Experts from across the world have gathered at the University of Kufa in Iraq's southern Najaf Province to discuss ways to preserve the country's ancient heritage.
In a conference hosted by the University of Kufa in Iraq’s southern Najaf Province, researchers from the Universities of Chicago, Pennsylvania, Cambridge and Oxford, along with several Iraqi universities have attended the 2nd annual International Conference on Archaeology and Heritage in Iraq. Attendees stressed the archaeological importance of Iraq’s treasures and civilisations, many of which are still unexplored.
“Iraq has thousands of important archaeological sites that document the civilisation and human development during successive historical periods,” said Augusta McMahon, a Mesopotamian archaeologist at the University of Cambridge.
Attendees also shared methods and practices of protecting and preserving archaeological sites that have been damaged due to conflict and vandalism. Furthermore, the scholars also stressed on the need to return looted antiques and artefacts that have been taken from Iraq during times of conflict and turmoil.
“This conference focused on how to use modern methods in the analysis of monuments, the protection of Iraqi cultural heritage, the recovery of looted antiques from Iraq, and the need to stop selling them in international auctions,” said Haidar al-Hamdani, a researcher at the University of Kufa.
Since the 2003 invasion, many artefacts have been stolen from the country and sold on the black market worldwide. This was highlighted in 2014 when ISIS invaded the country and ransacked the Mosul Museum. While the militant group released a propaganda video showing them destroying artefacts, insiders say that the militant group destroyed copies of real artefacts, and the authentic pieces were sold on the black market to bring revenue for ISIS.
However, since the situation in the country has improved, archaeologists and government officials have attempted to use the legal means to demand those pieces be returned to the country.
The attendees stressed the need for young Iraqis to be involved in the rehabilitation of archaeological sites in their country. As a result, the University of Kufa obtained rights to an archaeological site and will utilise the expertise of Western scholars, and the efforts of their students to rehabilitate the site.
“The Faculty of Archaeology has obtained an archaeological site where it will work during the new academic year,” said Mohammed Jawad, the dean of the Archaeological Department at the University of Kufa. “We will rely on Iraqi potential and partnerships with foreign prospectors to learn from their experiences and to train our students and professors.”
It is essential for the Iraqi Government and Universities to focus on the rehabilitation of Iraq’s heritage and archaeological treasures, as these tools help build a healthy and strong society that feels tied with the country’s history and future.