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The Genie of Nimrud

On the murky trail of a missing genie, last seen in the ancient Assyrian palace of Nimrud, and a new chapter in the oldest tale ever told.

The Museum of Lost Objects traces the histories of 10 antiquities or cultural sites that have been destroyed or looted in Iraq and Syria.

The ancient Assyrians were fond of protective spirits. They had sculptures of all manner of mythological creatures lining the walls of their palaces. One such sculpture was a stone relief of a genie. This was a powerful male figure - a bountiful beard and muscular thighs but with huge wings sprouting from his back. Three thousand years ago, it adorned the walls of Nimrud, one of the great strongholds of Mesopotamia, near Mosul in modern day Iraq. During the 1990s, this genie disappeared - believed to have been taken during the chaos of the first Gulf war - and ended up in London around 2002 - just before the mire of the second Gulf war. It's been kept by Scotland Yard for these last 14 years - locked in legal limbo, and unlikely to ever re-emerge or return to Iraq. We explore the cost of looting to a country's cultural heritage, and tell the story of another valuable Mesopotamian antiquity that was looted, eventually uncovered, but managed to stay in Iraq. This is a tablet, and holds a new chapter from the oldest tale ever told - the Gilgamesh epic.

Contributors: Mark Altaweel, Institute of Archaeology UCL; Augusta McMahon, University of Cambridge; Mina al-Lami, BBC Monitoring; the readings are by Martin Worthington, George Watkins, and Susan Jameson

Presenter: Kanishk Tharoor
Producer: Maryam Maruf

Picture: Assyrian winged-genie from Nimrud, very similar in style to the genie in possession of Scotland Yard
Credit: Brooklyn Museum

With thanks to Vernon Rapley of the V&A, Sarah Collins of the British Museum, Andrew George of SOAS, and John Russell of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

Available now

12 minutes



Museum of Lost Objects ‒ The Podcast

Museum of Lost Objects ‒ The Podcast

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About presenter Kanishk Tharoor...

Revealing the treasures of the Museum of Lost Objects