In 2015, in response to the appalling destruction by Daesh (also known as so-called Islamic State, ISIS or IS) of heritage sites in Iraq and Syria, the British Museum developed a scheme which, in the face of frustration and outrage, could offer something positive and constructive.
The team on training at the Tello Site, focusing on Bridge Conservation, Iraq Scheme (21st Century) by Dani Tagen/British MuseumBritish Museum
The ‘Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme’, or simply ‘Iraq Scheme’, received the support of the UK government, and the Museum was granted £3.2m over five years.
Diman and Dhuha trowelling at the Darband-i-Rana site, part of the Iraq SchemeBritish Museum
The State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) manages the National Heritage Sites and National Museums of Iraq. Since 2015 the Iraq Scheme has been building capacity in the State Board by training 50 of its staff in a wide variety of sophisticated techniques of retrieval and rescue archaeology.
The Mosul Women of the Iraq Scheme
Eight women made up the fourth group of Iraqi participants to take part in the scheme. All are archaeologists who live in Mosul, and many currently work as part of the Nimrud Rescue Team. This team works to assess and document the damage caused by Daesh to many sites in Mosul.
Assyrian tomb, Hameedat Cemetery 1British Museum
From 2014 to 2017 Daesh (so-called Islamic State) systematically destroyed the cultural heritage of Iraq and neighbouring Syria on an unprecedented scale. At some heritage sites in Mosul, including the ancient city of Nimrud, up to 80% of the excavated and restored monuments have been destroyed.
The Training Programme
The training programme begins with two months of theoretical training at the British Museum in London. As part of their training, participants learn state-of-the-art techniques in data collection, digital photography, geomatics, photogrammetry and drone technology.
At the end of their UK training all participants present about a project that they are working on back home. Rana, pictured here with Jonathan Tubb, Project Director of the Iraq Scheme, decided to present on the Great Mosque of al-Nuri and a local heritage site, both of which Rana has a deep, personal affinity with. These heritage sites have been destroyed by Daesh but Rana is hopeful that in the future they can be reconstructed.
For their fieldwork participants choose between two sites in Iraq - Tello (ancient Girsu) in the south directed by Dr Sebastien Rey, and Darband-i Rania, directed by Dr John MacGinnis, in the Sulaimaniya province of Iraqi Kurdistan. These two sites provide the fieldwork venues for the duration of the scheme. They are not ‘training excavations’ as such, but are fully developed, research excavations.
Tello, the modern Arabic name for the ancient Sumerian city of Girsu, is the southern site of the Iraq Scheme's on-site training. It represents one of the earliest known cities of the world, revered in the 3rd millennium BC as the sanctuary of the Sumerian heroic god Ningirsu. Girsu was the sacred metropolis and centre of a city-state that lay in the south-easternmost part of the Mesopotamian river valley.
Photogammetry Training, onsite, Tello, Iraq Scheme by Helene Canuad/British MuseumBritish Museum
The size and complexity of the site makes Tello an ideal location for delivering the practical fieldwork training of the Iraq Scheme.
The Darband-i Rania Archaeological Project is the northern of the two field projects. The aim of the work there is to explore the ancient fortifications at a strategic point controlling a major route from northern Mesopotamia to Iran, with a focus on occupations of the first millennium BC.
The fieldwork at Darband-i Rania enables the participants and excavation team to research and reconstruct the dynamics of control at this strategic location.
Both excavation projects have provided, and will continue to provide, a wealth of experience for the participants. As a measure of the impact that the scheme has already made, one of the ‘graduates’ has been appointed by the Iraqi State Board to lead the assessment of the site of Nimrud, and a graduate of the second group has been made Director of Mosul Museum.
The Future of the Iraq Scheme
The sixth and penultimate group of participants began their training at the British Museum in April 2019. The hope is for the programme to run for a further five years in order to train over 100 Iraqi heritage professionals in sophisticated archaeological techniques.
©Trustees of the British Museum
Thank you to Helene Canaud, Alberto Giannese, Dani Tagen and our colleagues in the British Museum photography department for providing photographs of the training.