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British Museum Will Train Iraqis in Rescue Archaeology

Ancient Nimrud (Image via Wikimedia)
Ancient Nimrud (image via Wikimedia)

There’s nothing like watching ISIS blow up the ancient city of Nineveh to make archaeologists, conservationists, and historians feel helpless. Yet many have responded to ISIS’s destruction constructively — by compiling lists and databases of at-risk cultural heritage sites and by assessing damage through satellite imagery, all of which will help inform restoration efforts after the war. The British Museum is also thinking ahead and has announced a five-year program that will train some 50 Iraqi heritage professionals to deal with the aftermath. They’ll be ready to act once sites like Nineveh, Nimrud, and Hatra are finally reclaimed.

“While, at present, the situation on the ground in Iraq prevents direct intervention to protect those ancient sites that are currently held by so-called Islamic State, the scheme will instead plan for the day when the territory is returned to effective and legitimate governmental control,” the museum wrote in a press release. “The scheme cannot stop further acts of cultural destruction but it can equip colleagues with the skills required to conserve and restore where possible.”

The program comes thanks to a £3-million (~$4.6 million) grant from the UK’s Department of Culture, Media, and Sport. It builds on the British Museum’s work in Iraq, which began in 2003 as a response to the looting of the Mosul Museum and other damage that occurred throughout the country as a result of the US invasion. 

The museum will hire two archaeologists with extensive field experience. Together they’ll lead two six-month training courses per year, with five Iraqi heritage professionals invited to attend each course. 

The trainees will spend the first three months at the British Museum learning rescue archaeology, 3D scanning, digitization, emergency retrieval strategies, forensic collection, documentation methodologies, multi-purpose photographic training, and principles of conservation and restoration. Then they’ll return to Iraq for the last three months to practice the skills they’ve learned and set up restoration programs at their respective institutions. By the end of the program’s five years, some 50 Iraqis will have received training.

The program is a commendable act of good faith that goes a step beyond monitoring ISIS’s destruction. As Jonathan Tubb, keeper in the Middle East department at the British Museum, said in a statement, “By preparing our Iraqi colleagues for the day when sites are returned to their control, we are confident that they will know how to systematically record what has been destroyed and employ state of the art technology to allow for reconstruction.”

h/t The Guardian

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