Mesopotamia: Civilization Begins by Ariane Thomas, Timothy Potts

Mesopotamia, in modern-day Iraq, was home to the remarkable ancient civilizations of Sumer, Akkad, Babylonia, and Assyria. From the rise of the first cities around 3500 BCE, through the mighty empires of Nineveh and Babylon, to the demise of its native culture around 100 CE, Mesopotamia produced some of the most powerful and captivating art of antiquity and led the world in astronomy, mathematics, and other sciences—a legacy that lives on today.

Mesopotamia: Civilization Begins presents a rich panorama of ancient Mesopotamia’s history, from its earliest prehistoric cultures to its conquest by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE. This catalogue records the beauty and variety of the objects on display, on loan from the Louvre’s unparalleled collection of ancient Near Eastern antiquities: cylinder seals, monumental sculptures, cuneiform tablets, jewelry, glazed bricks, paintings, figurines, and more. Essays by international experts explore a range of topics, from the earliest French excavations to Mesopotamia’s economy, religion, cities, cuneiform writing, rulers, and history—as well as its enduring presence in the contemporary imagination.

This volume is published to accompany an exhibition on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa March 18 to July 27, 2020.

Mesopotamia: Civilization BeginsMesopotamia: Civilization Begins by Ariane Thomas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Getty Publications for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

Fascinating! This book captured the fascinating work, with all the exciting elements of discovery adventure of many of the world’s firsts in both documentation of earliest civilization and supportive artifacts.

I think most people would say that they have wanted to be an archeologist or paleontologist at one point in their childhood and the discovery of Mesopotamia is ultimate. As an adult I get a bit of that recurring excitement when gardening, wondering what I will dig up, year after year. Wondering what it would be like to happen upon evidence of a lost civilization, to find buried treasure, pottery, dinosaur bones. This book took me there.

I love how it was organized, opening up with beautiful geographical maps, followed by timelines of settlement and people group chronology. More history books should model this just to set the stage for easing the reader in.

It felt like I was stepping into a museum. Everything was well-curated and flowed in ways that made sense with respect to both the timeline and subject matter. Occasionally some of the writing was a little bit dry, but I didn’t mind too much. I don’t know much about the behind the scenes/interworking of museums and how artifacts gets acquired and curated. So when this book covered how items have been strategically placed to form full-fledged museums and as featured pieces in others, I felt my interest becoming much more immersive into this type of content as I read on.

The catalogue of exhibitions and mentions of modern and futuristic contributions such as 3-D printing at the end of the book was stellar. I will look forward to visiting the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa and this will make a great conversational/coffee table book!

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