The Regina Tombstone

Keeper of Archaeology, Alex Croom takes an in-depth look at the Regina Tombstone, on display at Arbeia South Shields Roman Fort.

This is the tombstone of Regina from the tribe of the Catuvellauni, freedwoman and wife of Barates from Palmyra. She came from southern England and he came from Syria and they ended up at South Shields. It is an expensive tombstone with a full-length portrait of Regina, whose face has unfortunately been chipped away. The sculptor probably came from Syria and he combines both Palmyrene and Romano-British elements in the tombstone.

Regina is shown within a niche decorated with architectural details. The use of a niche topped with a semi-circular shell is common on Romano-British tombstones but unknown at Palmyra. Here, however, the oval shape behind Regina’s head does not fill the top of the niche and is not carved with the ribs of a shell. This looks more like a nimbus, the cloud of light used to indicate gods and people of power. Here it perhaps indicates that as Regina was dead she was no longer human but part of the supernatural world.

Regina is wearing an underbodice and ground-length skirt with a shorter unbelted tunic over the top. This is not a Mediterranean Roman costume, but a provincial form of dress, and shows that not even rich women always adopted mainstream Roman fashions. The tombstone dates to the second half of the second century when wearing clothes held together by brooches was going out of fashion and new styles – such as this – were coming in. Regina also wears two bulky bracelets and a chain round her neck. They are all decorated with a herringbone design, which can be paralleled on Palmyrene tombstones, and does not necessarily reflect the designs of jewellery Regina herself wore.

Regina is sitting in a high-backed wicker chair. This is a common item of Roman furniture, mainly associated with women; men were expected to prefer less comfortable seats such as stools and benches. The back of this type of chair usually curved round to the front, which is represented here by the curved line at the top. The weave of the wicker is typically represented in vertical lines and not radiating out from the centre as here, which may be a Palmyrene convention.

In her lap she holds the equipment needed for spinning thread. The distaff is the rod at the back with a round mass of unspun wool tied onto it, and the spindle is the more oval shape underneath it, with wavy lines depicting the spun thread wrapped round it. In the Roman world spinning was carried out almost exclusively by women, and the distaff and spindle were therefore a symbol of womanly virtue and domestic skills. They are included on the tombstone to show she was a good woman and dutiful wife.

The basket beside her chair contains balls of wool. It is possible that in real life as soon as Regina became the mistress of the house she stopped spinning thread herself and left it to her own slave or slaves to do. The slaves were given a certain weight of wool to be spun in a day and had to finish it all, however long it took them.

Regina uses one hand to lift the lid of a box. It has brass plates on the corners and a decorative crescent on the front and is raised on legs. It also has a prominent lock to indicate it was used to hold valuables such as jewellery and money. As with the size of the tombstone itself, Barates is here advertising his wealth.

Barates came from Palmyra, in modern Syria. This was a large imposing city, very far removed from a minor military fort with small associated civilian settlement such as South Shields. Even Regina, from the more Romanized south, would have found life different here. The name ‘Palmyra’ was originally Greek which is why it contains a letter Y, not generally used in the Latin alphabet.

This is part of the word ‘Catvallavna’ on the bottom line of the Roman inscription. The sculptor made a mistake here and originally wrote an ‘O’ which he removed and replaced with the letters ‘TV’. This is a surprising correction, as spelling was quite fluid in the Roman period. Latin was possibly a third language for the sculptor, who probably also spoke Palmyrene and Greek.

This is a line of Palmyrene Aramaic. It is carved more confidently than the Latin, and suggests the stone-mason was also Syrian. It translates as ‘Regina, freedwoman of Barate, alas!’ (note the different spelling of his name). Although this seems more personal than the factual Latin text, this is a common formula on tombstones in Palmyra. In the Palmyrene inscription Regina is simply called ‘freedwoman’ rather than ‘wife’.

