Some of the relics reflecting Mesopotamia’s glorious past. Image Credit: Alex Westcott/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: To understand the world you live in today, you have to go back to the beginning.

That observation came from Dr Paul Collins, Lead Curator, Zayed National Museum (ZNM) Project, The British Museum, during a Gulf News exclusive behind the scenes tour of the Splendours of Mesopotamia exhibition that will open to the public on Tuesday.

Organised by the Tourism, Development and Investment Company (TDIC) , it is being held under the patronage of General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

"That is what is so fascinating about this exhibition. It allows visitors to literally go back to the very beginning of civilisation, the first writings, the first complex societies, the first cities and provide them an opportunity to see the connection to their modern lives," he explained.



Splendours of Mesopotamia examines over 3,000 years of history within the region from the Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian empires, whose origins were in present-day Iraq and parts of Syria. Additional pieces excavated from Umm Al Nar, a small island off the coast of Abu Dhabi, will also be present on loan from the Al Ain museum.

"The Umm Al Nar section of the exhibition highlights the trade relationship between Sumer and the UAE, which reveals that the Sumerians had constant contact with countries in the Middle East, notably the Gulf," Collins said.

"One of the pieces that are to be displayed also includes lapis lazuli stones, which are found in Afghanistan. This shows just how extensively they travelled," he added.

British Museum loan

Over 200 pieces are being displayed, including a lapis lazuli and Cornelian beaded head dress, a carved magnesite statue of the Assyiran King Ashurnasirpal II and various wall reliefs from the cities of Nimrud and Niniveh. "It was a long process to select which items we wanted to display here. We had to make sure that the ones we chose can tell the best story and be transported safely and securely. Also, some of the more delicate pieces in the exhibition are being placed in special cases to regulate the temperature and humidity," Collins said. "However, I'm glad that my favourite piece, a detailed wall relief depicting an Assyrian battle scene was brought over. I think that it is the finest Assyrian carving, not just for its detail but also the story it tells...such reliefs are fundamental to art history because they are the earliest examples of real narrative art and portraiture," he added.

The exhibition is the first of three to be organised as part of the Zayed National Museum's (ZNM) public programme in the run-up to its opening in 2014. The items displayed are on loan from the British Museum as part of a collaborative partnership between the two museums. A series of workshops and discussions will also take place throughout the exhibition's run.

"While none of the pieces displayed here will be a part of ZNM's permanent collection, there will be potential for pieces to be lent from the British Museum to contribute to the national story," Dr Collins said.

Schedule: Check it out

  • What: Splendours of Mesopotamia
  • When: March 29 to June 27
  • Visiting hours: 10am to 8pm
  • Where: Manarat Al Saadiyat Exhibition Centre

Website: http://www.artsabudhabi.ae/en/EventTab/Splendours_of_Mesopotamia/2274/About.aspx