Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Nimrud and Nimrud

(I'm reading China Miéville's The City and the City at the moment; can you tell?)

So, a post about two intertwined Nimruds, the ancient Assyrian city of the early first millennium BC and the modern archaeological site in northern Iraq, and about a couple of imminent BISI-sponsored events concerning the two.

(Photos are from my trip to Iraq in March 2001, and show the Tigris river at nearby Assur on a rainy day; and the Nimrud ziggurat being climbed by a particularly vigorous group of assorted Assyriologists. I stayed at the bottom.)

Northern Iraq in the 1950s

First up, at 6pm on Thursday 28 February the redoubtable Dr Joan Oates, FBA will be recalling dig life at and around Nimrud in the 1950s with, amongst others, Sir Max Mallowan (at that time Director of the British School of Archaeology, as was) and his wife Agatha Christie.

The lecture is called "An Archaeologist's View of Northern Iraq in the 1950s" and will be held at The British Academy in central London. Free places can be reserved on the BISI website. Be warned: if you don't book ahead, you may not be able to get in, as there are a limited number of seats available. Jolly reception afterwards too!

Making Archaeological Knowledge, from Mound to Museum

Second, on Saturday 27 April my new AHRC-funded research project on Nimrud will be hosting a BISI study day at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. "Nimrud, from Mound to Museum: Making Knowledge from Archaeological Objects" will seek some answers to the questions, How do archaeological artefacts find their way into gallery cases and museum websites? How do objects found in the ground get transformed into specimens for scientific and historical study? We'll be bringing together a range of academic experts who have been involved in this process, to give their personal stories of making knowledge from objects excavated from the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud.

Speakers confirmed so far include Joan Oates on excavating Nimrud, back in the day; Dr Julian Reade (University of Copenhagen) on re-interpreting old excavations; British Museum conservators Denise Ling and Kathleen Swales on how artefacts from the site are managed in the museum; and Dr Paul Collins of the Ashmolean on how objects are displayed and interpreted for the public.

There's a small charge for this event, to cover catering costs: £5 for BISI members; £10 for the rest of the world. Bookings open any day now on the BISI website.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Embassy meeting: old friends, new collaborations

On Wednesday I ventured into the freezing fog for a visit to the Iraqi Embassy in London, to discuss co-operation with a group of official visitors from Baghdad. The meeting had been arranged by the Embassy rather hastily last week, and we weren't quite sure what to expect, or what would be expected of us. But miraculously I had the day free, and Lauren was also able to persuade Edward Chaplin and John Curtis to attend, so at least I knew we'd got a crack team assembled who could deal with whatever came our way.

Edward and I emerged from the tube at South Ken into glorious icy sunshine, which picked out the slate blue stripes of the Natural History Museum to gorgeous effect. After the zero-visibility white-out train journey from Cambridge this was an auspicious start to the morning, and my confidence grew further when I realised that we would be perfectly on time, despite the inevitable weather-induced travel delays (and the potential effect of the helicopter crash that morning).

Even better, the Baghdad delegation turned out to be led by the delightful and indomitable Dr Saad Eskander, Director of the Iraq National Library and Archive (INLA) and a long-standing friend to BISI. I had seen his name on the delegates list, of course, but it soon became clear that he was the driving force behind our meeting (as behind so many good ventures). He is now also attached to the Prime Minister's Office, which gives him a great deal of authority and scope for initiative.

l-r: Lauren, Dr Saad, Edward, Dr Ibtisad, me, Mr Mohammed, John, and Chargé d'Affaires Dr Muhieddin. Note the chic gold sofas. No Ferrero Rocher this time though, just tea and very nice biscuits which we were too polite to eat.

Accompanying him were Mr Mohammed Jabber of the Ministry of Justice and Dr Ibtisam Ali of the General Secretariat for the Council of Ministers. I had not met her before but she had clearly done her homework on us and, we discovered, had already been working to help BISI-sponsored Ur Region Archaeology Project (URAP) get their excavation permit to start digging next month. So naturally I was predisposed to like her too, and indeed she turned out to be highly engaged and helpful. As far as I can tell, she and Saad seem to have roles rather like ministerial special advisors, which enables them to subvert the often slow and obstructive civil service bureaucracy.

As the public relations officer made the formal introductions—Miss Lauren Mulvee, one of BISI's administrators; Mr Edward Chaplin, BISI Council Member and former ambassador to Iraq; Dr John Curtis, President of BISI and former Keeper of Middle East collections at the British Museum—it was very disconcerting to hear, "And Dr Eleanor, of course, who needs no introduction at all!" Apparently I am particularly famous for donning an abaya to go to Kerbala last autumn, as well as for my Babylonian school activities in the Iraqi Cultural Centre!

I had prepared a short briefing on BISI's work, highlighting current and planned activities in Iraq that we (have) sponsor(ed)—URAP; Sound of Iraq, which has trained sound technicians for INLA to create a national sound archive, the Al-Kafeel Holy Shrines museum project, etc.—but I'm not sure I told them anything they didn't know already. Saad and Ibtisad were particularly keen to know if there was anything in particular they could help us with in Baghdad. As it happens, there are a few new initiatives we're trying to get off the ground at the moment, so I could give some very concrete responses. (I won't say more here just yet... you'll have to wait and see!) I'm also hoping to be back in Iraq for a week or so in early April, so there will also be good opportunities to follow up these discussions in Baghdad.