Images courtesy of Colin Davison

As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the amazing service that we do and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us through this difficult period by donating by text today. Text TWAM 3 to give £3, TWAM 5 to give £5 or TWAM 10 to give £10 to 70085. Texts cost your donation plus one standard message rate. Thank you.

The Story of the Headhunters

Last month, we looked at the remarkable Samurai armour that went on display for the Other Worlds: Art of Atomhawk exhibition. Today, I’m going to be investigating another object from this exhibition as well as two others from the World Cultures gallery. They’re three very different, beautiful pieces of material culture from three distinct groups of people in Asia, but they all have one thing in common: each object was made by  a group of people who practised headhunting.

Headhunting is the custom of taking and preserving a human head after killing the person. While this may seem a gruesome action to many of us today, headhunting has been practised by many different peoples throughout history. It has been the subject of various studies, where scholars have tried to interpret its role within societies. What has often been found is that headhunting had ritual and ceremony as its core functions, themes of which we’re about to explore.

Firstly, let’s go back to the Atomhawk exhibition to see one of the objects on display- a ceremonial hat from the Naga people. 

NEWHM : D193 – Naga hat, Atomhawk exhibition

These hats are extremely eye catching, often embellished with boar tusks, feathers and goat hair to evoke the power and courage of the animals in their environment.

Location of the Naga peoples, north-eastern India/north-western Myanmar

The Naga are a group of peoples who live in north-eastern India and north-western Myanmar, and they were well known for headhunting. They didn’t take heads merely to wage war though- the Naga believed that human skulls possessed a life force that could ensure the prosperity of a tribal clan and their crops and animals.  According to Naga belief, the human soul is divided into two- the mio (spiritual aspect) and the yaha (the animated aspect).  When a Naga person dies, it was thought that the yaha goes on to the land of the dead but the mio remains in the village. It was this mio that led to the property and fertility of a village.  The Naga people believed that the mio resided in the head, and so by taking a head the “spirit reservoir” of their village would be topped up.  A successful headhunt by a Naga man wouldn’t just bring success to his village.  The man himself would also acquire significant prestige and even make him a suitable husband.

During the 20th century, most of the Naga people converted to Christianity and the ritual of headhunting became obsolete.  Along with Christian celebrations, many different tribal festivals are still celebrated. It’s during these gatherings that the traditional dress of the Naga people is often worn including the vibrant red headgear.

The Naga people today wearing the ceremonial warrior’s hat

The Naga people had a definite spiritual dimension to their headhunting, but there was also a certain element of prestige attached to the act of taking a head, and for a young Naga man it may well have been an important rite of passage.  It appears to be a similar story for the people of Nias Island.

Nias Island, off the coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia

On display in the World Cultures gallery is a large wooden shield that was made by the Nias people. Known as a baluse, it has a large imposing size and a shape that was said to allude to a head of a crocodile – an animal that would instil both fear and awe.

NEWHM : D479 – Baluse shield, GNM: Hancock

The baluse would have been used both for ritual performances and for battle. Centuries ago, the people of Nias lived in a state of conflict, either defending themselves against slave raiders or engaging in inter-tribal warfare. Young men were brought up to become fierce warriors. Alongside warfare, headhunting was also prevalent in Nias society. The act of taking a head was very important and symbolic for the islanders.  A young warrior would need to bring a head back to the village before being allowed to marry or sit in on the village council. The more heads a warrior took in battle, the higher his status in Nias society became. And like the Naga, the people of Nias believed that captured heads would bring protective forces to the village.

This theme of community safeguarding can be seen in the headhunting activities of a third group of people, the Ibans of Borneo.

Location of the Iban people, Sarawak, Borneo

At first glance, the beautiful kenyalang on display in the World Cultures gallery would not suggest any links with headhunting. Kenyalang are carvings of rhinoceros hornbills, a large bird that could be found in the rainforests of Borneo.

