Drilling The Winged Bull

Recent images of the deliberate destruction of archaeology in Mosul Museum are very difficult for many of us to witness.

The 2700 year old Assyrian Winged Bull, like many of the other items destroyed, represent important components of the heritage of those who live in Mosul but are also part of a global heritage shared by us all.  Images of sledge hammers and drills being used to deface and destroy such wonderful objects, are to my mind a crass form of behavior, which as intended, exerts a form of political power which I find deeply chilling.

In one sense, such behaviour, is no surprise.  Archaeologically we readily see the rise and fall of civilizations, different ages and expressions over thousands of years, littered with a myriad toppled figures and headless statues, lie behind us.

Yet there is a contradiction, with where we currently find ourselves, in our age of austerity.  Further cuts in public funding in the UK (and elsewhere in Europe) will only mean that aspects of our art, culture and heritage, which are recognised as important to the character and quality of peoples lives, will be lost or irreversibly damaged by neglect.

Choices are being made by politicians, which to many seem only to be looking after short term interests of social and economic systems which appear to have failed us.  So if politicians and people want…

…vibrant, resilient communities, if we want a better more equitable society, then you cant keep cutting away at

what distinguishes us,

what gives us a sense of place and identity,

what contributes to health and well-being,

what makes the heart soar and soul dance :

you cant keep trimming away at arts, culture and heritage.

There are choices we make in relation to our values, they range along a continuum from deliberate purposeful intervention to passive indifference, but they all have a consequence.  As a sector, as a society, we have to question what is worst for our heritage:

Active Destruction or Active Neglect ?

Drilling the Winged Bull

was overt destruction

but by neglect


can chip away

our Winged Bulls.

As I have said several times before in this blog, if we truly value art, culture and heritage as a society we have to protect, conserve, enhance, share and celebrate it : and this requires adequate and proportionate funding.  Only by doing so can we ensure the things that matter are sustainably managed.  For some people, they may only realise they matter when they are destroyed and gone.  For some people, they may feel it doesnt matter at all, but will their childrens’ children wish we had looked after their heritage better?

 Have we still learned nothing as a society about why understanding and sharing


past matters?


For those of you who have not seen the images of destruction there is a news report from the BBC.

Apologies to any followers if this has been a bit too political but I suppose it all is really!  In part it stems from genuine distress at seeing what is happening elsewhere in the world but it holds a mirror up to what we do.

6 thoughts on “Drilling The Winged Bull

  1. To be honest, I had never really thought how our art culture and heritage define us as a society. Its always been underfunded and neglected. Most people dont see it that way, I’m sure, although in the past, our ancient ancestors probably understood it very well. I have always wondered at my own fascination, sorry, I should say obsession, with our distant past, and why it mattered to me so much. I think you just explained it.

  2. Spot on Gavin – we need far more political agitation about our impending loss of cultural heritage; at present we are sleep-walking into an irrecoverable loss. Local government in particular is stepping away from a democratic responsibility by allowing cultural heritage to be managed by too many without the appropriate professional knowledge and skill sets and by moving huge chunks of that cultural heritage into trusts because in the short term it saves money.

  3. An excellent point, this theme is also reflected in the dramatic cuts in the National Parks budgets. Here in the Lake District, the first NP, it is particularly alarming as they start to sell off parcels of land in iconic spots – such as the recently reported Sale of Stickle Tarn – ostensibly to rationalise their property holding. Yet, perversely they are bidding to be a World Heritage Site. Sadly this kind of contradictory behavior is also reflected in ISIS/IS actions; where on the one hand they loot archaeological sites and sell the artefacts on the black market while the other they smash the irreplaceable to pieces.

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