Iraq says goodbye to its beloved archaeologist al-Gailani

BAGHDAD (AP) – Iraq yesterday mourned the loss of Lamia al-Gailani, a beloved archaeologist who helped rebuild the Baghdad museum after it was looted following the 2003 US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.

Al-Gailani, who died in Amman, Jordan, last Friday at the age of 80, was one of Iraq’s first women to excavate the country’s archaeological heritage.

Relatives, colleagues, and cultural officials yesterday gathered at Baghdad’s National Museum, the country’s leading museum, to pay their respects before moving her remains to the Qadiriyyah mosque for prayers and later interment.

A devotee of her country’s heritage, al-Gailani lent her expertise to restore relics stolen from the museum for its reopening in 2015. She also championed a new antiquities museum for the city of Basra, which opened in 2016.

“She was very keen to communicate on the popular level and make archaeology accessible to ordinary people,” said her daughter, Noorah al-Gailani, who curates the Islamic civilisations collection at the Glasgow Museum in Scotland.

“It is a big loss, the passing of Dr Lamia al-Gailaini, who played a great role in the field of archaeology, even before 2003,” said Iraq’s Deputy Minister of Culture Qais Hussein Rashid.

The restored collection at the National Museum included hundreds of cylinder seals, the subject of al-Gailani’s 1977 dissertation at the University of London. These were engraved surfaces used to print cuneiform impressions and pictographic lore onto documents and surfaces in ancient Mesopotamia, now present-day Iraq.

Still, thousands of artefacts remain missing from the museum’s collection, and al-Gailani bore the grief of watching her country’s rich heritage suffer unfathomable levels of looting and destruction in the years after Saddam’s ouster.

Mourners transport the flag-draped coffin of Iraqi archaeologist Lamia al-Gailani, seen in the poster, for burial during her funeral procession in the National Museum in Baghdad, Iraq yesterday. – AP