Press Office


Catastrophe: The Looting & Destruction of Iraq’s Past


A new exhibition opening at the Great North Museum: Hancock will explore the destruction of Iraq’s archaeology following the 2003 invasion by coalition forces and the devastating effect that this has had on the country’s cultural heritage.

ften called the ‘cradle of civilization’, ancient Iraq was the birth place of cities, writing and the wheel. The 2003 looting of the National Museum in Baghdad caused significant damage to important artefacts, but the ongoing and large-scale looting of archaeological sites throughout Iraq has become an even greater threat to the world’s shared cultural heritage.

Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past will explore current threats to Iraq’s heritage. The exhibition will feature Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian artefacts from the Great North Museum: Hancock collection, which illustrate the importance of the country’s endangered archaeology, as well as a stunning palace relief depicting an Assyrian king.

The exhibition was originally created by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and has previously travelled to the Hague, Tokyo, Dublin and Washington, D.C. It has won two significant awards: a Best Practices award for exhibits and programs from the Association of Midwest Museums in 2008, and the highest award in the American Association of Museums’ 2009 Excellence in Exhibition Label-Writing Competition.

Leading archaeological expert Professor Peter Stone from Newcastle University organised its current display in Newcastle, where it has been enhanced with further information from Professor Stone, as well as Iraqi objects from the collections of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. Professor Stone advised the Government in 2003 about the risks of invasion to Iraq's cultural heritage and is currently urging politicians to ratify legislation on this issue.

He says: "I organised this exhibition as a way to draw attention to the terrible looting and loss of heritage in Iraq. The Coalition that invaded in 2003 was led by two countries, the USA and UK, that had failed to ratify the primary piece of international legislation concerning protecting cultural property during conflict – the 1954 Hague Convention and its Protocols of 1954 and 1999. The USA ratified the Convention, but not the Protocols, in 2009. Despite Government pledges, the UK has still failed to ratify either the Convention or Protocols leaving it as arguably the most significant military power, and certainly the only power with extensive military involvements abroad, not to have ratified the Convention.

"This is an appalling comment on the UK’s commitment to cultural heritage protection and I hope the exhibition will help to open people's eyes to what it means.”

Dr Sarah Glynn, Manager of the Great North Museum: Hancock, says:

“The significant damage that has been imposed upon Iraq’s cultural heritage is shocking. The continued looting of important archaeological sites across the country is a direct result of the 2003 invasion. Although the looting of the National Museum in Baghdad was widely publicised in the media in 2003, the ongoing destruction to Iraq’s archaeology is an issue that is relatively unknown and unreported, despite its significance to world heritage.

“I hope that visitors will take this chance to learn more about the current situation and view the ancient Iraqi artefacts from our own collection that will be on display.”

A series of lectures will run alongside the exhibition, exploring a number of related issues, including the challenges and achievements associated with the looting of the Iraq Museum; the importance of Iraqi cultural heritage; the illegal trade of artefacts; and the aftermath of the 2003 invasion.

This exhibition has been organised in collaboration with Newcastle University and will be on display at the Great North Museum: Hancock from 19 July - 28 August. For further information, visit


Press release courtesy of Tyne and Wear Museums

published on: 30 July 2012