Challenges to heritage conservation in Iraqi Kurdistan

27 November 2017

Developing new fieldwork projects in Iraqi Kurdistan

David Wengrow was interviewed recently about the challenges facing international teams working in the archaeologically-rich area of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Significant archaeological discoveries are occurring regularly in the Kurdish region, most recently the discovery of cuneiform clay tablets belonging to the Middle Assyrian Empire by a team from the University of Tübingen.

This region had been opening up, having been largely unexplored and inaccessible into the mid-2000s due to wars, international sanctions and inter-Kurdish strife, and increased stability over the last 10 years or so had allowed a resurgence of archaeological research.

According to David the archaeology of the Kurdistan Region is crucial to understanding the development of societies in the greater area. He co-directs Gurga Chiya, a project in the Shahrizor Valley between the cities of Halabja and Sulaymaniyah, which explores the key phase of world history between the origins of farming and the origins of cities.

David indicates:

  • Between these two phases, there’s a period of more than 4,000 years of decentralised village life, and this region is key for understanding what happened to societies in the heart of the Middle East during that long phase.”

However further instability following the Kurdish region’s independence referendum (September 2017) has led to several international teams, including David's, being forced to leave the area before finishing their excavations.

While the potential for archaeological research in Iraqi Kurdistan is considerable, serious challenges remain. The unpredictable situation in the region highlights the importance of local archaeologists being able to continue research projects independently of international teams. The Iraq Scheme, developed in 2015, in response to cultural destruction by the Islamic State, aims to equip local archaeologists with expertise for post-conflict retrieval and rescue archaeology.

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