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Catastrophe! Ten Years Later: The looting and destruction of Iraq's past at the Royal Ontario Museum

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Catastrophe! Ten Years Later: The looting and destruction of Iraq's past at the Royal Ontario Museum
A U.S. tank outside the children's section of the Iraq National Museum . On April 8, 2003, a gaping hole in the façade of this gateway was made by a U.S. tank round. The Assyrian winged bull in the gateway is similar to the one on display in the Yelda Khorsabad Court in the Oriental Institute Museum.

TORONTO.- The premiere North American engagement of Mesopotamia: Inventing our World, presented by RSA Insurance, at the Royal Ontario Museum is complemented by Catastrophe! Ten Years Later: The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past. Developed by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Catastrophe! is on display in the Hilary and Galen Weston Wing, Level 2. It can be seen concurrently with Mesopotamia from Saturday, June 22, 2013 to Sunday, January 5, 2014.

The looting of Baghdad’s Iraq Museum in April 2003 during the Iraq war shocked the world. Priceless antiquities were stolen or destroyed, devastating one of the world’s most important museums of ancient culture. An extensive database, accessible to international researchers, had been developed and maintained by the museum. The destruction of these records was a great blow to world scholarship. Looting was not confined to this one prominent site. During the Iraq war, numerous of the country’s archaeological sites were ransacked with artifacts either stolen or destroyed. 

Dr. Clemens Reichel, Professor of Mesopotamian Archaeology at the University of Toronto, Associate Curator of Ancient Near East in the ROM’s Department of World Cultures, and ROM curatorial representative for Mesopotamia has just returned from a research trip to Iraq. He is pleased that the ROM commemorates this event by hosting Catastrophe! in tandem with Mesopotamia, saying “The exhibits complement each other well: Mesopotamia conveys the splendour of this ancient culture while Catastrophe! reminds us of the dangers to which it remains exposed.” The topic is close to Reichel’s heart. Following the 2003 looting in Iraq, Reichel, then a Research Associate at the Oriental Institute, coordinated the creation of a web-based database. This tool aided international law enforcement officials in the recovery of some of the stolen artifacts. 

In creating this award-winning exhibition, Chicago’s Oriental Institute strove to educate the public on the devastation of Iraq’s cultural heritage. Catastrophe: The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past debuted at the Oriental Institute in April 2008. A travelling version was presented at a number of international venues upon its Chicago closing. To mark the tenth anniversary of the museum’s looting, the Oriental Institute’s McGuire Gibson and Katharyn Hanson updated the display’s content. This revised presentation premieres at the ROM. Serving as a reminder that Iraq’s cultural heritage is still under threat, no artifacts are displayed. Text and images powerfully communicate the war’s tragic effects and the continued impact on Iraq’s cultural, archaeological, and heritage sites. Six sections comprise the show, providing background and context: Introduction; The Museum; Archaeological and Heritage Sites in Iraq; The Importance of Archaeological Context; Looted Artifacts; and What Has Been Done: What Can be Done? Protecting the Past.



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