IN the heyday of the Assyrian empire, they chiselled them out of stone.

Peter Swinkels with one of his team’s creations. Picture: Chris Scott Herald Sun
But when Melbourne Museum decided to build colossal winged creatures for its latest blockbuster show, things got a bit more complicated. Foam and fibreglass, resin and sand, timber and string … all this and more has gone into the lamassu creature which greets visitors to The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia. And exhibition curator Sarah Collins could not be happier.

“The real ones are in London,” the British Museum Mesopotamian scholar says. “Unfortunately, they weigh about 14 tonnes and we couldn’t bring them here.”

Placed beside palace doorways to ward off evil spirits, lamassu were composite beings embodying the strength of the lion, the swiftness of a bird and the intelligence of a human being.

The 21st century versions which stand guard at The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia were built by hand in the museum’s workshop. Preparation manager Peter Swinkels and his team spent four months modelling figures and making moulds, then applying artist oils to make the creatures look 5000 years old.

“It was painstaking work,” he admits. “And very heavy.”

Melbourne Museum’s lamassu are so convincing they look as if they have been literally hewn from rock.

Museum director Dr Patrick Greene stands in awe of this handiwork and says of his preparations team: “There is nothing they are incapable of doing.”

THE WONDERS OF ANCIENT MESOPOTAMIA

Melbourne Museum, until October 7

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