They were created and carved by the Iban people, who like the Naga and Nias peoples, used to practise headhunting. The kenyalang would be used in special ceremonies that called upon supernatural entities for help to ensure success during a future raid. Hornbill carvings like the one on display in the GNM would be mounted on top of a tree trunk and pointed towards an enemy.  The spirit of the hornbill would be encouraged by the Iban to fly over and enter the spiritual domain of the targeted community and destroy its will. It was literally a threatening notice to a specific enemy. The effigy of a rhinoceros hornbill was used as this bird was a powerful flyer within the rainforest. The act of taking a head for the Iban came with a heavy responsibility. They believed that the soul of the head would watch over the household that it graced. The Iban also believed that the spiritual power that came from the head was directly related to the character of the man it was taken from , and so only the heads of enemy warriors were taken in battle.

So there we have it.  Three different objects, but some of the stories that lie within them are all about headhunting. The collection of human heads for these peoples were not merely seen as trophies or spoils of war. It is evident that the practise was incorporated into a system of complex beliefs associated with spiritual power and protection and was often an important rite of passage for young men. The rise of Christianity in Asia and the conversion of many of the Naga, Nias and Iban peoples meant that headhunting declined and finally ended in the 20th century. However, as we can see, their stories can still be found within some of the objects on display in the GNM.

John Collingwood Bruce – A Victorian Champion of Hadrian’s Wall and more…

In my role as Librarian at the Great North Museum: Hancock Library I regularly come across the name of John Collingwood Bruce (1805 – 1892). I decided to investigate his story, which provides a fascinating tale of Newcastle man whose life spanned the majority of the 19th century. This is what I found.  

Bruce played a pivotal role in popularising the study and appreciation of Hadrian’s Wall. He did this by producing a series of books on the subject that are still in print and establishing a series of Pilgrimages to the Wall that continue to take place every ten years, the most recent occurring in 2019.    

Portrait of John Collingwood Bruce

He was the eldest son of John Bruce of Newcastle and was educated at St. Percy Street Academy, a school in Newcastle kept by his father. He graduated as an M.A. from Glasgow University in 1826. In early life he studied to be a Presbyterian ministerbut instead decided to assist in the management of his father’s school of which he became sole proprietor in 1834. He developed a lifelong, passionate interest in history which dated from his childhood and he joined the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1846 when he was 39.  He published a “Guide to the Castle of Newcastle Upon Tyne” in 1847.  

In 1848 Bruce had planned to visit Rome, but because of the political situation in that area he was unable to do this. Instead he decided to visit the more local Roman Wall. He was accompanied by his son Gainford, who was 14, and Charles and Henry Burdon Richardson, the latter the drawing master at his school. Henry was allocated the task of recording images of the Wall and he produced almost fifty sketches that were subsequently worked up into paintings.   

Drawing of the Roman Wall at Brunton

During November and December of 1848 Bruce volunteered to deliver a series of lectures based on his experiences of the journey along the Wall. These took place at the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society. Using the skills that he had developed as a teacher he included examples of actual stones from the Wall to provide evidence for his arguments. He also made available some of Richardson’s paintings to illustrate the lectures. The series proved to be a great success and galvanized local interest in the study of the Wall. In order to harness this enthusiasm Bruce invited participants to take part in the first Pilgrimage to the Wall to experience first-hand this remarkable historic monumentThis event took place between 25 June – 3 July 1849, with a core of 24 participants that included just three womenThe second Pilgrimage did not take place until 1886, but in total this event has now been organised thirteen times, latterly every ten years.  The most recent Pilgrimage took place in 2019 and was attended by more than 200 “pilgrims.”

Invitation to the First Pilgrimage

Bruce’s lectures formed the basis for his major work “The Roman Wall” which was published in 1851 and covered all aspects of the Wall in great detail Bruce was not a trained archaeologist, but rather an interpreter of other people’s work, for example the local historianJohn Horsley and John Hodgson. He also incorporated the results of recent survey work at the Wall by Henry MacLaughlan, who was funded by the Duke of Northumberland.  

