The British Museum To Train Iraqis To Restore Archaeological Sites In The World’s Cradle Of Civilization

Work is beginning at the site of the world's oldest bridge which led the way to the ancient Sumerian city of Girsu.

The British Museum to train Iraqi archaeologists to preserve ancient sites.
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Work is beginning at the site of the world's oldest bridge which led the way to the ancient Sumerian city of Girsu.

The British Museum has devised the ingenious idea of developing a training program for Iraqis that will help to not only preserve, but also to restore, ancient archaeological sites in areas that have been utterly devastated by wars and the Islamic State. The new program will begin in April and will take eight female refugees from the region of Mosul and train them as archaeologists to develop the skills necessary to try and tackle the archaeological destruction that has occurred over the years in Iraq.

The archaeologists will be trained in two different locales, with part of the program taking place in London and the second half of it in Naseriyah at the Tello site, which is southeast of Baghdad. This area is also home to the oldest known bridge in the world and would have been the entrance to the ancient Sumerian city of Girsu, as the Guardian report.

The city of Girsu, where the 4,000-year-old bridge still stands untouched and exceedingly well-preserved, was at one time where the Lagash empire maintained its capital and would have been one of its largest and most important administrative centers. This is the location that The British Museum will be using as the focal point of its new program.

While Girsu is in an area of Iraq that has not been touched by Isis, it is still suffering mightily due to natural conditions like erosion. This makes it the perfect place to train the Iraqi archaeologists, according to The British Museum’s Sebastien Rey. For one thing, when it comes to the city’s topography, it is quite similar to other locations that the trained archaeologists will be working at in the future, and it is also currently safe from violence.

When describing the ancient Sumerian site, Rey explained that the bridge would have originally been fashioned atop a canal, which has been shown by the clever use of drones.

“There is little doubt that this is the world’s oldest bridge. It is a huge monument that was originally first excavated before the second world war. When we were finally able to, we were able to confirm it was a bridge built over an ancient canal, which we could confirm from alluvial deposits and the use of a drone.”

The 4,000-year-old bridge would also have served as the starting point for Sumerians who would have celebrated the city’s many religious festivals, and as such serves as a lasting monument to the earliest gods in history.

“It was more than 40 metres long and eight to 10 meters wide and was one of the main access points to the ancient city of Girsu, which was one of the first cities in the world. It was the entry point for pilgrims during religious festivals – including the city’s tutelary god, Ningirsu – and so was an important symbolic feature.”

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The importance of The British Museum’s new program of training Iraqi archaeologists cannot be underestimated, especially when considering the fact that the Iraqi state board of antiquities has estimated that 80 percent of Nimrud and 70 percent of Nineveh has been destroyed by Islamic militants and looters.

New skills learned at Girsu in Iraq mean that Nineveh and Nimrud may one day be restored back to their former glory by these dedicated teams of archaeologists, according to Sebastien Rey.

“A lot needs to be done to assess damage at those sites, which means that the fact that local architects can work in safety southern Iraq makes Tello an ideal site for training for what will be required at places like Nineveh and Nimrud.”

Mehdi Ali Raheem, who is tasked with curating the Iraq Museum, hopes that these sites will one day be safe from danger and preserved for the future, so that tourists can once again visit and see how the world’s first cities grew and evolved over time.

“It is really important for the future. The conservation of the bridge and the preparation of site panels to explain our work to a wider audience will help bring tourists back to our country – which was the cradle of civilization – first from the Middle East, and then international tourists.”

Raheem will also be heavily involved in The British Museum’s training of the new Iraqi archaeologists and it is hoped that one day all of the ruined cities like Nineveh, Nimrud and Girsu will be resurrected.