NATURE COLUMN: Bill Cawley
IT is a common enough sight: a crow stands beside a country road feasting on the corpse of a rabbit or some other road traffic victim. Another vehicle approaches and the bird hops off until it is safe again and returns to the meat
I saw another sight last week. It is equally grisly.
A crow sits on the body of a fallen soldier and pecks away the man’s eyes.
It is more likely to be a hooded crow rather than the familiar carrion crow.
The picture I saw was not of the UK or indeed a modern view, but of what is now Iraq in a land called Assyria 3,000 years ago.
The carving, in soft rock, was of the aftermath of a battle between the ferocious warrior race of Assyria and the Elamites a people who occupied what is now Southern Iran around 650 years before the birth of Christ.
I was in London at the British Museum visiting the splendid exhibition on the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal who ruled an empire stretching through most of the modern day Middle East.
The area has always fascinated me.
As a child I would take books from Stoke Library and read about the ancient empires of those lands.
And now the British Museum remains an essential place to visit should I be in the capital to view antique objects from these faraway places
Ashurbanipal had to prove his courage by hunting lions and he is seen engaged in combat with a beast armed only with a spear.
On the friezes are fish being caught in the River Tigris and wild fowl hunted in the salt marshes.
The King is seen at a banquet where plates full of grapes and pomegranates are brought for him to feast on.
Above all it is in the human moments displayed on the sculptures that once adorned the walls of the royal palaces of Nineveh or Nimrud that have even now poignancy.
A child is carried on the shoulders of his father as refugees are led away by a guard into captivity, a captured enemy soldier pulls at his beard, fearful of his fate and a beaten general accepts his fate stoically as he is about to be beheaded by a gleeful victor.
It occurred to me that such images would not be out of place from scenes in modern day Iraq and Syria countries once ruled by the mighty, and seemingly immutable, Assyrian Empire.