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 Iraqs 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 Baghdads Iraq Museum in April 2003 during the Iraq war shocked the world. Priceless antiquities were stolen or destroyed, devastating one of the worlds 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 countrys 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 ROMs 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 Reichels 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, Chicagos Oriental Institute strove to educate the public on the devastation of Iraqs cultural heritage. Catastrophe: The Looting and Destruction of Iraqs 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 museums looting, the Oriental Institutes McGuire Gibson and Katharyn Hanson updated the displays content. This revised presentation premieres at the ROM. Serving as a reminder that Iraqs cultural heritage is still under threat, no artifacts are displayed. Text and images powerfully communicate the wars tragic effects and the continued impact on Iraqs 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.