Female figures in the Nimrud ivories: selection and presentation from antiquity to the present

Ninhursag Tadaros – Oxford University

At this Oxford Postgraduate Conference in Assyriology, I aim to present a summary of my Bachelor thesis where I look at reception and presentation of female figures in the Nimrud Ivories.

Gender studies in ancient Near Eastern scholarship has shown that interest and focus within the field traditionally revolved around what is commonly viewed as male culture; the Mesopotamian king was presented as a fierce warrior and a strong protector, around whom the history, civilization and language of the ancient Near East centred. The study of women in ancient Mesopotamia only started in the mid- late twentieth century, and the emergence of intersectional gender studies in the 1990s further influenced ancient Near Eastern scholars interested in the field.

Recent work in museum studies has highlighted the importance of museums as educational institutions and creators of knowledge, noting that women have been largely absent in museum displays, showing how scholars are influenced by societal ideals and biases, and follow an androcentric discourse.

The Nimrud Ivories is a collection of ivory carvings, the majority of which originated in the Levant and were taken to Nimrud, Iraq, in the early first millennium BC. Excavated in vast numbers, a great range display female figures. The British Museum holds a large collection of ivories from Nimrud, among them many representing female figures. The Nimrud Ivories thus provide and excellent case study for the investigation of the reception and presentation of female imagery.

By first giving an overview of the current understanding of Assyrian reception of the ivories in antiquity, this thesis aims to explore the selection and presentation of female figures in the Nimrud Ivories at the British Museum through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries until present, exploring how and if the development of display has reflected academic research within gender- and museum studies. This will be done by drawing on British Museum guidebooks, where the ivories have been presented to the public. Furthermore, two of the present galleries at the British Museum (‘Mesopotamia 1500-539’ and ‘ancient Levant’) were visited and note taken of the objects on display.