by Khalid al-Taie
The Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities on Monday (February
18th) announced it has authorised six foreign teams to start
archaeological excavations at a number of ancient sites.
"As part of its work programme for the current year, the ministry has
reached agreements with six archaeological teams from Italy, the United
Kingdom and the Czech Republic," Hakim al-Shammary, director of the
tourism minister's media office, told Mawtani.
The teams will begin excavations at a number of sites, particularly in the south, he said.
"Among the sites to be excavated are ancient hills such as Tal Abu
Tuwaira in the city of al-Nasiriya, Tal al-Baqarat in al-Kut and Tal Abu
Shathar in Maysan province, as well as other sites in al-Dalmaj
marshes," he said.
Iraqi archaeologists and excavators will work alongside these teams
to acquire additional skills, using advanced equipment to salvage relics
and identify historical periods, and learning how to preserve the
pieces, al-Shammary said.
"The return of foreign archaeology teams to the country, as a result
of the stable security situation, will give great momentum to ministry
efforts and plans for the excavation of archaeological treasures," he
Geographic surveys indicate that more than 40,000 archaeological
sites throughout Iraq have yet to be excavated and studied, al-Shammary
The ministry hopes to increase the number of foreign excavation
teams, not only so they can support officials through excavation, "but
also to help us undertake the special projects of maintaining and
rehabilitating archaeological and heritage sites, with their expertise
and advanced technologies", he said.
New agreements with these teams "come as part of the ministry's
opening up to all the countries that in the past worked alongside Iraq
to return stolen pieces" and helped safeguard the country's
archaeological treasures and maintain and develop its museums, said
Abbas al-Quraishi, director of the ministry's artefact recovery
"Italy, the United States and the United Kingdom were among the first
countries to send archaeological teams to Iraq, and helped enrol many
Iraqi excavators and archaeologists in training courses to develop their
skills," he told Mawtani.
"We look forward to increasing their presence on our various archaeological projects," he said.
Al-Quraishi said local excavation teams today "have considerable
skills in the search and extraction of archaeological pieces, and were
able in the past to uncover numerous relics at various sites."
One of their most important discoveries involve finding the oldest
church in Iraq, whose construction dates to about 120 years before the
appearance of Islam, at al-Uqaiser archaeological site in Karbala
province, he said.
Meanwhile, Hussein al-Sharifi, a member of parliament's tourism and
archaeology committee, told Mawtani it is important to give Iraqi
archaeologists the opportunity to take part in exploration and
maintenance courses outside the country.
"Local archaeological capacities, particularly those in the field of
excavation, are considered good," but offering Iraqis the opportunity to
train on world-class equipment and devices would be advantageous, he