Hello, and welcome to the Thin End of the Wedge. The podcast where experts from around the world share new and interesting stories about life in the ancient Middle East. My name is Jon. Each episode, I talk to friends and colleagues, and get them to explain their work in a way we can all understand.
Recent years have seen a resurgence in the number of foreign archaeological teams working in Iraq, initially in the Kurdish region, then increasingly in the south. Today’s guest talks about work being carried out somewhere in between, in the northern city of Mosul. Within the city limits lies one of the most important archaeological sites in the country: the greatest Assyrian capital, Nineveh. Mosul, of course, suffered during the occupation by ISIS, as well as during its liberation, which saw hard fighting.
Our guest has many years of experience working in the Middle East, including in some very challenging environments. Nineveh is perhaps the toughest challenge yet. What has happened to the site in recent years? And what work is being done now? In this episode, we explore some crucial questions. What does archaeology mean in this kind of environment? What form does it take? And why is archaeology done? In whose interest is it?
So get yourself a cup of tea. Make yourself comfortable. And let’s meet today’s guest.
Hello, and welcome to Thin End of the Wedge. Thank you for joining us.
Thank you, Jon. My pleasure.
Can you tell us please: who are you and what do you do?
Well, my name is Nicolo Marchetti. I am teaching Near Eastern archaeology at the University of Bologna in Italy. And I am the director of a joint Iraqi-Italian expedition at Nineveh in Mosul.
Could you start by explaining where Nineveh is and what’s there please?
Well, Nineveh is an impressive mound. Actually, the mound in itself is larger as a large site elsewhere, it’s like 60 hectares. Nineveh is an impressive mount near the Tigris River in the north of Iraq, precisely within now the city of Mosul. It’s surrounded by the city on all its sides. Before it didn’t used to be like this. Mosul was in the 19th century, only present on the western bank of the river. But then it expanded at the beginning of the 20th in the eastern as well, and now has surrounded and encroached the ancient site. Nineveh has historically been one of the main sites of Assyria, and for several branches of its long history, also the capital city. Its occupation dates back to prehistoric times. There is an impressive sequence excavated by Max Mallowan in the early 30s, when he was part of a British Museum expedition, looking at the site under Reginald Campbell Thompson.
What has happened at Nineveh in recent times?
Well, there’s been a slow decline for the pristine archaeological site, which used to be a couple of centuries ago. It has been slowly encroached starting from the historical presence of a shrine, a very important shrine, dedicated to the prophet Jonah. In the biblical text Jonah preached in Nineveh, saving the inhabitants from the wrath of the Lord. In Islamic tradition, he’s buried at Nineveh himself. His shrine was much venerated. So in Ottoman times there has always been a village around this mosque which lies on one of the two main mounds of the site, Tell Nebi Yunus; Nebi Yunus means prophet Jonah in Arabic. Starting from this original settlement, the central part of Nineveh has been fully encroached by modern settlement by let’s say the late 50s, early 60s. And so since then, one third of ancient site has been lost almost to archaeological investigation.
We managed to open excavation area there last year. And the rest, so the northern part, is the most important one is the one which lies north of a stream which crosses East-West the ancient site, and is called Kujunjik. And the mound in Kujunujik is called Tell Kujunjik, which is a Turkish word for a “small goat”. The southern tip has been until recently been void of settlement. In 2016 Daesh opened there … probably 2015, already … they opened there a four lane highway just crossing the site east-west. The damage was quite extensive to the city walls, to the inner city. The south of this highway, the site is still empty, more or less empty, but the encroachment is ongoing. This is a big problem of course, because Nineveh is surrounded on three sides by a sprawling city. And the more since the old city has been inaccessible after the war. When Mosul was liberated in June 2017 the old city was completely in ruins. There are several problems in clearing the debris from the old city. The main one, probably, is that there are still many unexplored devices. So removing this debris is a highly specialised operation. And there have been many problems for this. So people are waiting, and they are losing their hopes that this can be done in a reasonable amount of time. So they are settling wherever they can. So the encroachment, the pressure on the site, has been increasing in these last two years. The situation presently is extremely difficult, because on the one side, you understand the needs of the people. On the other, you have to take care of heritage. This is so important in the first place for their future, for their identity. But you need to communicate all this. It’s quite a complex operation to balance the needs of heritage with the needs of the people. We are trying our best with our partner at the site, which is the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in the Mosul branch. Of course, it’s a national organisation based in Baghdad, under the leadership of Dr. Laith Hussein.
