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Old habits die hard: writing the excavation and dispersal history of Nimrud

Robson, E; (2017) Old habits die hard: writing the excavation and dispersal history of Nimrud. Museum History Journal , 10 (2) pp. 217-232. 10.1080/19369816.2017.1328913. Green open access

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Abstract

The archaeological site of Nimrud in northern Iraq is triply famous in the history of Middle Eastern fieldwork: first as one of the places where young explorer Austen Henry Layard uncovered the physical remains of the Biblical city of ‘Nineveh’ in the 1840s; then as the setting for Max Mallowan and Agatha Christie’s large-scale project to uncover the Assyrian city of Kalhu in the 1940s and 50s; and most recently, as one of the high-profile targets of ISIS’ cultural heritage destruction in the region in early 2015. In 2013–15 I ran an AHRC-funded research project on the history of excavations at Nimrud, the dispersal of finds from the site to museums, and the histories that have been written from that evidence for a website (http://oracc.org/nimrud). One major aim was to provide open-licensed material for re-use by museums holding Nimrud artefacts in their collections, but which do not have specialist curatorial staff to research and explain them. In writing that material it proved surprisingly hard to move away from the well-worn anecdotes of popular narratives that constructed unreliable object habits: heroic Layard’s derring-do in discovering Biblical, imperial monuments; doughty Agatha’s improvised cleaning of the Nimrud ivories with her face-cream; ISIS’s barbaric mission to destroy civilisation. In this paper, I explore the strategies we developed to write a deeper history of the site and its finds, and reflect on our relative successes and failures

Type: Article
Title: Old habits die hard: writing the excavation and dispersal history of Nimrud
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/19369816.2017.1328913
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19369816.2017.1328913
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Assyria, Iraq, Nimrud, archaeology, Austen Henry Layard, Agatha Christie, ISIS
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of History
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1555585
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