1 of 2
From the Cradle
2 of 2
From the Cradle
The fertile land sandwiched between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is widely considered to be where modern life began.
The wheel, the city, mathematics, geometry, accounting, writing, bronze, nails, chariots, sailboats, and footwear make up a long list of things believed to have been invented by the Mesopotamians several millennia BC in the land we know today as Iraq.
Sadly, Mesopotamia and its rich culture tend to get overlooked at school while lavish screen adaptations generally focus on the gripping history of the Roman Empire. This is just one reason for commending the CaixaForum’s current exhibition, Before the Deluge, Mesopotamia 3500–2100 BC.
Four hundred pieces are on loan for the exhibition; contributions from museums such as the Louvre, The Metropolitan in New York, The Penn and British Museum as well as from private and corporate collections around the world have been brought together to help give us greater insight into this elusive epoch. Unfortunately, twenty or so relics from Baghdad’s damaged and looted National Museum of Iraq which were expected to arrive didn’t make it.
An area of land in southern Mesopotamia called Sumer was where the Sumerian people first settled. When this kingdom fell, around 2900 BC, independent city states grew up in the region which over time were united and given a capital–Akkad, which may have stood on or near modern-day Baghdad. The Akkadian Empire lasted until 2154 BC. The flood, referred to in the exhibition’s title, may have been the natural disaster that led to the decline of Mesopotamian culture and paved the way for the rise of the Egyptians empire.
Among my favourite artefacts were some small terracotta carts on wheels pulled by a disgruntled-looking bull, which possibly served as an early version of a Hornby train set for Sumerian children. Some of the jewellery, such as a necklace made up of black and white diamond-shaped stones, looked as if it could have graced the catwalk yesterday.
The calm beauty of a quartzite head (Sulgi 2094-2047 BC or 2029-1982 BC) seems to remind us that even great civilisations are impermanent and that each one of us constitute a fleeting piece of a larger story.
Ironically, the Iraqis can’t enjoy their own heritage as the National Museum of Iraq remains shut due to security issues. Many of its exhibits were put into storage prior to the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s. Thus damage during the 2003 US-led invasion could have been even worse.
But this is one culture that has never had an easy ride—leaving aside politics and criminality—the fragile building materials used in antiquity have also been badly affected by erosion.
With luck, this beautiful exhibition will help foster a deeper understanding of this beleaguered yet fascinating area that has contributed so much to civilisation.
Before the Deluge, Mesopotamia 3500 – 2100 BC CaixaForum, Avinguda de Francesc Ferrer i Guardia 6-8, 08038
Until February 24th