Thursday, July 16, 2009
a dead sea creature I did see and other thoughts
When I got back to Canada from the Middle East, I stopped over in Toronto to visit with my brother and his family. One day, we visited the ROM (the Royal Ontario Museum). The rocks and minerals gallery was spectacular. This stone looks like a moose dressed in regalia and reminds me of woodlands-style First Nations art.
A large flat shiny stone of circles from Vaasa, Finland was also on display...or maybe the petrified brains of Finlanders in stone?..or is that the brains of petrified Finlanders in stone?
This dead sea creature was in a glass case elsewhere in the ROM.
I went to check out the Middle Eastern section. I have to say, while there were a few interesting pieces (like this ancient female fertility figurine from Syria), overall, the Middle Eastern section was poor. Having just come back from the ME, and having gone to some amazing places, such as Baalbek and Jbeil/Byblos, never mind just seeing the ancient and beautiful of the everyday, in no way does the ROM's version of the ME's antiquities even begin to capture a pot shard of its dazzling depth. I was very disappointed. While the ROM does exhibit ancient Egypt and the mummies of people and cats and the mirrors and sacred eyes and the special Book of the Dead exhibit were interesting, is ancient Egypt the sum total of the ancient ME?
This piece of a wall from ancient Iraq caught my eye. It's one of the 120 lions that used to line the street in ancient Babylon, part of the Processional Way of the Ishtar gate built by Nebuchadnezzar in 575 bce. The lion represented the goddess Ishtar.
I often wonder how things end up in western museums. I especially wondered that when I went through the Ulster Museum in Belfast a few years back. What paths have they taken? And what values guide the transfer? How, for example, did the Ishtar gate of ancient Iraq end up in Berlin Germany? Well, "European archaeologists carted away the Ishtar Gate, the city’s symbol, [which is] now in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum. The Louvre in Paris got the giant stone slab on which King Hammurabi’s 4,000-year-old code of law was written." Iraq had to build a replica of the Ishtar gate. So, you won't find the real thing in Iraq, you have to go to Germany to see it. Or the lion in Toronto.
It's good to hear that some places, like the Netherlands, are returning stolen artifacts. Prior to its occupation and killing fields, Iraq had been seeking the return of the Ishtar gate. I wonder if that is still ongoing?
Speaking of stolen artifacts, security was tight to get into the ROM that Sunday we went there. I wasn't expecting to be searched going into a museum. People were being checked at the front doors before entering. I wondered, why did security search through my purse? When I went up to pay my admission, I got my answer. I was asked if I also wanted to pay (extra) to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. No, I said, I do not.
Dead Sea Scrolls Protest
CAIA, Women in Solidarity with Palestine and others come together to protest the Royal Ontario Museum's display of the Dead Sea Scrolls stolen from Palestine by the Israeli Antiquity Authorities