Rebuilding Iraq on the Cultural Front
Nancy Odegaard with
Arizona State Museum conservator and UA materials sciences professor Dr. Nancy Odegaard travelled to Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq in July 2010 as part of the Iraq Cultural Heritage Project (ICHP).
ICHP, launched in 2008 by the United States Department of State, aims to advance professional standards and practices among heritage and museum professionals in Iraq’s cultural institutions.
Odegaard and fellow conservator Scott Carrlee from Alaska State Museum served as guest instructors and consultants.
Odegaard and Carrlee’s program, held at the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation and Preservation of Antiquities and Heritage in Erbil, provided expert training and shared advanced knowledge on chemical laboratory procedures for the purpose of identifying art and archaeology objects. Their “students” were Iraqi cultural heritage professionals.
The intensive instruction was based on research and a text book, Materials Characterization Tests for Art and Archaeology, developed by Odegaard and Carrlee. Another of Odegaard’s books, A Guide to Handling Museum Collections, has been translated into Arabic and is widely distributed in the region.
“The efforts of the Iraq Cultural Heritage Project are of great importance to the United States as the rebuilding of Iraq continues,” Odegaard said. “This area is so rich in human history going back at least 6,000 years and Iraq’s collections are among the most important in the world. It behooves us all to do what we can to ensure the art and monuments of this region are curated and preserved to the highest possible standards. It is an honor to have played a part in this ongoing effort.”
Often called the Cradle of Civilization, the land now known as Iraq was once ancient Mesopotamia (“land between two rivers”), situated between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The Garden of Eden is said to have existed in this general vicinity. Civilizations first developed here more than six thousand years ago. Formidable and vibrant cultures such as Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians established some of the world’s first empires, cities, monumental architecture, and writing systems.
An heir to, and a caretaker of, its region’s cultural legacies, Iraq is said to have lost thousands of priceless objects and museum pieces over the past decade. Although specifically not targeted for bombing during the Iraq War, the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad was looted during the conflict. About half of its collections are still missing. The museum has been opened to the public only once this decade, on February 23, 2009, for just one day. Twelve countries and the United Nations are assisting with the museum’s renovations and building expansions.
More about the Iraq Cultural Heritage Project can be found at http://exchanges.state.gov/heritage/iraq.html
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