Ancient Assyria at the British Museum

I recently came across a news item about the Google interior view of the British Museum. I saw the screen grab of the interior atrium and was transported back in time to my visit there during my semester abroad. Taking college courses in London was an amazing experience. I particularly enjoyed a course I took on the history of image and propaganda in which the professor encouraged us to make good use of the free resources available in the city. One portion of the class focused on ancient Assyria, and the use of propaganda by its rulers. My memory of the details is foggy, but I remember Sennacherib. Sennacherib was noted for his building of Nineveh, its magnificent palace, and possibly the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Carved panels of stone lined many of the walls within the palace, depicting its construction as well as various conquests.

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Nineveh Room, British Museum

As part of a project for the class, we were to visit the British Museum to view the very artifacts from our textbooks. Maybe this is a typical experience for students in big cities, but it was totally new to me. Sure, I had been on field trips as a kid to various museums, but the connection to what we were learning was never so direct and visceral. The resources available at the British Museum just astounded me. It made history so much more real.

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Among the many visual elements on display at the British Museum are large statues of winged bulls and lions with human heads, called lamassu, which once flanked palace doorways.

Ancient Assyria was located in the middle east, including areas that now make up Iraq and Syria. War has damaged or threatened many of the remaining cultural items. Most recently, terrorists are deliberately destroying these concrete and physical links to the past. There is a slight comfort knowing that the collections of the British Museum are now more accessible to the world via the Google street view. You won’t be able to get up close and see the many details of the carvings (or attempt to read anything off the Rosetta Stone), but you can get a feel for the experience of being in the museum, and get a big picture view of its many artifacts on display.

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