Helping Recover and Preserve Cultural Heritage in Iraq

Helping Recover and Preserve Cultural Heritage in Iraq


In 2014, ISIS captured the ancient city of Nimrud. What they left behind was a wake of destruction Which included priceless cultural heritage What happened at Nimrud, that’s a horrific story This was an ancient site that had beautiful stone sculptures that had been on display for many many years The Nimrud site was one of many in and around Mosul That was occupied and then publicly destroyed by ISIS The project is the Nimrud Rescue Project And we’re working with Iraqi colleagues at the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage Who are responsible for picking up the pieces at Nimrud The role of the Smithsonian and the Museum Conservation Institute is to work with the Nimrud Rescue Project Through the Iraqi Institute To help the Iraqi’s recover their own cultural heritage In the beginning of 2017, the Smithsonian Institution entered into an agreement with The Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage to establish the Nimrud Rescue Project This approach formed a team of archaeologists from the Mosul Antiquities Office who would train at the highest levels of practice and learn all about the skills and techniques needed to rescue the site of Nimrud, including ways to recover artifacts inside the exploded areas at the devastated site. The Nimrud Rescue Project is somewhat unique in that the skills that we’re building with the team are direct technical skills How you pick up a piece of something that’s been damaged How you document that, and how you store that But beyond that we’re also building problem solving skills Looking at the site of Nimrud There has never been damage of a site like this, anywhere Many archaeological sites exist and they are all important but Nimrud is characterized with more significance. During the archaeological excavation works in the past years treasure was found This treasure has acquired an international reputation. ISIS destroys these sites because they are important. And now we have to recover this site, Conserve it and provide the necessary restoration to be ready for those who want to visit the site. So this project’s been going on for about 18 months and we already have the storage facility built The crew is ready to go out and begin picking up the pieces We have just a few more days of practice here this time And then they’re going to go out and start actually recovering the pieces, getting them in storage and covering everything up so we know that things will be safe for years until all of the work can be finished In general, cultural heritage is a legacy not just for the country in which it is located- it also represents the past of all humanity in different nations around the world Cultural heritage here is very important because it represents advancements in civilization and science made for thousands of years since the dawn of history It is not just the duty of the archaeologists and the nation who manages this heritage to care for it. it’s also the obligation of all nations to protect it. So when we lose these kinds of cultural heritage we lose something of our understanding of each other We lose something that tells us how all of us are similar across the world Having cultural heritage like this preserved, it’s different ways of understanding how we as people across the world all have a lot in common So a key piece of every project that is run at the Iraqi Institute be it by the Smithsonian or other partners Is this idea of skills development for our Iraqi heritage colleagues that is done in a sustainable way but this needs to be something that can be built upon in the future so we’re not teaching just one specific skill set that can’t be changed or adapted overtime And so we’re looking at this with and eye toward sustainability of the Institute, and of the role that the Institute will continue to play in Iraq in educating heritage specialists in the future We’re not just an international mission coming in for a week or two to bestow some short-term positive press on something We’re here for the long term to make sure the Iraqi’s have everything they need to do the project and to continue things on in the future So the Smithsonian’s well placed to do this work because it’s a very international institution with cultural heritage and scientific knowledge at its core Conservation has both those things it’s using scientific knowledge to conserve to save cultural heritage it’s combining this knowledge of both the cultural heritage and the science and modern understanding of deterioration so that things are kept safe While many people think of the Smithsonian maybe primarily as a museum complex, it is in fact the largest research complex in the world And so we can bring expertise in object conservation, art conservation, architectural conservation, archaeological site management and anything else to bare in Iraq and focus on these complex multifaceted challenges like the Nimrud Project So having the ability to pull from different parts of the Smithsonian and partner with those different organizations and units within one Smithsonian means that we can bring the expertise together quickly and move fast to make sure we’re providing support on site in a way that helps our Iraqi partners We’re forging relationships between Americans and Iraqis that will transcend this one project Our goal is to make the Iraqi Institute sustainable for the long term so Iraq has a model for cultural heritage preservation around the region Work on the stabilization and preservation project at the site of Nimrud, Iraq, is still ongoing

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