Transportation of Lebanese cedar. A relief, circa 713–716bce, from the north wall of the main court of King Sargon II’s palace at Dur Sharrukin in Assyria (present-day Khorsabad in Iraq)
Department of Oriental Antiquities, Louvre Museum, Paris
Image credit Marie-Lan Nguyen. Source Wikimedia Commons

European and US museums that preserve and display Assyrian artefacts from the ancient royal cities under attack by Islamic State (IS) are working to help their Iraqi colleagues prepare for a day when the sites are liberated. A coalition of the willing exists but it remains to be seen whether institutions will co-ordinate their efforts.

Jonathan Tubb, the keeper of the Middle East department at the British Museum in London, urges organisations to do more than express outrage. “We need to get over the threshold of despair – we can do something positive and constructive by preparing for the time when effective government control is restored,” he says.

While the sites in northern Iraq are no-go areas, the British Museum plans to work with colleagues from other parts of Iraq to train a “task force” of professionals in rescue archaeology and emergency heritage management in London. They will return, accompanied by British Museum curators, equipped to draw up plans of action for sites including Nimrud and Nineveh.

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