Mesopotamia: Inventing Our World

By: Aaron Navarro

Inventions such as time measurement, writing and the earliest mathematical notations all originate from ancient Mesopotamia. More than 170 artifacts–including some 3000 years old from Sumer, Assyria and Babylon–are part of the Mesopotamia: Inventing Our World exhibit at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) en route from stops at Melbourne and Hong Kong.


The entrance to Mesopotamia: Inventing Our World (ROM, 2013).

“This is where the agricultural revolution happened; this is where animals were first domesticated, as well as where the first villages came about,” said Dr. Clemens Reichel, the ROM’s lead expert in ancient Mesopotamia and professor of Mesopotamian archaeology at the University of Toronto.

Mesopotamia: Inventing Our World is conceived of two parts: the inventions and the cultural heritage. “[Our audience] doesn’t want to be thrown a blockbuster ad on something that is at the general level. They wanted to learn something new with this exhibit,” explains Reichel.  “We made it clear that we wanted to adapt it because the ROM itself has a long tradition in Near Eastern studies and a magnificent collection of Near Eastern material.”


The Royal Ontario Museum’s Striding Lion is a Terracotta relief (baked clay) that dates back to 580 BCE (ROM).

Artifacts such as the Penn Museum of Archeology and Anthropology’s Ram Caught in a Thicket and the Detroit Institute of Art’s statuette of Ruler Gueda of Lagash are featured in this exhibit. Materials from the British Museum and from the ROM’s own collection, like the Striding Lion brick wall relief, are also on display.


“Ram Caught in a Thicket” (left) is made of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, copper, shell, limestone and bitumen (Penn Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, PA). The King Ashurnasirpal II statue (right) dates back to 883 BCE (British Museum)

“We actually had a much longer artifact list. The museums on the North American side were open to enhancing the exhibit,” says Reichel. “I think everyone realized this was a unique opportunity to do this in Toronto because Mesopotamian exhibits do not come a dime a dozen.”

For the last decade, places vital to the preservation and continuation of Mesopotamian archaeology—such as the Baghdad’s Iraq Museum—were either destroyed or looted due to the 2003 Iraq War. For Reichel, this is why having this comprehensive exhibit is so important.


A U.S tank outside the children’s section of the Iraq National Museum (Joanne Farchakh-Bajjaly, 2003).

“It’s a culture under siege; one that is very badly threatened,” explains Reichel. “That’s why I think the relevance of Mesopotamia as an exhibit becomes global because this issue touches upon other cultures as well. Afghanistan, Mali, Egypt and Syria are all facing similar threats.”

Catastrophe! Ten Years Later: The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past is presented by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago alongside the main exhibit to show that threats still remain.


Catastrophe! Ten Years Later at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM, 2013).

After a recent trip to Iraq, Reichel insists conditions are improving, but there is still a security situation that makes excavating and visiting the sites dangerous. For Reichel, collaboration is one of the ways of fixing these issues.

“Archeology really thrives on collaboration. No country has ever really convincingly isolated itself in its research,” he explains. “We’re really challenged there [in Iraq], but collaborations are already happening with British, French, German and Italian colleagues. I’d be hoping to work something out with Canada as well.”

Mesopotamia: Inventing Our World and Catastrophe! are open until January 5, 2014.

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