In a new Snapchat feature, a richly garbed palace overseer welcomes visitors to the From Stone to Silicone exhibition at the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East.

“You are on a critical mission for the ruler of your kingdom. You must not fail to deliver your message and gift to the king of Nineveh.” Too bad, though, he explains, the king is busy, but you’re welcome to enjoy the splendors of the Inner Court. His message is both an invitation and a warning.

Art of Intimidation: Journey to Ancient Assyria is the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East augmented-reality Snapchat lens that brings to life the large casts of sculpted panels from the famed royal palaces of ancient Nineveh and Nimrud (in what is now Iraq).

Visitors may use their own device or borrow a free tablet at the museum to experience Art of Intimidation. The panels depict scenes that are variously celebratory, imposing, and violent—designed to demonstrate the kings’ power and to impress. The experience colorizes and animates the panels, accompanied with sounds, period music, and commentary by Dan-Assur, the palace overseer. He references the libations, flowers, prisoners, a ritual lion hunt, and the shameful retreat by the king’s enemies, amid praise for the king.

“One of our goals at the museum,” said HMANE director Peter Der Manuelian, “is to enhance the visitor experience with interactive and immersive technologies, where appropriate. Not to compete with the art, but rather to add a layer of mixed reality to our exhibits that we hope will be engaging, informative, and fun. Bringing these Assyrian palace wall reliefs ‘to life’ will delight our visitors, while educating them about ancient Mesopotamia.”

For inspiration, Chief Curator Adam Aja looked to games such as Assassin’s Creed: Origins, set in ancient Egypt and Apotheon, animated in the style of ancient Greek vase decorations. A multidisciplinary team then created the experience. Cowritten by Adam Aja and Senior Lecturer on Assyriology Gojko Barjamovic, Art of Intimidation aims to engage visitors in a lively exploration of palace life around 640 BCE.

A colorized and animated scene includes period music and a vessel overspilling with wine. Still photo from The Making of Art of Intimidation video. © President and Fellows of Harvard College

“The ambient sound, music, and the panel colors are all informed by scholarship,” says Aja. The original colors were once vivid but have degraded over time, aided by early efforts to clean the panels. Assyriologist Shiyanthi Thavapalan contributed insights on the colors based on recent infrared and ultraviolet imaging techniques, combined with what is known about Assyrian use of ancient earth pigments. Archaeomusicologist and composer Richard Dumbrill, formerly of the University of London, advised on the period music and soundscape. The character and clothing of Dan-Assur were modeled after Donald Barkho, a specialist on ancient Assyrian costumes and weaponry. Associate Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Shady Nasser provided narration.

Art of Intimidation joins the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East robust digital content, including the Dreaming the Sphinx augmented reality experience and 3D models of many objects on view in the galleries.

Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East is open Sunday-Friday from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm.