Apkallu Wall Reliefs with Hand Posture


Detail of a gypsum wall relief from the northwest at Nimrud. What has survived is the left hand of an apkallu (Akkadian word meaning “sage”). The hand grips on the handle of a buckle. The buckle is supposed to contain a fluid, perhaps water for purification. The cuneiform text of the so-called “standard inscription” of Ashurnasirpal II runs over the relief. At the right upper angle, part of the “sacred tree” appears. From the northwest Palace at Nimrud (room and panel numbers are unknown). Northern Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq. Assyrian, 865-860 BCE.


Most, if not all, of our readership knows about the intentional destruction of ancient artifacts, buildings, mosques, shrines, and the contents of Mosul museum contents by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The Governorate of Mosul in Iraq is the site of several ancient Assyrian cities (Nimrud, Kouyunjik, and Dur-Sharrukin), in addition to Hatra. The 3,000 year old ancient city of Kalhu (modern-day Nimrud; Biblical Calah) received the bulk of the blow, and a propaganda video issued by ISIS in April 2015 showed the dramatic and shocking explosion of the northwest palace of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II.

The in situ artifacts of Nimrud were composed of palace wall reliefs, mainly from the northwest palace of Ashurnasirpal II,and few lamassu, which are mythical human-headed and winged bulls or lions. Thanks to the great work and excavations conducted by archaeologists from many parts of the world, in addition to Iraqis, artifacts from the Assyrian city of Nimrud are now displayed to the public in many museums and private collections all around the globe.


The Sulaymaniyah Museum in Iraqi Kurdistan houses eight small fragments from the Assyrian palace’s wall reliefs. Only one out of these eight pieces is on display within the main hall of the museum; the others were never displayed, and they did not undergo any conservation. I asked Mr. Hashim Hama Abdullah, Director of the Sulaymaniyah Museum, about the history and journey of these reliefs in late 2014. We desperately examined and searched through the archives and documents of the museum from 1961 to the late 1990s; unfortunately, our attempt was fruitless. Nothing documents their acquisition and presence, which was a shock.


Afterwards, Mr. Hashim suggested that I should speak to Mr. Mutasim Rasheed Abdulrahman (Arabic; معتصم رشيد عبد الرحمن), former acting director of the museum during the 1980s. Hashim said Mutasim was the person who expanded the museum’s content, and he was quite sure that Mutasim had more information about these reliefs. Hashim phoned Mr. Mutasim and then arranged an interview for me.


During the Iraq-Iran War (1980-1988), the Sulaymaniyah Museum was officially closed to the public. The Governorate of Sulaymaniyah is on the Iraq-Iran border and was one of the bloody war zones between the two nations; additionally, it was the locus for the Kurdish rebellion against Saddam Hussein’s regime in the late 1980s.

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