Mesopotamian Masterpieces

Exquisite art and artifacts from the world's earliest civilization are dazzling visitors to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Despite the impossibility of borrowing objects from Iraq and Iran because of embargoes, Aruz was able to acquire key works from the BritishMuseum, the Louvre, the University of Pennsylvania and other Western museums. She also tracked down pieces in museums in Turkey, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Uzbekistan.

A single carnelian bead, delicately etched with white circles, which was found on the Greek island of Aigina near Athens, 2,500 miles from its origin in the IndusValley, provides dramatic evidence of a trading network that linked the Aegean Sea to the IndusValley. “It was a shock to find it that far west,” says Aruz. “Until now, the beads had never turned up west of the royal tombs of Ur.”

In another surprise, a three-foot-high figure of a nude man carved around 2500 b.c. on the island of Tarut, in the Arabian Gulf near Bahrain, bears a marked similarity to figures found 600 miles north at Khafajah, near today’s Baghdad—an indication of the wide-ranging impact of Mesopotamian sculpture.

“The distressing news about the looting at the National Museum in Baghdad and at archaeological sites throughout Iraq makes this exhibition all the more poignant and relevant,” says Mahrukh Tarapor, the Metropolitan’s associate director for exhibitions. “We in the Western world need to be reminded that the beginnings of our civilization reach back to the earliest cities in that part of the world. We talk about globalization so glibly today, but there was a large degree of globalization going on in the third millennium B.C.”

About Richard Covington

Richard Covington is a Paris-based author who covers a wide range of cultural and historical subjects and has contributed to Smithsonian, The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, among other publications.

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