Monday, 18 May 2015

Help us get #Hague1954 ratified in the UK!

Following the UK General Election on 8 May, BISI is supporting UK Blue Shield's new campaign to persuade Parliament to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention as soon as possible.

It's been a long slog: every government agrees in principle but none gets around to putting it into practice. Let's make it happen now!

Please get involved by writing to your recently (re-)elected MP asking them to take up ratification at the earliest possible opportunity.

Here is a draft letter that you can simply send to your MP, or that can be adapted as necessary, and a list of bullet points if you would prefer to write your own letter. They were drafted by Professor Peter Stone, the Chair of UK Blue Shield.

If you do not know the name of your MP or how to contact them, you can find their details on the UK Parliament website. If you would like to write to your local newspaper that would be wonderful as well.

To help us keep track of the campaign, please tell us when you write to your MP, or your local press, by:

  • Leaving a comment below this post;
  • Leaving a comment on the UK Blue Shield's Facebook page
  • Or, if you use Twitter, sending a tweet to @UKBlueShield with hashtag #Hague1954 — and tweet to your followers too!

Please also encourage anyone you know to write to their MP. Use Twitter (#Hague1954), Facebook, email, good old-fashioned letters — whatever it it takes to tell our elected representatives why this matters so much.

Sample letter to your MP

Dear [MP'S NAME]

1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols of 1954 and 1999

May I congratulate you on your recent election and ask that you take action on a very topical and urgent matter.

The Hague Convention is the primary piece of International Humanitarian Law concerning the protection of cultural heritage during conflict. While the world reacts in horror to the appalling destruction of ancient sites, libraries, archives, and museums in the Middle East and Africa the UK remains the only Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council, and arguably the most significant military power (and the only one with extensive military involvements abroad), not to have ratified the 1954 Hague Convention.

Following the catastrophic damage to libraries, archives, museums, and archaeological sites in Iraq after the 2003 US/UK led invasion the then Minister for Heritage, Andrew McIntosh, announced in 2004 the Government’s intention to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention as soon as Parliamentary business allowed. This claim has been repeated by every relevant Minister since. In November 2011, Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, then Secretary of State at DCMS, made a joint UK Government and British Red Cross Society pledge “to make every effort to facilitate the UK’s ratification… and to promote understanding of the principles and rules of the Convention within the UK”.

Ratification has cross-Party support and the support of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; the Department for Overseas Development; and the Ministry of Defence.

In order to ratify the Convention national legislation has to be passed. A Draft Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill was scrutinised by DCMS Select Committee in the summer of 2008. The draft Bill required only minor modifications but no time was found for it in the next session. Despite constant requests, no time has been found since.

I ask you to urge the Government to take prompt and urgent action to ratify the Convention within the first session of this new Parliament.

Yours sincerely,

[Your name and address]

The UK and the Hague Convention – key points

  • Following the appalling destruction of cultural property during the Second World War the international community came together in 1954 and produced The Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. As the result of concerns raised by the USA and other countries some parts of the Convention were removed and published as a 1954 Protocol to the Convention.
  • Mainly as the result of the fighting in the former Yugoslavia a 2nd Protocol was produced in 1999. It identified the Blue Shield as an international NGO Advisory Body to the UNESCO Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property In the event of Armed Conflict.
  • In 2003, when they led the Coalition that invaded Iraq, neither the USA nor the UK had ratified the Convention or its Protocols. The USA ratified the Convention, but not the Protocols, in 2009. The UK is now arguably the most significant military power (and the only one with extensive military involvements abroad) not to have ratified the 1954 Hague Convention.
  • In 2004 the then Minister for Heritage, Andrew McIntosh, announced the Government’s intention to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention as soon as Parliamentary business allowed.
  • In the summer of 2008 a Draft Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill was scrutinised by DCMS Select Committee. There were very few changes required but the Draft Bill was not given a slot in the next session.
  • In 2009 Barbara Follett MP, then Minister of Heritage, reiterated that HMG was committed to “ratification at the earliest possible opportunity”.
  • In 2010, written evidence was submitted to the Iraq Inquiry by the UK National Commission for UNESCO (UKNC) and twelve other cultural organisations. It is understood that the Inquiry will recommend immediate ratification when, and if, it reports.
  • In 2011 Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications & Creative Industries at DCMS, reconfirmed that HMG was committed to ratification “at the earliest possible opportunity”.
  • In November 2011, Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, then Secretary of State at DCMS, made a joint UK Government and British Red Cross Society pledge “to make every effort to facilitate the UK’s ratification… and to promote understanding of the principles and rules of the Convention within the UK”.
  • Ratification has the support of the Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Labour parties; it is supported by DCMS, MoD, DFID, and FCO. The Armed Forces have acknowledged the value of trying to protect cultural property during deployment as a ‘force multiplier’ – something that makes their job easier. They attempt to work within the ‘spirit of the Convention’ and relations between the Armed Forces and the UK National Committee for the Blue Shield (UKBS) are becoming clearer and more helpful.
  • On 20 Jan 2014 Ed Vaizey MP wrote to the UKNC and UKBS reiterating that ratification is a Government “priority” and that HMG “remains committed” to ratification “as soon as Parliamentary time allows”.
  • On 21 Jan 2014, DCMS wrote to UKNC/UKBS stating that “the Cabinet Committee has not been able to grant drafting authority for the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill to be offered as a Government hand-out bill in the 2014-15 Parliamentary session. My understanding is that this means it will now unfortunately not be possible to take forward a Government-initiated measure to ratify the Hague Convention in the remaining time available to this Parliament.”

