Biblical Archaeology Review 44:6, November/December 2018

Strata: Guardian of the Date Palms

This past March, artist Michael Rakowitz revealed a monumental lamassu—a mythological creature with the body of a bull, the wings of a bird, and the head of a man—crafted from syrup cans. The piece, titled The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, proudly stands on London’s fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. No permanent sculpture occupies this plinth, and it has become a prominent place for the city to display commissioned works of art temporarily.

In the ancient Near East, lamassu served as guardian figures. Rakowitz’s piece commemorates a lamassu that stood at the gates to ancient Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian Empire, until ISIS defaced and destroyed it in February 2015.

Rakowitz sculpted his lamassu from a block of limestone. Then he decorated it with 10,500 flattened Iraqi date syrup cans. The syrup cans are not only colorful, but also represent the loss of Iraq’s second-largest industry before the Iraq War: date production. Only 10 percent of Iraq’s formerly flourishing date palms survived.

One hopes that this sculpture serves as a reminder of the damage that wars and their aftermath do to the cultural heritage of ancient places.

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