What work are you doing at Nineveh now?
I can describe what we do in a two-fold way. One, of course, is the purely archaeological one, and it is extremely interesting. Scientifically, we are getting so much more new data. At the same time, the main reason, I would say, why we are there, is to protect, to preserve. To preserve for investigation is quite a contradictory statement. But conservation must be done at the same time, that you do research. So by digging, you understand better, you conserve it better, because the reality is that conservation is not just a mechanical operation. It is a scientific operation, involving understanding the monument, studying the monument in order to be effective in your conservation activities. And of course, at the same time I already hinted this, we are really there to raise awareness. We want the city to become aware. Several archaeological features, for example, lying outside of the city were completely not known to the city council, to the Governorate, I mean to the institutions operating on the field. Of course, the State Board does know all this, but they’re not enough. If people ask permission to make a building, then State Board can inspect it. But if they don’t ask permission, and they just start digging, when you get news of this, if you get news of this, often it’s too late. We need to tell the other authorities what’s going on and let them understand and enlist them. I’m not just saying partnering, but in sharing a vision for the city. Taking into account integrating the heritage.
The heritage, I would say, in Iraq is almost universally perceived as the cement of national identity. They’re very proud of their past. At the same time, in places like Mosul, however, the heritage is perceived sometimes as an obstacle, as a problem, as a feature blocking development, causing economic harm. This, of course, is the most dangerous perception, that we need to avoid; we need to eradicate it. And you can only do this through dialogue, through letting people seeing positive examples. Interacting with a city of 1 million plus people, sprawling in this so difficult situation is tough. I mean, we are enthusiastic about this. I mean, we have enthusiasm. Of course what we see makes us very sad at times.
But also we see many signs for hope. The real thing: you have to be there; you have to stay in place. We completed two seasons there until now. We are planning a longer season in 2021 as well. We are just back; we came back 10 days ago. So even in this most difficult year, we were able … I’m very grateful to my university to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy, because they allowed us to go. This is a feat in itself. I mean, they gave us a great extension of trust. And we were all back without any health problem, which is very important, because we have students, postgraduates, and of course the workers. We protected the workers every morning with masks. We took temperature to all every day. So we just gave paper glasses to everybody, we abolished the communal meals, drinking areas and whatever. So we were careful. And maybe we were also lucky. But consider we had more than 100 workers for almost two months this year. We were planning a longer season, but this is what we could achieve. So we are satisfied, we couldn’t do probably more. And everything went very well. So this, I think, is an encouragement for everybody. It is possible indeed to do work abroad in Iraq, at Mosul, in a safe way. So I encourage all my colleagues to come and join if they are having projects. There are many projects in Mosul running for many reasons. They’re probably, I would say, lagging behind their own schedule, sometimes severely. So I hope these words of encouragement will convince them to come back and go on, because Mosul , I think, needs every hand, every possible help.
What kind of archaeology are you doing at Nineveh? Is it survey, excavation, conservation?
It’s a good question, because we are experimenting many ways to do archaeology at Nineveh. Let’s start from the beginning. It’s an integrated project. So we are having an intensive survey of all the area under our responsibility. We are working in eastern Nineveh. Our permit is 700 hectares. So it’s an enormous surface. And we completed in two years an intensive survey of all this area. Plus, of course, you have, you would say “traditional excavation”. So we open large areas, extensive areas, in the Lower Town of Nineveh. And now I would say, we really have an understanding, we are beginning to have an understanding, of how an imperial capital was organised. We are digging in houses with flimsy walls, but an impressive amount of fines from ivory comes to pyxides to incantation texts and amulets, tokens. It’s amazing what you find in these houses. And then you have elite residences, enormous buildings with large courtyards paved with baked bricks, and large alabaster door sills. Where you find, for example, tablets written in Babylonian dialect belonging to merchants, dated to the last years of King Sin-sharra-ishkun. So just a few years before the destruction of 612 [BC].