As an interpreter Bruce had the advantage of being both a schoolteacher and a minister of religion. This enabled him to organise and present facts effectively and convince his readers of his point of view. The book was 472 pages long with numerous plates and illustrations taken from original Roman artefacts. It also included many lithographs of the contemporary state of specific locations which were the work of the previously mentioned Henry Burdon Richardson. The work was published on a subscription basis with many noted individuals providing their support, including the Duke of Northumberland.  The “Roman Wall” was well received both locally and nationally and served a key role in filling a gap in providing a comprehensive account of the Wall and simultaneously raising awareness of this historical landmark.   

Roman Wall Subscribers

The requirement for a publication about the Wall that was more portable and compact than the large and weighty 1851 publication was another challenge that was addressed by Bruce in his “Wallet Book of the Roman Wall” which was published in 1863. This provided a pocket-sized volume that a visitor could carry along the Wall to enhance and enrich their experience. Subsequent updates to this work were titled “Handbook to the Roman Wall” and this is still in print today, in its thirteenth edition.  Many noted experts on Roman Britain have edited the work including David Breeze, who was responsible for the most recent edition 

A lesser known aspect of Bruce’s life is his interest in Norman history and especially the Bayeux Tapestry. In July of 1851 during a short trip to Normandy Bruce conceived the idea of delivering some lectures on the Tapestry to the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society. He also decided that these should be illustrated by a full-size coloured facsimile of the Tapestry and the task of producing this fell to Bruce’s pupils at the Percy Street Academy. The work was drawn in pen and ink and coloured with watercolour on sheets of paper measuring 650mm high by 975mm wide, slightly larger than the original. The total length of the reproduction was between 75 and 80 metres.  

Bruce subsequently delivered the lectures in January and February of 1853 with sections of the facsimile on display. A boy held a pointer to indicate features, while Bruce spoke.  

The lectures formed the basis of Bruce’s book “The Bayeux Tapestry Elucidated” published in 1855, with 17 coloured plates.

Image from The Bayeux Tapestry Elucidated

The facsimile was exhibited in various parts of the country, and even in Le Havre in Normandy. It still exists today in storage as part of the Library of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, though now in poor condition. 

As a result of his publications, lectures, teaching and membership of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne, Bruce had established himself as a fondly regarded and respected member of not only academia, but also the wider local community. One example of this status is that he was used as a model for a figure in the oil painting “Building of the Roman Wall”, one of a famous series of paintings that are still displayed in the central hall at Wallington Hall. The well-known artist and poet William Bell Scott (1811 – 1890) who produced the image stated that The only portrait here is that of Dr Bruce, the historian of the Wall who gave me a setting for the profile near the middle of the picture, of one of the labourers on the Wall.”

The figure modelled on Bruce is shown glancing at the attacking Caledonian’s while engaged in the vital work of building the Wall. This is surely a fitting and historic reward for Bruce’s tireless work on researching and promoting the Roman Wall.  

Building of The Roman Wall Painting at Wallington

After a long, productive and celebrated life John Collingwood Bruce died after a brief illness on 5 April 1892. His funeral procession which was attended by the great and the good of the North East stretched for over a mile, from the Great North Road to Jesmond Old Cemetery where he was buried. As a permanent memorial a sculptured marble sarcophagus within St Nicholas’s Cathedral in Newcastle shows the carved figure of Bruce lying with his feet on a copy of his book on the Roman Wall.  

A fitting and well-deserved tribute indeed to a remarkable man 

If you are interested in finding out more about Bruce, a wonderful collection of the books and articles produced by him can be found in the Library of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne. This is located in the Great North Museum: Hancock Library which is free for all to use, although temporarily closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Further information can be found at 

I am grateful for the assistance to Howard Cleeve, of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne, for his support in the production of this articleespecially by providing his photographs of text from editions of the “Courant”.   

