The Nimrud ivories

Ray Moseley writes an article for Al-Arabiya about the Nimrud Ivories in the British Museum. The exquisite ivories date to the time of the Assyrian empire.

The British Museum in London has recently saved for the nation a horde of the so-called Nimrud ivories—1,000 intact pieces, 5,000 fragments—after a public fund-raising campaign that netted £1.17 million. That was about a third of the value of the ivories, and another third of the collection was donated by the British Institute for the Study of Iraq. The remaining third is expected to be returned to Iraq.…

The first group of ivories, dating from the 9th and 8th centuries BC, was excavated by the archaeologist Austin Henry Layard in 1845 at Nimrud, just south of Mosul on the Tigris River. They came from the ruins of the palace of Shalmaneser III, who ruled from 859 to 824 B.C., and more came to light a few years later.

The complete article may be read here. Some readers will enjoy the connection with archaeologist Max Mallowan and his wife, crime-novelist Agatha Christie, who used a knitting needle and cold cream to clean some of the ivories.

“Oh what a beautiful spot it was,” the novelist wrote. “The Tigris just a mile away, and on the great mound of the Acropolis, big stone Assyrian heads poked out of the soil. In one place there was the enormous wing of a great genie.”

The earliest ivories belong to the reign of Ashurnasirpal, but the largest number came from Fort Shalmaneser, a palace/fort built by Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.C.). He is the Assyrian king who brags about defeating “Ahab the Israelite” at the battle of Qarqar in 853 B.C. (Monolith from Kurkh), and of taking tribute from the Israelite king Jehu (Black Obelisk). The writers of the Bible had no reason to include either of these facts in their writings.

Our photo shows a relief in ivory of a lioness devouring a man with negroid features (a Nubian boy) in a thicket of stylized lotus and papyrus plants. This piece belongs to the Nimrud ivories displayed in the British Museum.

Assyrian Nimrud Ivory in British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Assyrian Nimrud Ivory in British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Moseley’s says the British Museum “recently put some of it’s collection on permanent display and intends to make other available for traveling exhibitions.”

Samaria Ivory. British Museum. Photo: Ferrell Jenkins.

Samaria Ivory. British Museum. Photo: Ferrell Jenkins.

Bible writers spoke of Ahab’s ivory house at Samaria (1 Kings 22:39; Amos 3:15; 6:3-4). Both the British Museum and the Israel Museum display some of the ivories excavated at Samaria that follow the same general motif as those from Nimrud. The Israelites may have sent workers to learn from the Assyrians, Phoenicians, and Egyptians, or they may have hired foreign craftsmen to do their work, or imported the ivory pieces. The piece in the photo to the right is exhibited in the British Museum.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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