Archaeologists urge Albania to protect underwater heritage

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This July, 2017 photo released from the RPM Nautical Foundation, shows a diver exploring Ionian sea bed near Karaburun peninsula, Albania. (AP)
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This July, 2017 photo released from the RPM Nautical Foundation, shows artefacts of a shipwreck strewn over the Ionian sea bed, near Karaburun peninsula, Albania. (AP)
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This June 29, 2018 photo released from the RPM Nautical Foundation, an image taken with high tech sonar and remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) shows a shipwreck lying on the Ionian sea bed in near Karaburun peninsula, Albania. (AP)
Updated 04 July 2018
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Archaeologists urge Albania to protect underwater heritage

TIRANA: Researchers are urging Albanian authorities to build a museum to display hundreds of Roman and Greek artifacts and ancient shipwrecks that are sitting under the country’s barely explored coastline.
Archaeologists at the Albanian Underwater Archaeology conference warned Tuesday that the wealth of underwater artifacts in the country’s southwestern seabed, near its border with Greece, could easily fall prey to looters or treasure hunters.
James Goold, chairman of the Florida-based RPM Nautical Foundation, said the objects — dating from the 8th century B.C. through to World War II — would be a great tourist attraction if properly displayed.
Goold’s RPM has mapped out the Ionian seabed from the Greek border all along to the Vlora Bay, finding at least 22 shipwrecks from the ancient times to World War II and hundreds of ancient amphorae. Those long, narrow terracotta vessels carried olive oil and wine along trade routes between North Africa and the Roman Empire, where Albania, then Illyria, was a crossroad.
“The time has come to build a museum for Albanian and foreign tourists,” said Albanian archaeologist Neritan Ceka.
Some amphorae may have already been looted — they are not infrequently seen decorating restaurants along the Albanian coastline.
Albania is trying to protect and capitalize on its rich underwater heritage, long neglected by its former communist regime, but preservation still receives scarce funding from the government in one of Europe’s poorest nations.
The arrival of RPM’s Hercules research vessel 11 years ago was “a real revolution,” Ceka said, praising its professional divers, high-tech sonar and remotely operated underwater vehicle.
RPM and a joint Albanian-Italian expedition are the only scientific underwater efforts in Albania so far, both with the government’s approval.
Now RPM believes it’s time for the not-for-profit Institute of Nautical Archaeology research organization, which is based in Texas, US, to explore the possibilities of excavating shipwrecks, a financially expensive and scientifically delicate process.
“There’s a special environment in Albania, because the coast has been so protected for so many years,” said INA’s David Ruff, a former commander of a nuclear-powered submarine.
Ruff said “one of the real gems of Albania is the Butrint site” — a UNESCO-protected ancient Greek and Roman site in southernmost Albania close to the Greek border.
He said INA’s Virazon II research vessel will stay for a month in Albanian waters “to understand the coast of Albania and if we can run a large-scale excavation here.”


Iraq says goodbye to its beloved archaeologist Al-Gailani

Updated 21 January 2019
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Iraq says goodbye to its beloved archaeologist Al-Gailani

  • Al-Gailani was one of Iraq’s first women to excavate the country’s archaeological heritage
  • After the US-led invasion, Al-Gailani continued to travel to Iraq, determined to rescue its heritage even as the country convulsed with war

BAGHDAD: Iraq on Monday 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, on 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 on Monday 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 civilizations 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 the 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.
“I wish it was a nightmare and I could wake up,” she told the BBC in 2015, when Daesh militants bulldozed relics at the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud near present-day Mosul.
Born in Baghdad in 1938, Al-Gailani studied at the University of Cambridge in Britain before finding work as a curator at the National Museum in 1960. It was her first job in archaeology, her daughter said.
She returned to Britain in 1970 to pursue advanced studies, and she made her home there. Still, she kept returning to her native country, connecting foreign academics with an Iraqi archaeological community that was struggling under the isolation of Saddam Hussein’s autocratic rule and the UN sanctions against him.
In 1999, she published “The First Arabs,” in Arabic, with the Iraqi archaeologist Salim Al-Alusi, on the earliest traces of Arab culture in Mesopotamia, in the 6th through 9th centuries.
She would bring copies of the book with her to Baghdad and sell them through a vendor on Mutanabbi Street, the literary heart of the capital, according to her daughter.
After the US-led invasion, Al-Gailani continued to travel to Iraq, determined to rescue its heritage even as the country convulsed with war.
At the time of her death, she was working with the Basra Museum to curate a new exhibit set to open in March, said Qahtan Al-Abeed, the museum director.
“She hand-picked the cylinder seals to display at the museum,” said Al-Abeed.