We’re digging in a palace near the Adad Gate. We have this public building, with large courtyards and rooms with rails for mobile fireplaces. So we are going through a diversity of buildings giving us an idea, a very precise idea, of how this capital was organised. Plus, we did extensive geophysics with geomagnetic survey, and we observed these buildings separated by roads and open spaces. Actually, our impression from the survey … I think, it’s more than an impression … we became convinced that Nineveh is completely built up. In late 1980s, an American expedition was operating this spot in the Lower Town. But they tended to think that there were large voids within the urban fabric. But this is not the case. In our opinion, Nineveh was densely built up almost everywhere. Wherever we go, we observe traces of buildings. And this is important, because I think if we go on like this in a few years, we will get a very precise idea of how an imperial capital was organised.
At the same time, we are also going down somehow, because ISIS or Daesh as it’s called locally, they dug enormous trenches, 11 of them, but enormous, through the town. On one of these trenches, we decided that most of them are … you see virgin soil just above the top layer in the sections of these trenches, but not one, which was located in the Lower Town pre-Sennacherib. So before king Sennacherib changes city into his enormous new royal capital around 700 BC, before when Nineveh was an historical city of Assyria, it had a mound, the Acropolis, and the Lower Town. This Lower Town pre-Sennacherib is what we are investigating now. Because of the cut by ISIS, we have on the surface next to a trench, the layer destroyed in 612 [BC]. But then you have the section with three layers below the top one, and then you have the bottom of the trench. So we started from the bottom of the trench. The first layer is early tenth century BC and we are going down with Sara Pizzimenti from Pisa University. We have an operation where we aim at reaching virgin soil and understanding the dynamics leading to the occupation of a Lower Town at Nineveh. Of course we don’t know when this happened precisely. It may have happened around 2000 BC. We will see. This is a large operation, it’s slow, it takes time; the archaeology has its own rules.
So this as far as archaeology is concerned, but as far as conservation is concerned, well, we aim at repairing the damages of Daesh in the first place. Most of our excavation areas are located next to these enormous trenches of Daesh, because we want to try to get a glimpse of the stratigraphy that was lost and tried to gain information with extensive excavation. Repairing every kind of damages is more complicated. We started this year to clear the city walls. The city walls were in part originally reconstructed since the mid 60s, so before Saddam. It was an operation which was meant also to keep Mosul from expanding into the site. So we cannot just say with the modern sensitivity, it was a wrong operation. It was done with a variety of aims. In any case, they were part of the cityscape of Mosul. And the Daesh went with bulldozer on top of these stone walls with crenellations on top, and they just destroyed them.
So now we started clearing the debris, exposing the lower part of these massive city walls. And especially we decided with some bravery to work since last year, since our first season, in the area of what is called the Adad Gate, which was one of the two main gates of the north side of the Nineveh city walls. The Adad Gate was excavated in the late 60s by an Iraqi archaeologist Amr Suleiman. And he uncovered there an amazing monument, a 10 meter high standing Assyrian gate in mud brick with the arch still perfectly preserved. He decided not to pierce it. And in order to protect it, the Iraqis they made an enormous concrete roof above it. Plus, they made gigantic modern mud brick towers on top of the early foundations. This enormous monument was bulldozed by Daesh. It was visible from everywhere in Mosul, because it’s one of the highest spots of Nineveh; as high as the Acropolis, as Kuyunjik.
So this landscape site was completely bulldozed. And you could see from everywhere these enormous slabs of concrete fallen above the gate. So we decided to remove them. We hired last year a crane … 100 times crane, which was extremely expensive. But that’s not the point. We did something that we were not trained to do. We relied on the skills of the crane operator, on the bravery of the workers and archaeologists in cutting these slabs, and trying to think how not to have any inure [injury] from this work, because you had to remove slabs from 60, 70 tons up to 80 tons single slab. And then you have to cut through all the iron. We are going to make a book about this, because it has been a great adventure. It was really something we would have never dreamt or having a nightmare of doing something like this. But we had to do it.
And again, we were successful. We removed an enormous amount of fallen concrete, of fallen modern mud bricks. And finally, we began exploring the gate. And as happens in archaeology, we uncovered an enormous amount of new information. Because of course previously in excavations, they didn’t explore all the corners of the gate. We could recover 13 new monumental inscriptions by Sennacherib, which were never seen before. So at the same time, this conservation was accompanied by a very happy period of archaeological investigation, which gave us so much new perspectives on how Sennacherib built and why and how he organised his fortifications, especially one of the key areas which is a gate. Now we built a roof again, in metal, we already did half of the gate. And we covered … the rest we protected this year; we will finish next year.
