In 1856 Dartmouth College, which is both my alma mater and the institution where I teach, became home to six relief slabs that originally decorated the walls of the Assyrian palace of King Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 B.C.E.). This palace had been discovered in 1845 amid the ruins of Ashurnasirpal’s capital city of Nimrud, about 20 miles south of modern-day Mosul, Iraq , by the British adventurer-cum-archaeologist Austen Henry Layard.
If you know Dartmouth, you know that it—like several other educational institutions that received Ashurnasirpal reliefs (Amherst, Bowdoin, Middlebury, the University of Vermont, Williams)—is a relatively small school located in what was, in 1856, the hinterlands of rural New England. Yet if you know the larger corpus of Ashurnasirpal’s reliefs (a catalog of about 320), you know that they are among the crown jewels of major world museums: the British Museum, the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You also know that these reliefs are treasured because of their magnificent imagery and exquisite workmanship, which vividly demonstrate how grand the palace that first housed the panels must have been. It was at least 258,000 square feet (24,000 meters square) and included a stunning banquet room overlooking the Tigris River.