Ancient Mesopotamian stone relief on display

02 March, 2012

The Dying Lion
The Dying Lion
Source: By permission of the Trustees of The British Museum.

A priceless stone carving, almost 3000 years old, from the collection of The British Museum has gone on view at Melbourne Museum in the lead up to the major exhibition The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia. The object will be on display until mid April 2012.

This small relief sculpture is from what was the palace of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, excavated from an area in present day Iraq. It is one of the most important archaeological discoveries of its era and is one of more than 170 stunning artefacts to be featured in the exhibition, which opens in May.

The Dying Lion is a small, but extremely significant, object that portrays the slaughter of a lion by bow and arrow during a royal hunt. The image is depicted on an alabaster panel and was part of a series of wall panels from the North Palace of Assyrian king Ashurbanipal,” said Dr Patrick Greene, CEO, Museum Victoria.

“This masterpiece of ancient art found by British archaeologist William Loftus in the 1850s is one of the most famous finds from the capital of the Assyrian Empire, Nineveh, one of the greatest cities of its time,” said Dr Greene. 

The artefact graphically portrays a lion’s pain and suffering in its last moments of life, with blood gushing from its mouth as it struggles to remain upright.

In modern society, the depiction of such a brutal slaying of a lion may be considered needless and cruel. In parts of Mesopotamia, however, lions posed a real threat to the population, so it is likely that the artist intended the carving to express empathy for the hunter - rather than the hunted lion. Such scenes were also intended to show the King’s supremacy over nature and chaos.

There was a long tradition of royal lion hunts in Mesopotamia, with similar scenes known to have taken place from as early as 4000BC.

The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia focuses on three of the great centres of ancient civilisation – Sumer, Assyria and Babylon – bringing their rich history to life through objects and multimedia. Themes in the exhibition include palaces and royal power, religious beliefs and rituals, burial practices and royal tombs, and the myths and legends that surround ancient Mesopotamia.

“The region of Mesopotamia played an extraordinary role in the development of Mesopotamian civilisation, from which emerged many of the fundamentals of the modern world, including the invention of writing, the 60-second minutes and systems of law and government.”

Major archaeological discoveries were made in the cities of Mesopotamia from the mid 19th century and into the 20th century. “The excavation of the ancient cities of Ur, Nineveh and Nimrud were rivalled in significance only by the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb,” said Dr Greene.

“These discoveries revealed Mesopotamia’s forgotten wonders – from the massive Ziggurat of Ur and the palace of the legendary king Nebuchanezzar to the royal graves at Ur, filled with exquisite artefacts of gold, silver and bronze.”

Visitors to The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia will see more than 170 artefacts – including The Dying Lion – all of which reveal many aspects of Mesopotamian culture.

The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia is presented in collaboration with The British Museum. Tickets are on sale now. Adults $24, concession $16, children $14, school groups, $10 per student (all tickets include entry to Melbourne Museum).

The Dying Lion stone relief will be on display in the foyer of Melbourne Museum until mid April 2012, after which it will join the rest of the exhibition in the Touring Hall.

The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia will be on show at Melbourne Museum from 4 May until 7 October 2012.

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