Wanted poster

You know Nineveh? You know ISIS is in Nineveh? You know that fabulous Assyrian winged bull?

Photo: “ISIS has destroyed archaeological monuments at Mosul (Nineveh) Museum, including the famous winged Assyrian bull"

It’s still there.

There’s a rumor that ISIS has destroyed it, but apparently the rumor is false. Conflict Antiquities says there is no evidence that the bull has been destroyed. Also, it was a lion, also, that one is at the University of Chicago, not the Nineveh Museum.

24 News (@24news__) reported in Arabic, ‘Iraq: “Daash” gunmen seize Nineveh Museum, and they destroyed ancient masterpieces, including the rare Assyrian winged bull [العراق : مسلحو “داعش” يستولون على متحف نينوى ويقومون بتكسير التحف منها تحفة الثور الاشوري المجنح النادرة]‘. Coptic Nationalism (@DioscorusBoles) repeated the news in English, ‘ISIS destroys archaeological monuments at Mosul (Nineveh) Museum, including the famous winged Assyrian bull’ (and others copied-and-pasted or modified it).

However, as Christopher Carlson (@C_Perspective_) observed, news and social media were sharing ‘a picture of the Sedu [šēdu/shedu/lamassu] from the University of Chicago. The one in Mosul wasn’t in as good condition.’ (Making the original report even less reliable, there were two winged lions (not bulls) from Nimrud in Mosul Museum.) I haven’t been able to find any photos of artefacts from Nineveh Museum that have been destroyed by ISIS. I’ve searched the Arabic-language “news” but haven’t been able to find any report other than the original headline.

Moreover, the claims of the destruction of the winged bull and other artefacts were first spread on the 21st of June. Yet, on the 23rd, the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (BISI) issued a statement that did not mention any destruction at that (or any other) museum; and the Council Chair, Eleanor Robson (@Eleanor_Robson), explicitly stated that ‘all’ of the museums in the affected areas had been ‘reported safe so far’. There is no evidence that the Assyrian winged bull or Mosul/Nineveh Museum’s other artefacts have been destroyed.

There’s always tomorrow, but for now, the artifacts haven’t been stomped into dust.


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    Don’t scare me like that! I still haven’t gotten over the Bamiyan Buddhas!

  2. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I hear the ancients are summoning up a Roman army to protect their stuff from ISIS.

    Wait… what’s that? Ugh, they just [i]had[/i] to send Valerian, didn’t they…

  3. says

    Nineveh! Wow, that takes me back. Waaaaay back, back to the days of Vacation Bible School and the story of Jonah and the big fish. (Sorry for the thread hijack; that’s the only thing I think of when I hear of Nineveh.)

  4. says

    I know; Nineveh, such a resonant name. I think with me it was The Child’s Book of Ancient History or something, more than bible stuff. I got minimal bible stuff as a kid.

  5. Ed says

    While it completely contradicts my rejection to superstition, I sometimes find myself wishing that if jihadist cultural nihilists destroy another ancient treasure, they unleash a curse on themselves.

    This would actually be a good Cthulhu Mythos story. The artifact they destroy was placed there to keep some entity trapped underground or a dimensional gateway from opening.

  6. CJO says

    It’s a cute little cherub! Well, not really. It’s a shedu which was a specific type of divine messengers/steeds in mythology called karabu, which term is cognate with West Semitic cherub. The statues were always paired and set up as guardians of tombs and treasures.

    It’s a real problem that so many of the treasures of Mesopotamian proto-history are housed in Islamic countries. Never mind the nihilistic brutality of an extremist faction like ISIS, it’s actually a tenet of the faith that all of history prior to Mohammed was jahiliyyah, “the time of idolatry” or “the time of ignorance”. Even moderate muslims have little use for any knowledge of the past prior to Islam, and when you’re talking about ancient sites and artifacts, in the long term neglect can be as destructive as active malice.

  7. RJW says

    Yes, apparently not destroyed, so far.

    Reminds me of the very difficult ethical dilemma as to whether Western museums should return priceless artefacts to their countries of origin. Islamic fanaticism is not the only risk.

  8. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ ^ RJW : Yes. Remember how the Iraqi looters destroyed or stole so much of their historical treasures.

    What’s the point in returning these sort of treasures of immense historical and often scientific interests if people won’t be able to see and appreciate them and they only get stolen or destroyed.

    I do believe that some such things should be handed back by western museums, art galleries etc .. to their original lands of origin – but it must be when they are safe and able to treated properly.

  9. RJW says

    StevoR @ 8

    Agreed, given the corruption in many in the countries that are the source of Western museums’ most valuable antiquities, it seems folly to return them to their… ‘rightful owners’.

    A widespread misconception is that many artefacts from the ME were illegally collected by wicked Western imperialists in the 19th century, actually most were acquired when the area was under Ottoman rule, since the antiquities were pre-Islamic the Ottoman government couldn’t have cared less as long as enough cash changed hands.

    Vandalism or profiteering from the sale of archaeological treasures is not unknown in Western nations either. A few years ago some builders in Southern Italy secretly destroyed the foundations of a Greek temple because notifying the appropriate authorities would have cost too much time and money.

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