NA­TURE COL­UMN: Bill Caw­ley

Leek Post & Times - - FARMING & COUNTRYSIDE -

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.

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