As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the amazing service that we do and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us through this difficult period by donating by text today. Text TWAM 3 to give £3, TWAM 5 to give £5 or TWAM 10 to give £10 to 70085. Texts cost your donation plus one standard message rate. Thank you.

John James Audubon and his Elephant visit the North of England in 1827

In the spring of 1827, an event took place in the north east of England that was a landmark in the related worlds of art and natural history. At this time the charismatic and larger than life wildlife artist and publisher John James Audubon was on a tour of the United Kingdom in order to raise subscriptions for his planned magnum opus “The Birds of America.” Newcastle and its surrounding area were one of his ports of call. 

Audubon was a self-taught artist and naturalist with a passionate interest in birds. For the last twenty years he had devoted his life to searching for and painting every species he could find in America. His ambition was to publish a lavishly illustrated book that would encompass this work, which ultimately achieved a status as the greatest of all bird-books and would become one of the most valuable books ever published.   

His plan was to produce a work funded on a subscription basis that would ultimately incorporate 435 hand coloured life size prints of birds measuring around 39 by 26 inches. This size is known as a double elephant folio. The book ultimately included a number of birds that have subsequently become extinct, including the passenger pigeon. In contrast to the prevailing stilted style of bird illustration his prints attempted to convey the movement, motion and physicality of his subjects, which he succeeded in doing with great verve and accomplishment.       

Subscribers were required to pay the large total sum of around $1000 for which they would obtain five prints at a time between the years of 1827 – 1838, They would receive five copper-engraved prints at a time consisting of three smaller birds, a larger bird and a mid-sized bird. It is thought that no more than 120 complete sets exist today. The book was originally published in Edinburgh and London. Audubon undertook an extended tour of Britain and Europe in order to attract the required number of subscribers, having failed to do this in America. He was the consummate showman at events, often targeted at scientific institutes, where he would display his original watercolours. He played up to the established image of an American backwoodsman, with his long flowing hair oiled with bear greaseluxuriant beard and a magnificent bear skin coat.  

One of the individuals who subscribed to Audubon’s work was Henry Witham of Durham, a landowner remembered as an amateur palaeontologist and mineralogist. The copy that he originally owned was sold at Sotheby’s in 2010 for £7.3 million pounds.  

One of Audubon’s heroes was Thomas Bewick (1753 – 1828), the famous naturalist and wood engraver who at the age of 73 was reaching the end of his long and illustrious life. While Audubon was in Newcastle in April 1827 two meetings took place between the two men. 

The artistic methods of the two were utterly different. Bewick avidly avoided the killing of birds for his works while Audubon shot them by the hundred. Also while Audubon insisted on elephantine proportions for his books, Bewick wrought in miniature. His woodblocks were inches in dimension but packed with intricate detail. 

The two artists got along famously during their brief time together and Bewick “expressed himself as perfectly astounded” at the boldness of Audubon’s undertaking. Audubon in his turn appreciated Bewick’s consummate engraving skills and his deep love of the natural world.  

The friendship had developed into a powerful bond. As Audubon recalled in his journal  

As we parted, he held my hand closely and repeated three times “God preserve you.  I looked at him in such a manner that I am sure he understood I could not speak. 

Audubon later named the Bewick’s Wren in honour of his old friend, a bird whose dimensions matched those of the engraver’s wood blocks.  

Bewick did not become a subscriber to Audubon’s work, perhaps fearing that he  would not live to see it completed. He did however put down his own name on behalf of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle Upon Tyne, but the learned society did not think it proper to ratify the contract. In retrospect a rather expensive error of judgement. 

While he was in the North East Audubon was also invited to visit the noted naturalist and ornithological illustrator Prideaux John Selby (1788 – 1867) at his home, Twizzell House, in Northumberland.  Selby corresponded with Bewick on the subject of ornithological etching.  

