A present-day link to Mesopotamia

From Associated Press

The massive stone sculpture -- part bull, part bird, part man -- was designed to instill awe among those approaching the king's throne room in the ancient Mesopotamian city of Dur-Sharrukin.

It still inspires awe, even in the relatively smaller confines of the Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago.

The 40-ton, 16-foot-tall sculpture represents a lamassu, or guardian figure, and is the highlight of the institute's Mesopotamian Gallery, which reopened last month after being closed since 1997 for an extensive renovation.

The area covered by Mesopotamia translates into present-day Iraq, and so the nearly 1,400 objects on display -- dating from 150,000 BC to AD 650 -- have taken on new significance since the war there.

Many of the artifacts are similar to those feared destroyed or stolen in the looting at the Iraqi National Museum that followed the fall of Baghdad in April.

"My feeling when I first heard about the looting of the Iraq museum was, 'Thank heavens that there are collections like ours in various countries around the world so that no matter where there is a catastrophe, something of the heritage of ancient Mesopotamia will be preserved,' " said Karen Wilson, director of the museum.

Gil Stein, director of the Oriental Institute, said he believes the events in Iraq also brought new appreciation to the culture of Mesopotamia, which introduced such vital modern concepts as writing, cities, government, mathematics, literature and the wheel to the world.

The objects in the institute, he said, "are not just the dusty artifacts of some obscure culture, they actually represent the legacies of our own civilization."

Most of the 28,000 objects in the collection were excavated in the first half of the 20th century, when University of Chicago archeologists conducted large-scale expeditions in Iraq.

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