The Lion of Mosul

Digitally preserving the memory of lost heritage

Colossal statue of a lion (-865/-860)British Museum

More than 2000 years ago in Mesopotamia, ancient kings had colossal lion statues placed beside the doors of temples and city gates. Lions also lived in the region and were associated with royalty.

Take a closer look at the Lion statue on display at the British Museum. It doesn’t have four legs but five! The fifth leg was an artistic way for the lion to appear walking from side and standing from the front at the same time.

The British Museum lion and the Mosul Museum lion were originally part of a pair which guarded the entrance to the temple of Ishtar.

Panel with striding lion (ca. 604–562 B.C.)The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Lions are featured in ancient Mesopotamian art in many different ways. Here are some examples from Babylon and others in display in museums around the world.

Striding Lions at the Pergamonmuseum

Reconstruction of the Processional Way in Babylon

Beeld van leeuw en man te Babylon, Hillah, Eelde, A.G.A. van, 1925-04-29, From the collection of: Rijksmuseum
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The Lion of Babylon, 605-562 BC, From the collection of: World Monuments Fund
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Stone panel from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal, -645/-640, From the collection of: British Museum
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Cultural Museum of Mosul in 2019Imperial War Museums

On February 26th, 2015, ISIS released this propaganda video purporting to show its fighters vandalising and destroying the contents of Mosul Museum, in northern Iraq.
It is believed that some of the destroyed objects were replicas, but many were original and irreplaceable.

Rekrei homepageImperial War Museums

After witnessing the destruction in the video, two PhD students launched a project as an attempt to digitally preserve the memory of the destroyed cultural treasures using crowdsourced images and 3D modelling technology called photogrammetry. Two weeks later, Project Mosul’s website (now Rekrei) was launched with first reconstructed 3D model, The Lion of Mosul.

The Lion of Mosul 3D workflowImperial War Museums

Photogrammetry is the science of making measurements from photos. In other words, it’s the process used to create a 3D model using multiple photos taken of the same object at different angles. By recognising the same feature in multiple photos, for example the lion’s eye, a computer can measure the position and angle of the camera that took the photo and then by mirroring this calculation, the 3D measurements of the object.

Rekrei's 3D galleryImperial War Museums

As word spread about the project across global press outlets and social media, an online community was born. Press coverage started in Europe and quickly spread around the world. As more people and organisations around the world began to help, the number of donated photos grew as well as the number of 3D reconstructions of lost heritage.

Nimrud's EntranceImperial War Museums

The Economist’s Media Lab then collaborated with Project Mosul to create a virtual museum to showcase the 3D reconstructions and communicate the story in an interactive way.

Remains of Lamassu Sculpture in Cultural Museum of Mosul by Radio AlghadImperial War Museums

In the spring of 2017, about two years after the video was released, ISIS was pushed out of Mosul and the first teams were able to enter the museum to assess the damages for the first time. In the midst of rubble, fragments of the Lion of Mosul were scattered around where it once stood.

Return to Mosul

In January 2019, for the opening of the museum’s doors for the first time in over 10 years in a restored wing of the museum, a partial reconstruction of the Lion of Mosul returned as a 3D print to be exhibited alongside works of contemporary art created by Mosul’s artist community. The exhibition was called Return to Mosul, led by Mohammed al Mawsily from Radio Alghad, with the endorsement of the State Board of Antiquities of Iraq, Department of Antiquities and Heritage Nineveh, and the Iraqi Artist Association of Nineveh.

The Lion of MosulImperial War Museums

A replica of the Lion of Mosul from Mosul Museum, Iraq, is on display at What Remains, an exhibition at IWM London (5 July 2019 to 5 January 2020).

It was created through the work of Rekrei, which used crowdsourced images of the destroyed lion to create a 3D representation of it. Rekrei (‘recreate’ in Esperanto) has now expanded beyond the devastation of Mosul Museum and gathers assets related to threatened heritage from around the world.

Credits: Story

Learn more about the Lion of Mosul and see a 3D recreation of it at What Remains, an exhibition at IWM London (5 July 2019 to 5 January 2020).

Created in in partnership with Historic England, the exhibition explores why cultural heritage is attacked during war.

What Remains is part of Culture Under Attack, a free season of three exhibitions, live music, performances and talks at IWM London that explore how war threatens not just people’s lives, but also the things that help define us.

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Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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