Selby had first met Audubon in Edinburgh where the American had demonstrated his artistic techniques to him. Selby was at that time engaged in producing his own noted two volume work “Illustrations of British Ornithology.” Selby’s book also utilised large format paper, though not on the scale of Audubon’s double elephant. It contains many striking images of land and water birds and though it has not achieved the fame of Audubon’s work it remains a considerable ornithological achievement.  

Audubon was warmly received at Twizzell and greatly enjoyed his stay, he included a delightful description of his visit in his journal. 

“At half past four, the coach stopped outside the lodge of Twizzell House. I left my baggage in the care of the woman at the lodge, and proceeded through some small woods towards the house…a fine house commanding an extensive view of the country, the German Ocean (the North Sea) and Bamburgh Castle 

He gave drawing lessons to Mrs Selby, who he noted “drew fully as well as I did, and is now imitating my style” 

Selby took out a subscription to Audubon’s work, but was to cancel it in 1832 because of issues with the quality of the prints he was receiving. 

After leaving the North East, Audubon did not return to this area, and continued with the gargantuan task of completing and publishing his monumental work, which took a huge toll on his health and wellbeingHis efforts were not in vain however as his “Birds of America” has now achieved legendary status and is considered to be one of the most charismatic and groundbreaking works of natural history ever published 

It is unfortunate that there is not a copy of this book available in the North East. However the Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN) Library, located in the Great North Museum: Hancock Library, has a high quality reproduction, and also other items produced by Audubon. It also has a comprehensive collection of first editions of the works of Thomas Bewickand also an original copy of Selby’s “Illustrations of British Ornithology”. The library is free to use for all. We hope it will reopen for visitors soon. 

The NHSN was established in 1829, only two years after Audubon visited Bewick and Selby.  

As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the amazing service that we do and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us through this difficult period by donating by text today. Text TWAM 3 to give £3, TWAM 5 to give £5 or TWAM 10 to give £10 to 70085. Texts cost your donation plus one standard message rate. Thank you.

My visit to Iraq, 2019, by Andrew Parkin, keeper of archaeology

With the temporary closure of the Great North Museum: Hancock due to Covid-19, visitors cannot physically access our current exhibition Ancient Iraq: new discoveries, which highlights some amazing archaeological stories from that country. 

Statue of King Gudea; dolerite; Tello, Iraq; 2130BC © The Trustees of the British Museum. This object features in the exhibition Ancient Iraq: new discoveries.

As a museum curator I was lucky enough to visit Iraq in January 2019 as the guest of several Iraqi universities who were interested in the work the Great North Museum does to bring its archaeological collections to life for school children.  I delivered presentations and visited a number of universities in the south of Iraq, including Babylon, Wasit and Kufa. At the same time I was able to see some key archaeological sites as well as enjoying Iraqi hospitality.  I thought I would share some of my photographs from that trip as a way of bringing Iraq’s wonderful archaeological heritage to light while our exhibition is inaccessible. 

Representing the Great North Museum at a conference hosted by Wasit University in the city of Kut.

Conference delegates at Wasit University.

One of the most famous archaeological sites in Iraq, which I was fortunate enough to visit, is Bablyon. It was an urban centre that came to prominence during the reign of Hammurabi (about 1792 – 1750 BC) and went on to become one of the major powers in the region.   

Reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate at Babylon.

The original Ishtar Gate was built by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnnezar II in about 575 BC.  This reconstruction is about half the size of the original gate and was constructed during the rule of Saddam Hussein.  Saddam was interested in developing Iraq’s archaeological sites as showcases for his regime and massive reconstruction projects were carried out throughout Iraq. 

A mušḫuššu on one of the walls of Babylon.

The mušḫuššu was a mythical creature combining the talons of an eagle, lion-like forelimbs, with a long neck and tail, a horned head, a snake-like tongue, and a crest.  They were placed on the walls of Babylon as protection for the city.

Walls of Babylon.