But already now from, for example, what is called the shari’ raisiyah, the presidential road north of the city, which is one of the main axes of Mosul. Now you finally see back the city gate and the roof. And this of course, the people from Mosul, they love it; they are very proud of this. This also gave us a lot of boost to our morale in going on with this approach. So as you see, we are of course doing our job, which is archaeological excavation, but at the same time we have conservation. We are striving to open an archaeological park at the site. We promised in 2022. I hope we haven’t been overly optimistic, but I think it can be done.
Already what we can show on the ground is extremely self evident and we are planning paths, approaches. And this is what it needs to be done, in my opinion. People need to know that there is a plan for development, for developing heritage for the city, with the city. So agreeing strategy, of course, we have State Board in the first place, but also have the other civil authorities having a stake in all this. So this is how we work in an integrated way both scientifically but at the same time also, socially. I strongly believe in community archaeology. We all think this is the only way we can succeed in a situation like Mosul. So together with the people of the city. We are starting to make friends. I mean, after two years, we really have relations now. And this is so important, because so many things we couldn’t understand before. Now we are explaining their point of view, and we just incorporate it. We are not here to judge anything; we are here to understand and try to help, but it has been done together.
Maybe we could talk a little more about that. You mentioned this is a collaboration with the Iraqi State Board, Whose idea was it to work at Nineveh in the first place? And how are the goals set?
Well, the first thing came from the former Chairman of Antiquities, Qais Rashid. We were working in South Iraq for a survey, because we also run a project in Turkey, at Carchemish on the Euphrates, which is a long term project we are having and will have. We were having a survey in the south starting in 2016, which lasted three years plus some study season afterwards. So since 2018, and beyond with the study season. The Chairman of the State Board highlighted the dramatic situation in which Mosul was and asked us to help. We were not planning at the time to have a dig in Iraq, but we just felt we couldn’t turn him down, couldn’t say no.
We first visited in Mosul in April 2018. And were struck by the situation which was already clear was going in the bad direction for the site, so to say. And we could have the first season in September 2019 for two months and a half. And we came back this autumn because we were planning to come back in the spring this year. But of course, because of the pandemic, we had to change and adapt our plans. We found a lot of support in State Board at every single step. The chief of the Mosul branch, Ali Hazeem Thanoon, and his team … well, they’ve been invaluable. The inspectors we had … well, they became friends. They’re not just colleagues. They shared with us concerns, toils, satisfactions, of course, so Alaa, Hisham, Raad, Omar, Muhammad, Ali, they are our friends. With them, yes, we could succeed through so many situations we would have never, never, never solved alone.
So I’m very grateful for this reception we have in Mosul. And of course in Baghdad, the whole half of the State Board starting from the Chairman, Laith Hussein, to the Director of Excavations, Selim Halaf, they are really … and Mohammed Sabri and all the friends we have there. They are really concerned about Mosul, so they support us. Plus we have very positive interactions with the University of Mosul. We are not yet collaborating on the field with them. But we are having a lot of scientific exchange with Khalid Salim, Ahmed Jumaili and so on, the Dean, Dr Yasmin, we are having excellent, excellent relations. The President of the University of Mosul, Dr. Qusay is very interested, very keen on archaeology. So we are running projects together for training. Mosul University was the last to dig on Tell Kuyunjik in 2013. ISIS took over Mosul in June 2014. Until the year before Mosul University was digging in the area of the North Palace. So now we are helping them in publishing their finds, which are amazing. I mean, they did an extraordinary job.
So we are really, as I say, trying to integrate whatever we do with the cities or the scientific institutions like the University on one side for some of our activities on the field with the State Board. But as I say, we are talking a lot with the City Council, with the kaimakam, with the Governorate. You have to take care of all these levels if you want to have a plan which succeeds. I mean, we must need one single vision. Otherwise, I don’t see how we can go through a situation in the way that international institutions do their share, because this is not a critique, but not enough for sure, in my opinion, has been done by international institutions in Mosul. Of course, there are some activities. But if you look at the scale of the problems, they are way, way, way, far from a satisfactory level of engagement. And this I don’t think it’s acceptable. In this situation Mosul really needs the help of everybody. I mean, this is a call for everybody willing to do something for Mosul. There is certainly space and scope for every serious institution interested.
