Before the latest fighting broke out, things had begun looking up for archaeology in IraqHistorians in the News
tags: Iraq, Iran, ISIS, Caliphate
Gil J. stein is the director of the Oriental Institute.
HNN Editor: The Summer edition of Oriental Institute News and Notes is out. It features an optimistic account of archaeology in Iraq. It evidently went to press before the latest outbreak of war.
The cover article by McGuire Gibson on the current state of archaeology in Iraq gives a valuable update on a little-known, but extremely important development — no less than the first stirrings of the re-birth of archaeology in Iraq.
As we all know only too well, Iraq, the heartland of the development of civilization in Mesopotamia, suffered terrible devastation in the Gulf War and its aftermath. Amidst the death and destruction that took place in the course of the war, the world watched in horror as the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad was ransacked, and over 15,000 objects were stolen. The theft of these artifacts — the material documentation of the rise of the world’s fist cities and literate civilization, represents an irreplaceable loss to world cultural heritage.
Although the museum has been physically rebuilt, and many artifacts did survive the looting, the galleries remained closed until this year. Now, the Iraq Museum is finally ready for re-opening to the public. At the same time, the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage is hiring new staff, and regaining its vitality.
Best of all, archaeological research is slowly, diffidently starting to resume in Iraq. So far the efforts are mainly visible in the northeastern Iraqi provinces of Erbil, Dohuk, Suleimaniya, and Erbil, where last summer I was thrilled to start my field project at the prehistoric mound of Surezha, the first Oriental Institute excavation in Iraq in twenty-three years. But it is equally heartening to see the first steps in the resumption of archaeological projects in southern Iraq as well — in the Sumerian “Heartland of Cities.”
The University of Chicago has excavated in Iraq since 1905, and Mesopotamian civilization has always been at the very heart of the Oriental Institute’s research mission through the work of archaeologists such as Robert Braidwood, Robert McC. Adams, and Mac Gibson. I am extremely optimistic that we are now on the threshold of a new era of discoveries in Mesopotamia. We at the Oriental Institute are excited to be playing a part in this archaeological renaissance.