Another important site I visited was Ur.  One of the very first cities in the world and a key centre for the Summerian civilization.  It is famous for its massive ziggurat, a temple built to the god Nanna in about 2100 BC, by Ur-Nammu the King of Ur. 

The ziggurat at Ur.

The ziggurat is a massive platform built of mud brick to honour Nanna, the Mesopotamian god of the moon and wisdom.  Like Babylon this site was extensively reconstructed during the rule of Saddam Hussein.

As well as visiting archaeological sites I took a trip to the marshes in Southern Iraq.  These were at one point one of the largest wetland areas in the world.  The Marsh Arabs who lived there practiced a unique way of life that, in many respects, was unchanged from that of the ancient peoples of Iraq.  Large areas of the marshes were drained during the rule of Saddam, who saw them as a place where opponents of his regime could hide out.  This was an ecological catastrophe, destroying a unique habitat that was home to diverse wildlife as well as the Marsh Arabs.  More recently there have been attempts to reflood areas of the marshes and there are still communities of Marsh Arabs clinging to aspects of their old way of life.  The marshes were one of the highlights of my visit to Iraq.  They gave me a profound sense of peace and tranquility.  I can only imagine what they must have been like when they covered a significant part of southern Iraq. 

A Marsh Arab boatman using a traditional vessel to get around.

Buffalo in the marshes.

Buffalo have been kept in the marshes as an important source of food since ancient times.  A creamy cheese, made from buffalo milk, is still commonly eaten in Iraq.

A mudhif, a traditional guest house built out of reeds.

Mudhif houses are where the Marsh Arabs entertain their guests.  They are built with techniques that date back to some of the very first buildings in Iraq.

Inside a mudhif enjoying a meal of fish and flat bread.

Another highlight of my visit was seeing the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad.  This museum suffered a great deal after the coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003.  The museum was extensively looted, with many objects from its collections smuggled out of Iraq.  Through the efforts of its staff and support from throughout the world the museum has recovered many objects and is again open.  It really is a treasure house that displays the sheer wealth of Iraq’s archaeological heritage. 

The Lady of Warka.

The Lady of Warkaalso known as the Lady of Uruk, dating from 3100 BC, is one of the earliest representations of the human face.  It is probably an image of the goddess Inanna, who was associated with numerous things, including love, war and political power. 

Glazed brick lion from Babylon.

The impressive Assyrian sculpture hall in the museum.

Handing over a book on Gertrude Bell to an Iraqi colleague from the National Museum of Iraq.

Gertrude Bell, who was born in Washington County Durham, founded the National Museum in the 1930s as well as writing Iraq’s first Antiquities law.

Young Iraqis discussing their country’s heritage.

One of the most encouraging things I saw in the National Museum was a group of young Iraqis meeting to discuss their country’s heritage.  They clearly care a great deal for this and engaged in a lively discussion about what it meant to them.

Traditional Iraqi food.

Iraqi dish of river fish and rice.

Throughout my visit I was made to feel most welcome.  There was vast quantities of food, including plenty of river fish and rice, as well as salads, flat bread and buffalo cheese.

I also quickly became used to the Iraqi habit of wanting to have their photograph taken with you at every possible moment.  I must have posed for hundreds of pictures during the visit. 

This is one of my favourite pictures.  These young Iraqis have a distinct sense of style, particularly their haircuts.

Iraq is a country facing many challenges and it has a great distance to travel before the damage of over twenty years of conflict can be repaired.  Nevertheless I was impressed with how enthusiastic Iraqi’s were about their country’s archaeological heritage and their willingness to share it with the rest of the world.  Hopefully there will still be time to see the remarkable objects from Iraq in the Great North Museum and find out more about the British Museum’s efforts to support the preservation of Iraq’s heritage. 

A statue in Baghdad symbolising Iraq’s desire to repair its damaged archaeological heritage.  A many handed figure is reparing a broken cylinder seal.

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