We were very happy this year, that the University of Toronto for Tim Harrison, they joined us on the field; they took care, for example, of the new fencing and protection of the Shamash gate, or eastern gate, whatever you call it, on the Erbil road on the middle of the eastern fortifications of Nineveh, which is an impressive monument. Almost unexcavated, and with Tim Harrison we even explored the tunnels dug, not for looting in this specific case, but for you would say military purposes or whatever. Tunnels through the Shamash Gate. We could observe a lot of new archaeological evidence within these tunnels. But that’s not the point. I mean the University of Toronto came to see what can be done. It’s not about just digging, the point is much beyond this.
They need help on everything from training, from equipment, from drafting master plans together. This is an example. I mean, I’m very happy they responded to our call. I cannot stress enough that Mosul needs every possible help from anybody in the present future. Of course, it should be serious institution, institutionally backed in a long term way. There is no room for improvisation in this difficult situation, because any failure would be dearly accounted for in a situation where you have this pressure on your shoulders, and on the shoulders of heritage especially. But for institution seriously intention to cooperate, there is a lot of room in Nineveh. And of course, there are other sites around which are endangered. For example, Hatra; they’re telling me that there are very serious static problems to the monument; needs conservation, needs research. There are many other sites which are endangered, not at the same scale of Nineveh. This is clear.
You’ve already started to answer this question, but could you summarise for us why you think it’s so important to do this work, at this site, right now?
Hmm. Well, I suppose that we are all sons of our time. The Near Eastern archaeologists of my generations, we happen to live under these very difficult, unstable times. And post-modernity, not just Iraq, everywhere, leads you to face new challenges that you didn’t expect when you were a student. You were imagining a different kind of field archaeology. Nowadays, we have to cope with the situation: wars, economic crisis, not in this specific case, but in other cases, competition for resources or population puts a pressure on the weak subjects and nobody’s weaker when heritage. Heritage has no legs to run away, has no voice to speak for itself. So you have to protect it and speak on its behalf. So we are trying to save Nineveh. We didn’t want to belong to a generation who lost Nineveh.
So together with Iraqi colleagues, we are trying to find a way to preserve and pass to the next generations, this heritage. There is a of course a semantic difference in studies about cultural property. This is very clear. If you term it heritage, it needs to be passed over, because that’s the meaning of heritage. If you brand it as a resource, cultural resource, it needs to be exploited to be a resource. So you have competing visions; they are not, let’s say by necessity opposing themselves. I mean, they’re not in contrast, necessarily. We certainly see things as heritage and we would like to pass heritage to the next generation. I’m not complaining, this is the time, the historical time we are living through. And it’s our duty of a professional in the same field, in Italy, in Europe, in Iraq, everywhere. It’s our duty to face the situation and try our best to achieve our goals, which are goals shared by the majority of the public.
In principle, everybody agrees that heritage should be protected. But when there are compromises which need to be made, maybe more expensive, or whatever, this willingness disappears. There is always something more urgent. The economic interest of a dam before submerging everything is more pressing than protecting heritage itself, there is always an excuse. Maybe it’s a good excuse, maybe it’s a good reason. But before inflicting permanent damage to a physical memory of humankind, I think we should all be more careful. I’m also speaking about excavations. Excavations are a destructive process. You have to do it in a very controlled way. And you have to publish the results in a full way as soon as possible. And nowadays, open science, open data, force you to rethink also the way you produce documentation and to disseminate and share this documentation. It’s a huge problem, but we have to face.
So the answer to your question is complex, because the problem is complex. I hope I’m able to pass to whoever listens to us, this sense of urgency, but at the same time of how serious should be the approach to these problems. At the same time, these problems, they do not stand still. The Anthropocene has been defined as a new era as a proposal, I think it’s 2014. The first year in which man moved three times more sediments than nature itself for what year. So whatever rivers, stream, lakes, storms moved on the earth in one year, in 2014, we did it three times more. And this is accelerating. We are, perhaps, to quote Barry McGuire, “on the eve of destruction”. And we are staring at this increasing pace of destruction with an increased awareness. And probably there is a feedback process. So we need to develop more effective techniques. We are now working with artificial intelligence for the automatic recognition of sites. We are trying to keep pace. It’s not easy. It’s probably a battle we are losing globally, I’m afraid. But still, we don’t give up.
