Yesterday's shocking videos of ISIS destroying antiquities in the Mosul Museum again underscored the threat war and instability pose to irreplaceable historical and archaeological heritage. Not since the Nazis looted Europe of art treasures during World War II (many of which have never been seen again, despite the efforts of Allied forces as depicted in the film The Monuments Men), have so many historical and archaeological treasures been threatened. The civil wars in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and the 2011 Revolution in Egypt, all saw cases of looting of museums and archaeological sites, as well as collateral damage from artillery of ancient and medieval monuments. But ISIS is embarked on a campaign to destroy antiquities not as a casualty of war but as a matter of direct policy. Shi‘ite, Christian, and Yazidi religious sites and libraries were first, but now the ancient heritage of ancient Mesopotamia is being targeted: the walls and gate of Nineveh and the Mosul Museum.
Emir (Prince) Maurice Chehab was a scion of the Chehab or Shihab dynasty which once ruled Mount Lebanon; originally Druze, the family today has both Maronite and Sunni branches; the former produced Maurice, as well as former Lebanese President Fouad Chehab.
|The National Museum, Beirut|
|Wartime Museum Damage|
But not the prize collections. Early in the war, using a rear entrance as the story goes, Chehab and his wife Olga (with a few other senior people) gathered the smaller objects on display and moved them to basement storage to avoid looting. The area was sealed off with steel-reinforced concrete. The larger objects, including the best-known objects, the stone sarcophagus of Ahiram and the other Phoenician sarcophagi, were also encased in wooden or concrete coverings.
Maurice Chehab retired in 1982 and died in 1994. In 2013 the Museum rededicated one of the key galleries as the Maurice Chehab Hall.
You can find other retellings of this story here, and at the museum's Wikipedia page, and even fuller accounts at several tribute pages: here and here and here..
Mosul could have used a Maurice Chehab.