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Teaching Geoarchaeology in Erbil

Teaching Geoarchaeology in Erbil 

From 15-17 February 2015, BISI Trustee Dr Mark Altaweel was invited by World Monuments Fund to guest teach a short course on the use of geoarchaeology in Erbil to a group of 12 Iraqis from southern Iraq and the Kurdish region. The participants were Iraqis who are working in archaeology, such as the Kurdish Regional Government of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, or have some experience. The intent of the class was to cover how geoarchaeology can be used for site conservation as well as for making new discoveries. The course consisted of 15 hours of talks, discussion, a practical site visit at a site near Erbil, and presentations by the participants.

Dr Mark Altaweel has been a trustee of BISI since 2012. He is a Lecturer in Near Eastern Archaeology at UCL 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Tracing the Emergence of Social Complexity in Southern Mesopotamia


Photo: Dr Claudia Glatz

In 2014 Dr Claudia Glatz received BISI's annual Pilot Project Grant. Here you can read Dr Glatz's report on her research, exploring the emergence of social complexity in southern Mesopotamia during the period c.7000-3000BC. 

BISI's Pilot Project Grant scheme is designed to support a short period of preliminary research - up to one year - that has the potential to grown into a longer-term, larger-scale project supported by a Research Council or other large funding body. Amount £8,000, annual deadline 1 February. 

The second field-season of the Sirwan Regional Project (SRP) took place in late May/early June 2014 with a team composed of Dr Claudia Glatz (University of Glasgow), Dr Jesse Casana (University of Arkansas), Dr Kathleen Nicholl (University of Utah) as well as Glasgow and Arkansas postgraduate students. Partly funded by a BISI Pilot Project Grant, one of the main objectives for this season was to investigate the Sirwan/Upper Diyala River Valley’s prehistoric landscapes and settlements in order to begin to address questions about the development and expansion of early complex societies in the Mesopotamian-Zagros interface. 

   SRP’s research region comprises ca. 4,000km2 and stretches from the Qara Dagh Massif in the north to the plains surrounding the town of Kalar in the south. This landscape, dissected by the course of the Sirwan/Upper Diyala River, presents a transitional cultural and environmental zone that connects the piedmont and uplands of the western Zagros Range to the north and east with the alluvial plains and marshlands of Mesopotamia to the south. The region today is home to a variety of agricultural traditions, including rain-fed dry-farming more common in the north and intensive irrigation more typical in the south. The river also presents an important communication corridor, whose north-south course connects the fertile Sharezor high-plateau with southern Mesopotamia. Branching off from the river valley are two further important routes that lead north to the Upper Mesopotamian plains and east into the Iranian highlands and ultimately into Central Asia. As a result of its strategic location, the Sirwan region offers a unique topographic, environmental and geopolitical laboratory for the investigation of highland-lowland relationships, which underwrite many of the key themes in the region’s occupation history.

   During an initial field season in May 2013, we recorded several promising sites, which have yielded ceramic evidence suggesting they represent a series of relatively short-lived settlements occupied successively in the Hassuna, Halaf, Ubaid and Uruk periods (c. 7000-3000 BC). Each of these sites, all within a 2km radius of one another and situated in the fertile, spring-fed Sozboluq area south-east of the town of Kalar, is an extensive low mound with little occupational overburden from later periods. The aim for 2014 was to explore this rare window into prehistoric settlement using a combination of surface survey, geophysical prospection and test-excavations. 