I’d like to ask about the archaeological park: what will be in it, and who will visit it?
Perhaps it’s a dream. But you know what Thomas Edward Lawrence used to say about dreamers: we dream during the day. We already opened several archaeological parks elsewhere in the Near East. When I was a student at Ebla with Paolo Matthiae, I was working to the first experiments of the archaeological park, which was then opened at the site in 2002, I think. Then when we went to Jericho working with the Palestinians, we started and we opened in two years an archaeological park there, which is still going on now as University Sapienza is still there. And then finally, when I moved to Turkey in 2003, we managed to open in 2007, the archaeological park at Tilmen Höyük after we were working at the site for five years. Then in 2010, we opened the archaeological park of Taşlı Geçit, which is a small site in a dam area, endangered by this artificial lake. And finally, last year, our biggest success was opening the archaeological park of Carchemish, which is now open to public regularly, while excavations are still ongoing, of course. It was a big success, especially because it’s in a military area. It was so tough to go through the bureaucracy, to get all the permissions, but we did it together with the Turkish Minister of Culture. So that was a major achievement, and it can be visited any time of the year. It’s open every day.
So this is our background. For us, it’s very normal. After the survey, we opened this landscape museum in the south. And of course, the idea now is to open the archaeological park at Nineveh, which is the greatest challenge we have ever faced. I mean, I’ve never faced this challenge. It was difficult to work at Jericho for many reasons. But nothing compares to what’s going on now in Mosul for us. What happened in the first year, however, it was heart lifting. I told them, “look, we have to do all this conservation for the tourists”. And they said, “what do you mean tourists? There is no tourists here”. I said, “yes. But there will be; there will be again. There used to be. There is so much demand to see the cradle of civilisation as it’s known in popular media. I’m really optimistic about this. You will see.” Of course, nobody could see anything. It was our first year. It was … I think it was maybe early November 2019. I’m stressing this because for me, it was an historical date. Then one day, the police asked me, “would you be available this afternoon to lead some tourists?” I said, “what do you mean tourists?” “Yes. We heard there are some tourists coming. Would you be available?” I said, “yes, of course I am”.
So I waited along the northern fortification, and a bus of tourists came. And they were … I’m not sure whether it’s offensive in English if I say “elderly” British tourists. They were so enthusiastic, so energetic. They all came down from the bus and I said, “who are you?” “We are tourists”. I said, “but how is it possible? There is no touristic visa in Iraq. There is only work visa at present”. He said, “yes. But our travel agency always gets visa. And we are specialised in Afghanistan and Iraq.” I said, “Oh. That’s a feat”. He said, “yes. But they said in Afghanistan, we cannot go anymore. Because the Americans they got very nervous with us, because six months ago, our bus was shot by the Taliban on the road. We were not injured, but they got very angry and they kicked us out of the country”. I said, “well, I can imagine”. So I said, “where are you staying?” “Oh no. We are coming from Baghdad, and we are going back. I mean, it’s six hours. Six hours from Baghdad and going back. I’ve always had the utmost respect for the British, because they’re the toughest travellers ever. It was really tough. So I said, “Okay, let me lead you around. And I showed them the Adad Gate. And I told them, “Look, this will be an archaeological park. You will go from the Adad Gate and reach Tell Kuyunjik. And you can visit this palace that you see here in our excavations” and so on.
And I was so proud to show for the first time that there was no real look at the time for an archaeological park, but somehow, I hope, I think they saw it and they [be]lieved it as it was completed somehow in spirit. That was a good start and this is what we are planning to do, actually. What somehow we think we know how to do, because we did it before, we will do it on a grander scale here. Challenges are greater, but probably satisfaction will even be greater for all sides. So, yes, we would like to have meaningful monuments connecting visitors with the ancient urban fabric. So how the city was organised should be apparent from this visit. So you should see the city walls, the city gate, the ancient roads, the buildings of various kinds. Then go to a seat of power on the Acropolis and go through the environment which is still very charming in spots, and also go through the community there. The villages there inside Kuyunjik are illegal, the village of Rahmaniyah, but at the same time, people are so open, so warm.
