Taking one of many unexpected opportunities, off to Nimrud to join David Oates’ excavation in 1962.
By Ali Khadr
Imagine you have just left school with a gap of nine months before taking up a place at
university. You have done a bit of digging, some of it rather cold and muddy, on Roman sites
in England, and you have got an offer to go to an excavation in Iraq to glue fragmented carved
ivories for three months or more. Keen for adventure, you say `Yes!’. But where is Iraq? What
kind of a dig is it?
That’s me, taking one of many unexpected opportunities, off to Nimrud to join David Oates’
excavation in 1962, to live in a shared army tent, a short walk from a splendid unisex loo
looking out over the citadel walls at glorious setting suns and ferocious thunderstorms; bath
once a week on Fridays in a tin tub followed by wonderful curry, a dish I had never experienced
before. Walks at dusk among a thousand croaking frogs. Not a house or a road in sight. The
substantial remains of the great North West Palace with its colossal winged bulls at the
entrances, and the (temple tower) dedicated to the war-god Ninurta, whose name is preserved
in a later form as Nimrod.
I loved it, despite working indoors all day with a resin-like glue of polyvinyl acetate – the
mixture has happy-making fumes. Occasionally I was allowed out to get up a ladder and clean
a section of Assyrian wall-painting. The ivories had intriguing designs that meant nothing to
me at the time. They were published in fine detail in several splendid volumes by several
colleagues during the next 50 years.
I became aware that unbaked clay tablets inscribed in cuneiform were being discovered, and
wondered why I had never learned at school that there was literature and administration in
writing before the Greeks, apart from the Egyptians. I had no premonition at the time, that I
would publish with a colleague, 22 years later, some of those cuneiform texts found during my
first experience of Iraq.
October 23, 2023
Annual General Meeting
May 3, 2022
The Trustees of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq were deeply saddened to hear of the death of Dr Abdulameer al-Hamdani on Friday April 29th in Nasiriyah, Iraq.
November 16, 2021
The British Institute for the Study of Iraq is interested in collecting your reminiscences and stories about growing up, living or working in Iraq in the period up to 1990.