Since 2015 the British Museum, working with Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, has trained 50 Iraqi archaeologists to help in conserving historical sites in Iraq destroyed or damaged by war.

Iraqi archaeologist Rana Zuhair (30) working on a find from the dig at Girsu

Each year participants have been brought to London for three months of intensive training with British Museum experts. The course includes training in the most up-to-date techniques of excavation and surveying, including the use of GPS and drones, as well as museum archiving and collections management.

In 2018, for the first time, all the archaeologists have been women. Initially, it had proved difficult to attract women to what would have been mixed-gender groups. When women-only groups were introduced, applications flooded in. Jonathan Tubb, British Museum director of the Iraq Scheme, says “Many Iraqi women work as archaeologists but the opportunities for fieldwork are sorely limited.  Women are supposed to stay in the office and do desk work, not go out and excavate and make surveys”.

Young women archaeologists at the Girsu site

Perhaps even more remarkable, four women currently working at the archaeological site of Girsu (https://www.hunebednieuwscafe.nl/2019/01/girsu-in-iraq-birthplace-of-urban-society/) are from Mosul in the Sunni north, while the Girsu site is in the Shia south. Both politically and culturally, the presence of these young archaeologists has been quietly revolutionary.

Placed by Alun Harvey

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