Today we think of museums as areas that display the past, our culture, or natural history of our world. This certainly has developed to be the modern norm; however, when museums first developed they were for the private display of monarchs, showing war trophies and past societies. This evolution went further development in the Renaissance and Enlightenment, with the rise of intellectual wonder and development of social education.
The world’s first museum known to us appears to be from Babylon, now in southern Iraq, found within the palace of king Nebuchadnezzar II, the well known king who sacked Jerusalem in the Bible (Figure 1). Although some scholars claim the title of the first museum should be in the city of Ur, in the temple of Ennigaldi-Nanna, which did house ancient collections, this structure may date to a slightly later time than that of Nebuchadnezzar’s displays.During the Neo-Babylonian period (626-539 BC), there was interest in both the distant past, which by that time Mesopotamian urban complex societies were nearly 3000 years old, as well as capturing war booty from within the Empire as it expanded.
King Nabonidus, in fact, commissioned the first known archaeological excavations at the time to uncover ancient remains from Ur. The idea or concept of these early commissioned excavations was to retrieve relics from the past that connected Babylonian civilization to the past, showing its long history, and bringing objects of the gods back to the world. The uncovered objects were then placed in a museum. In essence, the concept of the museum as a display of the origin of a people as well as of its power was developed. Early museum collections included ancient tablets, statues, and religious relics that would have been seen as continuing to have important relevance. The importance and continuity of ancient religion, in fact, was another motivation to develop museums, in this case within temple complexes.