Well, I’d like to say something. There is a complete refusal, complete, of ISIS ideology, current in Mosul. They suffered too much. The reaction is even shockingly contrary to those absurd values. As far as I can say, 99% of the people are not only against, but actively against, that ideology. So we never felt unsafe at any time with local people in all conditions, whether in the souk, or in these villages, very poor villages, sometimes, but people are so warm, so hostful [hospitable]. And this, I think it’s important for people to know. Don’t think to Mosul as a dangerous place; it’s not dangerous. It’s a complicated, it’s a mess. I cannot deny that. But it’s full of people willing to improve their lot to build a future for themselves, for the city. You just need to go in the right direction, because it’s so easy with heritage to go in the wrong one and create lasting damage.
You’ve talked about how important it is to engage the local communities with this work on their heritage. Have you been able to share your results with them, in Arabic?
Ooh, this is a huge question, in this sense. The language of science is–I hope my fellow Italians or whoever will not get offended–is English. There is no other language in science than English if you want to communicate. Unfortunately, German is not read by most English speaking archaeologists. The same almost goes with French. So for us scientific publication is in English. And so I’m saying the same thing for Italian or for Arabic in science. Then of course, there is the other question you are telling me and this basically is instrumental.
Let me start from another example. We completed–it should be officially open by the Minister of Culture, Hassan Nadhem, in the next weeks–but we completed this November, a museum which was refurbished through European funds for a project called Eduu. There is a website: eduu.unibo.it [correct link is: https://site.unibo.it/eduu/en]. This museum belongs to the State Board. It’s a residence, the country residence of the second king of Iraq, king Ghazi. It’s a beautiful place in the governorate of Qadisiyah. Just at the border with the governorates of Hillah and Najaf, so in the open countryside. And within this villa, we opened the landscape Museum, so it’s called the King Ghazi Landscape Museum. The Eduu Project, one of the main aims was to reveal the history laying buried in the landscape, in the landscape of the south, in this case on the floodplain of the south, to the people. We wanted to connect the pupils in schools, inhabitants of villages with this buried history, which is their history. So we needed them to look with new eyes at their landscape. And I hope we succeeded, at least in part. And this museum is a physical testimony to this approach.
So there we made a huge effort. All the texts are in Arabic, of course, and in English. To explain this, but we created comics–you can download the comics, also from the Eduu website. Eduu is with E, D, U, U dot unibo (University of Bologna) dot I, T. You can download these comics which are only in Arabic, about the meaning of heritage. We just trying hard to disseminate what we research on in a modern way, in a popular way, in an accessible way for the local communities, which are, of course, our first stakeholders what we have in mind when we do his work. And we did a lot of training in the schools. We are now starting to do the same in Mosul. We are trying to get some special support for this, because we are taking care of so many issues. Building the roof over the Adad Gate really drained a substantial part of our budget. I mean, I’m fine with this, I’m happy, but you must have some priorities. And to do this work in the Mosul community.
We are just starting and we will probably need some special support. We are asking to some private foundations also some support to be effective in this field as well, because our research budget is okay for research, but we need more to do this kind of interventions. But yes, I’m very glad you asked about this, because that’s part of our approach. It’s something I really believe strongly in. I don’t see any future for a project unless you are rooted In the local community in the first place, and the national ones as well. We are also reading through a report we commissioned about how the site of Nineveh is perceived in local social media. Social media are so important in Iraq. I mean, everybody’s connected through Facebook and our social networks. And you have groups with 1000s of followers about antiquities, about traditional culture, architecture, and so on. You really need to understand what’s going on in this forum to understand the moods, the expectations, the idea of the people. You would say that now in Mosul–while in the south, we completed a three years project–just now here in Mosul, we are in the process of a need analysis. We need to understand better how is the situation: what’s going on? We are already trying to be very effective on the ground. But we are completing our phase of studying which are the demands of the local community, and we will try to meet them of course, this is why we are there in the first place.
Thank you very much. You’ve given us a lot to think about.
Thank you actually, because I’m very happy we had the conversation.
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