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Heritage Heroes

Leonard Woolley 1880-1960

Sir Leonard Woolley (standing) at Ur, together with Agatha Christie and her husband Sir Max Mallowan

Sir Charles Leonard Woolley was one of the first ‘modern’ archaeologists, who excavated in a methodical way, keeping careful records, and using them to reconstruct ancient life and history. His approach was essentially that of an architect rather than an art-historian, and he paid careful attention to how buildings were constructed, used, and then decayed. He was therefore able to unravel the complicated sequences of occupation at Ur and other places, whereas many of his predecessors (and indeed contemporaries) searched for interesting objects without much regard for their contexts, rendering them of far less research value.

Woolley worked previously at Carchemish, in northern Syria with T.E. Lawrence, from 1912-14. His very able foreman, Hammoudi, travelled to work with him at Ur. After 1935 Woolley conducted excavations at Alalakh, in southern Turkey, interrupted by the War, until 1949. He devoted the rest of his life to writing up his results from Ur, which appeared in ten volumes, still essential reading today. Notorious for his energy and very hard work – he expected the same of his team – he was knighted in1935 for his services to archaeology.

Fuad Safar 1911-1978

Professor Fuad Safar was one of the first Iraqis to gain a higher degree in archaeology, and to lead scientific excavations. Born and educated in Mosul, he studied for his MA at the Oriental Institute in Chicago, returning to Iraq in 1938. He established, with others, the Department of Archaeology at the Faculty of Arts, University of Baghdad, in 1951, and in 1958 became Director General of Antiquities.

Some of the most significant discoveries of 20th century archaeology in Iraq were made under Fuad’s direction. These include the extraordinary sequence of temples ar Eridu, reaching back to the ‘Ubaid period; the unique Uruk period painted temple at ‘Uqair, and Tell Hassuna, which took the history of agriculture back to the 6thmillennium BC. He also discovered the Assyrian aqueduct of Sennacherib at Jerwan, worked on the ‘Ummayad palace at Wasit, and later on the Parthian city of Hatra.

Fuad was renowned for the generosity with which he shared his knowledge and experience, and several of the achievements listed above were collaborations with others, such as Seton Lloyd and Muhammed Ali Mustafa. Under the Ba’ath regime his activities and communications suffered from restrictions, yet he continued to serve Iraqi archaeology until the very day of his death in a car accident, on his way to advise on the rescue excavations of the Hamrin dam project.

Gertrude Bell 1868-1926

It is hard to describe Gertrude Bell’s profession in the singular, as she was successful in many different spheres. Born in northern England, she travelled in the Middle East, exploring, learning Arabic, and writing about her activities. Keenly interested in the archaeology of Mesopotamia, she was the first to record the great desert fortress of Ukhaidhir, and was friends with the German excavators of Babylon and Assur, as well as with T.E. Lawrence and Leonard Woolley.

Today Gertrude Bell is mainly remembered for her political work for the British government during the creation of the state of Iraq, but it was she who set out the Antiquities Law and founded the Iraq Museum, ensuring that the best finds from Ur were among its first exhibits. It was an uphill struggle, and the exertions claimed her life at the age of 57. She is buried in Baghdad, where her tomb is today privately maintained by a young Iraqi admirer of her achievements.