Photo: Dr Claudia Glatz 
 In 2014, we carried out extensive magnetic gradiometry surveys at three of the four prehistoric sites: SRP 22, 28 and 36. SRP 36 yielded the most promising magnetometry results, which suggested the presence of a multi-roomed building near the top of this ca. 1 ha low-mound. A 1x4m sounding was excavated to investigate a burnt feature at the centre of the structure and in order to collect samples for radiometric dating and stratified artefactual and environmental samples. The trench revealed a circular mud-brick feature, an ashy pit covered with broken pottery and what appear to be several consecutive hearths. The majority of the pottery from the site appears to be proto-Hassuna to Hassuna in date. The analysis of the pottery and lithic assemblages, archaeobotanical, zooarchaeological/isotopic is currently in progress. Several attempts to radiocarbon date charcoal and bone samples as well as two charred pulses were unsuccessful, most likely due to the acidic soil at SRP 36. Further bone samples have been selected and will be submitted to SUERC in due course. 

   At SRP 22 and 28 magnetic surveys revealed small rectilinear buildings, which we plan to investigate through test excavations in future seasons. A multi-period site (SRP 46), whose main occupation appears to date to the mid-late second millennium BC, was also investigated in this manner.  

    In tandem with these site-based invitations, we continued our regional survey, adding ca. 40 new sites, a large number of which range in date between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age. We also recorded a series of large multi-period mounds, Sassanid and later villages as well as special purpose sites such as irrigation and water-management systems. A preliminary geomorphological survey of the area was also carried out and modern environmental samples collected in order to begin to build a geochemical framework for future isotope analyses of archaeological samples. 

   To sum up, we are very pleased with the outcome of the 2014 season, which has yielded important results, both with respect to the development and execution of our multi-scalar field methodology and with regards to the archaeological results this approach has produced. This includes a large number of prehistoric and Bronze Age sites that allow us to begin to address fundamental questions of highland-lowland interaction on the one hand, and investigate the region’s pathway(s) towards social complexity on the other. 

   Encouraged by the 2014 results, we plan to continue and expand our work in the Sirwan River Valley in August 2015. This will include a continued focus on the southern plains and their rich archaeological record as well as a more intensive and systematic investigation of the northern part of our survey region. A short visit on the last day of the 2014 field season revealed several previously undocumented mounds near the Darband-i-Balula rock relief, while numerous caves and rock-shelters also await exploration in this part of the survey area.

   I would like to take this opportunity to thank BISI for supporting this research. 

Dr Claudia Glatz
University of Glasgow

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Nimrud, from Mound to Museum

As I mentioned in January, BISI is a project partner in an AHRC-funded research project that I'm currently working on with Ruth Horry, Jon Taylor, and Steve Tinney. It's got the possibly over-long title, "Materialities of Assyrian Knowledge Production: Object Biographies of Inscribed Artefacts from Nimrud for Museums and Mobiles" and its basic aim is this:

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? How have the processes of making archaeological knowledge changed over the past two centuries? This project tackles those questions using objects excavated from the ancient city of Nimrud (Kalhu), capital of the Assyrian empire in the early first millennium BC.

The project aims to bring together as many as possible existing online resources on Nimrud, as well as creating substantial new interpretative content, designed and licensed for re-use by museums in mobile gallery guides. We're also hosting several related events throughout 2013.

The first of these was held yesterday at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. "Nimrud, from Mound to Museum: Making Knowledge from Archaeological Objects" brought 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 city from the 1850s onwards. I have just finished putting together my live-tweets from the event on Storify to make a short summary of the five talks.

We made some great contacts for future Nimrud-related work, and collected a plethora of brilliant raw material for the Nimrud-related resources we're going to be developing on the project website over the coming months.

Thanks to everyone involved in the day: our six uniformly excellent speakers—Joan Oates, Julian Reade, Denise Ling, Kathleen Swales, Paul Collins, and Lamia Al-Gailani—and the engaged and thoughtful audience; Paul Collins (again) for organising the Ashmolean end, Lauren Mulvee for BISI, and fellow-project members Jon, Ruth and Steve.

The next Nimrud-related event we have planned is a free gallery talk I'll be giving on Wednesday 19 June 2013, 1.15-2.00 pm, at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge: "The Genies on the Stairs: who are they and how did they get here?" Not telling you now, you'll have to come along and find out!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Meeting Gilgamesh

I'm back home in Cambridgeshire now, filling the washing machine and petting the cat. There are still more Iraq posts to come over the next few days, but meanwhile you can read about what I got up to on Monday and Tuesday this week thanks to Jane Moon, blogging about the Ur Region Archaeological Project, which she co-directs. You'll have to read her if you want to make sense of the title of this post!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Baghdad street scenes

Sunday 7 April

Saad very kindly lent me his car and driving team to take me from INLA to the Iraq Museum and then back to the British Embassy. Here are some shots taken from the car window as we crawled through traffic.

