A Tour of the National Museum of Iraq

A Tour of the National Museum of Iraq

A bas-relief showing an Assyrian king with various symbols of deities around his head. The renovated museum has improved lighting for key pieces such as this one, and has added more detailed signs in Arabic and English.

Iraq gets a lot of bad press. As usual with far-off countries, we only hear about them on the news when something goes wrong, and a lot has been going wrong in Iraq for the past few decades.

As usual, though, the news doesn’t tell the whole story. Iraq may be home to the 21st century’s most psychotic religious group and countless warring factions, but you can also find decent people and bastions of culture. The Iraqi intelligentsia fights a peaceful daily struggle to keep the nation’s culture and history alive.

Nowhere is this more clear than at the National Museum of Iraq. Like the Iraqi people, it’s a survivor, having withstood sanctions, invasion, and looting. That it’s survived at all shows just how dedicated its staff is to preserving humanity’s past.

When I was there the museum was still a work in progress and some halls, like the one containing this statue of a woman from Hatra dating to the 2nd-3rd century AD, were pretty basic. At least it didn’t get destroyed by ISIS like the site it came from.

Back in 2012 I traveled to Iraq to write about it for the now-moribund travel blog Gadling. Click the link to read the series. Sadly, the photo galleries have been taken offline, but you can still read the articles for the moment.

One of the highlights was early in my trip when I got to visit the museum. Back then it was going through a full restoration to update the exhibits and add more explanatory text, better lighting, and modern preservation techniques. The museum is now open for VIPs and school groups. Hopefully the security situation will improve enough that it can be open to the general public once again.

There’s also a good collection of Neolithic artifacts like these shell beads.
Alabaster statuettes of the mother goddess, from Tell es-Sawwan, early 6th millennium BC.
"Hey baby, my eye isn't missing. I'm winking at you."
“Hey baby, my eye isn’t missing. I’m winking at you.”
Early cuneiform.
Very early cuneiform, c. 3500 BC. The museum has some of the oldest examples of writing in the world. This is a simple register of objects, perhaps for a merchant or government storehouse.
Mesopotamian buildings used stone cones stuck into clay as a protective layer as well as decoration.
Stone object of undetermined purpose showing Gilgamesh wrestling with two lions, early 3rd millennium BC.
The eyes are always the most expressive feature in Mesopotamian art.
Ewer in bituminous black stone inlaid with shells. From Warka (Uruk), early 3rd millennium BC. This is the largest and longest-lived city in Mesopotamia, and perhaps the first. It was inhabited from the late 5th millennium BC to the end of the Sassanian Period in the 7th century AD.
White marble face of a Sumerian woman. From Warka, 3000 BC. Such faces are often found in temples, and about a third of Warka’s/Uruk’s 200+ hectares (around 500 acres) was given over to houses of worship at the time this face was carved.
Statuette of woman of semiprecious stone and gilded face. From Nippur, c. 2500 BC.
Statue of the Nabu, god of wisdom and literature, discovered near the gate to his temple at Nimrud, 8th century BC. Although a Babylonian god, he was a principal deity of the Assyrians as well. His temple has been destroyed by ISIS.
Rare Assyrian colored wall decoration of glazed brick.

If you want to learn more about Iraq, you might also like my other posts on the country–Faces of Iraq, Ancient Hatra, and Memories of Mosul before ISIS. Also hit the link to the museum above to take a tour.


Sean McLachlan is the author of the post-apocalyptic Toxic World series and several other titles, including his action series set in World War One, Trench Raiders. His historical fantasy novella The Quintessence of Absence, was published by Black Gate. Find out more about him on his blog and Amazon author’s page.

All photos copyright Sean McLachlan.

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Damn,I’d love to go here.

Sarah Avery

During the our first Iraq war, one of my college professors made the news by contacting Saddam Hussein and offering to be a human shield at important archeological sites. He was worried that the US and its allies would bomb without regard to antiquity. At the time, this seemed like one of his nuttier quirks, sort of like his insistence that if we cared about writing well, we would all eschew word processors in favor of manual typewriters, only more so. But now that we’ve seen some of those sites destroyed and many important artifacts looted, he seems prescient.

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