Isis ‘cultural cleansing’ of Iraq thwarted by Manchester archaeologists’ discoveries

Attempts by Islamic State militants to ‘culturally cleanse’ Iraq continue to be thwarted by a team of Manchester University archaeologists, who have made new historical discoveries near the ancient city of Ur.

The Manchester team, who were one of the only two operating in non Kurdish Iraq, have returned from three months of fieldwork in the historically rich area.

While the archeologists were working in Iraq, Islamic State militants destroyed ruins at the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh.

Militants also reportedly bulldozed an Assyrian palace at Nimrud and the classical city of Hatra, about 70 miles south west of the Islamic State-held city of Mosul.

Despite this, the university archaeologists, who returned to southern Iraq in 2012, continued their work at Tell Khaiber – a region close to the ancient city of Ur, where Sir Leonard Woolley discovered the Royal Tombs in the 1920s.

Team directors, Professor Stuart Campbell, Dr Jane Moon and Dr Robert Killick, described their Iraqi colleagues as resourceful, innovative and resilient, even when working in such a hostile environment. 

“Everyone is quite rightly expressing outrage at the destruction in and around Mosul. The sad fact is, there is very little one can do to prevent deliberate vandalism by well-armed fanatics,” said Dr Moon.

“But if the militants think they can ‘erase history’ we are helping to make sure that can’t happen: it is the information that is important and not the objects. 

“Our project is actually doing something positive for the Iraqis, and that is appreciated.”

Hatra dates back 2,000 years to the Seleucid empire, which controlled a large portion of the ancient world conquered by Alexander the Great.

In the video below, militants can be seen destroying the ancient city using picks and sledgehammers.

Throughout their time working in there, the Manchester team discovered, among other things, 50 new documents, written in Babylonian.

Evidence for a scribal school operating at the settlement dating back to around 1500 BC was also gathered in the process.

The findings were in a public building the size of a football pitch, and of an exceptional format, believed to be an administrative complex serving a capital city of the Babylonian empire.

Professor Campbell said: “We found practice texts in the form of lists of exotic animals, and of precious stones, also evidence for the making and recycling of clay tablets.

“The whole complex dates to the ‘Dark Age’ following the fall of Babylon and the disintegration of Hammurabi’s empire. 

“For a time when this key area of Babylonia was thought to be de-urbanised and chaotic, we have evidence of sophisticated administrative mechanisms and large-scale distribution of grain and other commodities.” 

Before returning to the UK, Dr moon and his team deposited 300 new artefacts in the Iraq Museum.

A temporary exhibition in Baghdad was also set up by the team who also visited universities that teach, or are planning to teach, archaeology.

“What we can do is make new discoveries to be proud of and help our Iraqi colleagues and the rest of the world to understand and appreciate what the antiquities actually tells us,” added Dr Moon.

Image courtesy of United States Forces Iraq, with thanks.

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