Saad's current projects are many, various, and impressive. Apart from Sound of Iraq, he has initiated an Iraqi national film archive; plans to open European-language sections of INLA; is systematically acquiring originals or copies of Iraq-related archives from other countries, especially the UK and US; has got government funding for a permanent archive and exhibition commemorating the atrocities of the dictatorship, so that victims' voices can be heard as well as the victimisers'; and is writing a book on the history of censorship in Iraq. All that and he's coming back to London in September to speak at our Gertrude Bell conference.

So now I need to get a move on and finalise my April travel arrangements. The pretext is another conference—this time on quality assurance in higher education, oh the excitement!—but it will be in beautiful Najaf and this time—out of term-time—I'll be able to stay on for a little longer than my last visit.

Friday, 11 January 2013

New volume of Iraq!

More happy news! Jon Taylor, co-editor (with Michael Seymour) of BISI's journal Iraq, tells me that Volume 74 (2012) is now being shipped from the printers. Congratulations, Jon and Michael, on your first joint volume!

The bumper table of contents is as follows:

Prof. W.G. Lambert, Dr. Anthony Green
Mark Altaweel, Anke Marsh, Simone Mühl, Olivier Nieuwenheyse, Karen Radner, Kamal Rasheed and Saber Ahmed Saber:
New Investigations in the Environment, History, and Archaeology of the Iraqi Hilly Flanks: Shahrizor Survey Project 2009–2011
Carrie Hritz, Jennifer Pournelle and Jennifer Smith:
Revisiting the Sealands: Report of Preliminary Ground Reconnaissance in the Hammar District, Dhi Qar and Basra Governorates, Iraq
Mary Shepperson:
The Rays of Šamaš: Light in Mesopotamian Architecture and Legal Practice
Elizabeth C. Stone:
Mashkan-shapir Redux
Jack Cheng:
The Horizontal Forearm Harp: Assyria’s National Instrument
J. H. Crouwel:
Metal Wheel Tyres from the Ancient Near East and Central Asia
Mikko Luukko:
On Standardisation and Variation in the Introductory Formulae of Neo-Assyrian Letters
Radosław Tarasewicz:
New Data on the Sidru-Offering in Neo-Babylonian Sippar
Jon Taylor:
Cuneiform Tablets from the Wiseman Collection
Yoram Cohen:
“Where is Bazi? Where is Zizi?” The List of Early Rulers in the Ballad from Emar and Ugarit, and the Mari Rulers in the Sumerian King List and Other Sources
M. Sulaiman and S. Dalley:
Seven Naptanum-Texts from the Reign of Rim-Sin I of Larsa

Unfortunately BISI does not yet have an online publication deal for Iraq (though we're working on it! news soon, I hope). Fortunately, though, it's now easier than ever to join BISI online and to get a copy of the journal that way.

Back issues are available online through JSTOR (with a five year moving wall).

If you're interested in submitting an article to be considered for publication in Iraq, please read the instructions for authors on how to prepare your manuscript and how the peer-review process works. If your work is (part-)funded by a UK research council, rest assured that Iraq is committed to complying with Research Councils UK's new Policy on Open Access to Research Outputs--again, more news soon.

From Kurdistan to Cambridge

In Kurdistan for BISI last May, I met local archaeologist Saber Ahmed Saber, who was helping colleagues from UCL choose a new site or two for excavation. Here he is with Rob Carter of UCL Qatar, identifying potsherds near a site called Gurga Chiya.

We encouraged him to apply for a BISI Visiting Scholarship to the UK, and I'm delighted to report that he arrived at Heathrow just over a week ago. Saber will be spending most of his two-month stay working with Mark Altaweel at UCL, writing up his excavations in the Sulaimaniyah region of southern Kurdistan.

But the first weekend after his arrival happened to be the date of this year's BANEA conference, which also happened to be here in Cambridge. So Mark and Lamia brought him to Friday's session: here we all are on the river after lunch (l-r: me, Mark, Harriet Crawford, Saber, Lamia Al-Gailani).

It was a delight to welcome him here, and I hope he and Mark have a very productive few months together. It's also my pleasure to thank everyone who's made the visit happen: BISI people Lauren Mulvee and Joan MacIver; Lamia Al-Gailani, Edward Chaplin, and Harriet Crawford; Barbara Porter and her staff at ACOR who hosted Saber in Amman while waiting for his visa; the staff of the British Embassies in Baghdad and Amman; Kate Carter, Saber's host in London; all at UCL; Augusta MacMahon and Nicholas Postgate at BANEA Cambridge; and, just as importantly, Kamal Rashid of the Sulaimaniyah Antiquities Directorate for granting Saber leave to take up the fellowship.

The next application deadline for BISI Visiting Scholarships is on 1 February: details are on the super-gorgeous new BISI website. If you know of an Iraqi cultural heritage professional or academic who would benefit from a period of collaborative research leave in the UK, with the option of a further month in Germany funded by the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft, do encourage them to apply.