Remembering and Raising Awareness at the Royal Ontario Museum

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Iraq Museum FacadeSAFE presents the following announcement from Dr. Clemens Reichel and Mary Montgomery in participation of our 2013 Candlelight Vigil for Global Heritage. Thank you for keeping the memory alive!

Clemens Reichel, Ph.D.
Associate Curator (Ancient Near East) Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto and Assistant Professor (Mesopotamian Archaeology), University of Toronto

Mary Montgomery
Exhibit Planner, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto


The looting of the Iraq Museum that followed the 2003 Iraq War attracted attention far beyond the museum community. As SAFE’s website illustrates, this tragedy — which was followed by the destruction of many of Iraq’s archaeological sites by looters —continues to elicit strong reactions and critical commentaries. This year, individuals as well as institutions worldwide are observing the 10th anniversary of these events. At the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, they are re-told through Catastrophe!, an acclaimed exhibit that is presented in conjunction with the blockbuster exhibition Mesopotamia: Inventing Our World.

Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past was produced by the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute in 2008. Consisting of text panels, images and graphics, it aimed at educating the public about the looting and raising awareness to ongoing concerns. For the 10th anniversary, the Oriental Institute updated selected panels to reflect ongoing changes in Iraq and elsewhere and to include the most recent information. The Royal Ontario Museum is the first museum to present Catastrophe! Ten Years Later, the revised exhibition, in its entirety.

Catastrophe! Ten Years Later examines the severity of the looting and on-going ramifications to Iraq’s cultural heritage. The show is divided into six thematic sections: Introduction; The Museum;  Archaeological and Heritage Sites in Iraq; The Importance of Archaeological Context; Looted Artifacts;  What Has Been Done: What Can be Done? Protecting the Past. The exhibit ends with a call to action, providing information on what the public can do to preserve mankind’s cultural heritage by helping to prevent the illicit trade of antiquities.

The ROM’s commemorative programming includes a two-day symposium – Robbing The Cradle of Civilization: Preserving the Art and Archaeology of Mesopotamiascheduled for October 19th and 20th 2013.  It will include a keynote conversation with  Colonel Matthew Bogdanos and the University of Chicago’s Prof. McGuire Gibson on lessons learned from the 2003 looting.

The aftermath of the Iraq Museum still affects us today. With Catastrophe! Ten Years Later the ROM joins SAFE and cultural institutions worldwide in ensuring that the memory of what happened a decade ago will remain on the public’s mind.

Catastrophe! Ten Years Later is on display at the Royal Ontario Museum until January 5, 2014.

This exhibit was developed, written and produced at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Photo:  Damage to Iraq National Museum’s façade. April 2003.  
Credit:  Joanne Farchakh-Bajjaly

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