Last Thursday, ISIS released a video showing its militants destroying statues and various artifacts belonging to the Mosul Museum in Iraq. The pieces dated from 100 B.C. to A.D. 100, hailing from the nearby site of Hatra, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The ancient city of Hatra played an important role in the trade routes of the Roman Empire and its eastern contemporaries. “There were so many statues at the site when I visited in the 1960s that we had to jump over them,” said Lamia al-Gailani Werr, an Iraqi archaeologist.
In the video, the traditionally-dressed men can be seen toppling statues and destroying the antiquities with sledgehammers and jackhammers. Possibly unbeknownst to the attackers, while some of the pieces in the museum seemed to be originals, many seemed to be plaster reproductions, judging from the way they disintegrated in the video.
Among the pieces destroyed, the ISIS militants tore apart huge statues depicting winged bulls, known as “lamassu,” which once stood in the ancient city of Nineveh, the capital of the neo-Assyrian empire until 612 B.C. These ancient creatures were believed to guard royal palaces from evil forces and enemies. Similar Assyrian statues can be found in historical museums in European capitals, including Paris, Berlin and London – the result of archaeologists transporting trophy finds back to their native countries, which was common in the 19th century.
Experts have stated that these destroyed artifacts represent a huge and irreversible cultural loss. Commentators noticed a chilling similarity between last week’s events and the destruction that the Taliban wrought on ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan in 2001.
This is not the first of such incidents and ISIS is not the first perpetrator. Mosul’s museum has repeatedly been under attack, dating back as early as the Gulf War in 1990. Since then, many of its holdings have progressively been moved to Baghdad for safekeeping.