There's surprisingly little construction in Baghdad still (outside the INLA compound), presumably because corruption and insecurity make the costs and risks too high. So the city still looks very war-torn, ten years on, but there's a huge amount of small-to-large-scale enterprise in evidence.

Note the new red double-deckers, which arrived 5 or 6 months ago. (They were quite a feature of pre-war Baghdad too.)

Lots of delicious-looking street food for sale:

A public monument (covered in heritage images), mosque and the railway terminus, all by the Iraq Museum, which is adjacent to a furniture-making quarter. (Traffic was much lighter here, so my photo isn't great.)

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Memory, identity and grassroots democracy at the Iraqi National Library and Archive

Sunday 7 April

(Updated with a few more images on 10 April)

Without memory, how can we know who we are? This is the question that drives Dr Saad Eskander, LSE-trained historian and, since 2003, Director of the Iraqi National Library and Archives.Saad talks passionately of the imperative to locate, preserve and digitise as much as possible of Iraq's documentation so that history will not just remember the oppressors but also the oppressed.

But Saad does not just talk: for the past decade he has also been putting those words into action in many different ways. The books lining his elegant office were once owned by the Iraqi royal family and then passed into the hands of Saddam Hussein. The glamour of their bindings reminds me a little of King George's Library at the British Library. But conspicuous amongst them are a much tattier pile of books lying on their sides, in clear need of rebinding and conservation. These are an important national collection too but had been long neglected because they are written in Hebrew, not Arabic. It's Saad's mission to safeguard all of Iraq's written heritage, whatever its origins.

He takes me on a whistlestop tour of the departments, sleeves rolled up and coffee mug in hand. In one large office, staff are digitising microfilms of state records; in another they are scanning the personal files of those executed or exiled by the Baathists: Jews, Iranians, political dissidents, anyone thought to be a trouble-maker. The dictatorship's passion for bureaucracy at least means that the oppressed have not disappeared entirely without trace. There is at least a little comfort in that thought, and much poignancy in the forlorn photos looking up at us.

A third suite of labs and offices is devoted to the restoration and digitisation of Ottoman court records. They are horribly mouldy, so are stored in freezers before being disinfected, cleaned, flattened and dried. Then they are mounted into books of Japanese paper and scanned. There are Monarch-period documents on the drying racks too. It's this team who trained Mr Kamal's conservation lab in Kerbala.

Another office, another preservation exercise. This team is processing Mandate-period records. I pick one up from the top of the nearest pile; it is a handwritten telegraph despatch asking the reason for the imprisonment of a certain local sheikh. A detailed reply is on the next sheet down. Maps and photographs are stored in a separate office. By and large they need less conservation work.

Digitisation equipment has also just arrived for the Sound of Iraq project, which BISI has helped to fund along with the British Library. The BL have been training sound technicians to transfer vinyl and shellac records of traditional Iraqi music and poetry to digital media. However, INLA hasn't abandoned traditional media altogether; some documents are still being photographed onto film as well as being scanned.

There's a huge foundation pit within the INLA compound, which will before long become a four-storey digital library. A recently completed archive building will house the ongoing digitisation work and receive visiting researchers. But the aim is to put all of the material online too, so that it can be accessed free from anywhere in the world.

The library, which is currently full, will then expand to gradually fill the existing building. As a copyright deposit library, it has a right to a copy of every book and periodical published in Iraq. It also publishes three or four journals of its own and runs an exchange programme with institutions in other countries. The library catalogue is online, and the reading room welcomed over 20,000 visitors last year. A dedicated children's library has just been built and is currently acquiring its first stock of books (below).

All this activity, and it's not even 9am yet! Saad knows all his employees by name, because he has hired them all personally and takes a close interest in their welfare and personal development. There are two nurseries onsite, as well as a canteen. The majority of the technical staff are women (Sunni and Shi'a, Arab and Kurd) and Saad urges them to be independent, critical thinkers--at home, as well as at work. The staff themselves hold annual elections to choose departmental heads, and selected Saad's own office team from amongst themselves.

INLA also puts on cultural performances and exhibitions. Most movingly, Saad has just received a large white box in his office, which he opens once our tour is over. Inside are all the original artworks from the international anthology, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, put together in commemoration of the bombing of the Baghdad booksellers' market in 2007, and which has also toured as a performance and exhibition. Soon it will return to the street which inspired it, which Saad tells me is now thriving again.