Catastrophe! Extended Until February 2, 2014


Catastrophe! Ten Years Later:
The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past

Poignant display of great loss of cultural heritage is extended at the ROM
until February 2

(Toronto, Ontario – January 13, 2014) The engagement of Catastrophe! Ten Years Later: The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past has been extended at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Developed by the Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago, the exhibition, displayed in the Hilary and Galen Weston Wing, Level 2, can now be seen until Sunday, February 2, 2014.


The looting of Baghdad’s Iraq Museum in April 2003 during the Iraq war shocked the world. Priceless antiquities were stolen or destroyed, devastating one of the world’s most important museums of ancient culture. An extensive database, accessible to international researchers, had been developed and maintained by the museum. The destruction of these records was a great blow to world scholarship. Looting was not confined to this one prominent site. During the Iraq war, numerous of the country’s archaeological sites were ransacked with artifacts either stolen or destroyed. 

Dr. Clemens Reichel, Professor of Mesopotamian Archaeology at the University of Toronto, Associate Curator of Ancient Near East in the ROM’s Department of World Cultures and the ROM's curatorial representative for Catastrophe! is pleased that the exhibit has been so well received. Ten years ago, as a

Research Associate at the Oriental Institute, Reichel coordinated the creation of a web-based database to aid international law enforcement officials in the recovery of stolen artifacts from the Iraq Museum. Faced with the recent escalation of hostilities in Syria that has seen the looting and destruction of cultural heritage sites added to an already staggering scale of human suffering, the topic of cultural heritage protection remains close to his heart: “Seeing the horrible images from Syria, I can't help feeling a certain déjà vu. For all the wrong reasons Catastrophe! remains topical — all the more reason, however, to see it!” The strong public response to recent programs at the ROM on cultural heritage preservation in the Middle East, including a symposium on museum and site protection in Iraq and a forum on Syria held in conjunction with "Doctors without Borders", greatly contributed to the extended engagement of Catastrophe! at the ROM.


In creating this award-winning exhibition, Chicago's Oriental Institute strove to educate the public on the devastation of Iraq's cultural heritage. Catastrophe: The Looting and Destruction of Iraq's Past debuted at the Oriental Institute in April 2008, followed by a number of international venues upon its Chicago closing. To mark the tenth anniversary of the Iraq Museum’s looting, the Oriental Institute's McGuire Gibson and Katharyn Hanson created the updated version of "Catastrophe" now on display at the ROM. Serving as a reminder that Iraq's cultural heritage is still under threat, no actual artifacts are displayed. Text and images powerfully communicate the war's tragic effects and the continued impact on Iraq's cultural, archaeological, and heritage sites. Six sections comprise the show, providing background and context: Introduction; The Museum; Archaeological and Heritage Sites in Iraq; The Importance of Archaeological Context; Looted Artifacts; and What Has Been Done: What Can be Done? Protecting the Past.

ROM Ancient Cultures

ROM Ancient Cultures is the Museum’s newest Centre of Discovery. ROM Ancient Cultures seeks to be recognized globally as an essential destination for making sense of how past societies inform our lives and help us plan for the future. This Centre provides a focal point for research, programs and activities related to Ancient Cultures and Archaeology at the ROM and in the community. Follow @ROMAncient on Twitter.


This exhibition was developed, written and produced
by the Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago.