who resides at Lake Darbandikhan. It was a holiday. I was chatting with him about the relief of “Horen Shekhan” (Kurdish: هۆرێن و شێخان; Arabic هورين- شيخان) at Darband-i-Belula (Belula Pass). I told him that at the main hall of the Sulaymaniyah Museum, there is a large wall poster of a rock relief; the poster’s caption says that this is the “Relief of Belula Pass.” Where is this rock-relief of Belula Pass is located? He did not know the answer, but his son-in-law said that there is an ancient structure on a mountain at Darband-i-Belula (Kurdish: ده ربندي بيلوله) . “There is a sign on the road, I read it, which says that this the Akkadian relief of Belula Pass, but I have not seen that thing because it lies high up in the mountain,” he added.

Fantastic! I said: “Can you take me there, please, at least I can start from there?” He agreed. This archaeological trip was entirely unplanned but I always take my Nikon gear with me wherever I go!

Finally, we have found it! One my friends climbed up, in a very risky situation to sit down before the relief. Note the location of the relief and the very small space in front of it. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin.
Categories
Photos Travel

Finding the hidden Naram-Sin rock relief in Iraq

I was chatting with my uncle about the archaeological reliefs in the Governorate of Sulaymaniyah. The Governorate is part of Iraqi Kurdistan and is about 400 km north-west of Baghdad. He said that he saw a relief in the year 1985 on a top of a mountain, south-west of the city of Sulaymaniyah. The name of the relief, as the local villagers call it, is Naram-Sin (Arabic: نارام سين ; Kurdish: نيرام سن). This happens to also be the name Sargon the Great‘s grandson; Naram-Sin of Akkad (reigned 2261-2224 BCE). Interesting!

Ok, let’s go. I drove my car and in about 2 hours, I reached the area my uncle had talked about (there is a road from the main street up to the top of the mountain, which was made by the local government). After that, I had to use my feet. From the top of the mountain, I descended down into a valley-like crevice. It is not that dangerous if you are familiar with hiking. Finally, there you are!

The dead silence of the mountain top, together with the wind and the sound of the tree branches, make you feel the history and smell its 4000 years’ scent.

The rock relief lies on the cliff side of Darband-i-Gawr (which means the pass of the pagan). This pass is part of the south-eastern side of the Qara Dagh (also written Kara Dagh) mountain range. Qara Dagh is a Turkish term which means the “black mountain.” It is a double range of cretaceous limestone, reaching a height of more than 1,700 meters above sea level.

This is where the road ends. I had to descend through this slit (on the right of the viewer) which leads to a valley within the mountain top, Darband-i-Gawr.
This is where the road ends. I had to descend through this crevice (on the right of the viewer) which leads to a valley within the mountain top, Darband-i-Gawr. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin.
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Education

Mesopotamia in the Classroom

Cuneiform tablet made by a sixth grader in my class.
Cuneiform tablet made by a sixth grader in my class.

Sixth graders typically have some background knowledge of Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Maya when we begin studying those civilizations. Right now, we are near the end of the Mesopotamia unit, about which they typically know little coming in. It has been nice to spend three weeks with every day being a brand new topic for my students. I introduced the concept of a civilization and talked about the seven characteristics according to our textbook–social structure, government, stable food supply, religion, the arts, technology, and writing – before we delved into a project that combined these characteristics: making cuneiform tablets.

The most challenging concept for sixth graders to wrap their minds around is the importance of farming, many aspects of which were kept track of on cuneiform tablets. Coming from an urban environment, where most food comes from a store, the stages of food production prior to store arrival are lost and rarely contemplated. We ran a couple scenarios showing the extreme difficulty of hunter/gatherer tribes, and they truly appreciated the hardships and daily struggle for survival of prehistoric peoples. The archaeological discoveries at Jarmo indicating the early stages of a farming culture? No big deal.  If there was one takeaway I hope they grasp from this unit, it would be the importance of farming; but even on year five of teaching, I can’t quite connect the dots for them.

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Exhibitions Photos

Meet the Queen of the Night!

Room 56 of the British Museum; Mesopotamia: A large display case houses the “Queen of the Night Relief.” It is one of the masterpieces of the British Museum, also known as the “Burney Relief”. This terracotta plaque came from my land, Mesopotamia (mostly modern-day Iraq) and dates back to the Old Babylonian period, 1800-1750 BCE. My friend Joshua J. Mark published a very nice article about the Queen of the Night relief here on the Ancient History Encyclopedia site; therefore, I will not discuss the archaeology or history of the relief and will focus only on the experience of viewing the piece.

I stood a meter away from the case and watched the British Museum’s visitors; what will they do when they meet this “Queen?” Generally, they took some pictures of her and some selfies. A minute, more or less, they spent. It was my turn now. I approached the case; the glass was very clean and transparent.

A close-up image of the relief. showing the upper part of the nude female deity.
A close-up image of the relief. showing the upper part of the nude female deity. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin.

I will express my thoughts as a physician who examined the anatomical details of an approximately 4000 year-old woman. I’m a consultant neurologist, not an anatomist, but I studied anatomy in medical school!