To enable the people who live near, and sometimes on top of archaeological sites, to engage with their cultural past and heritage is a basic human right (UN Human Rights Council Resolution 33/20, UNHRC 2016b). To excite and enthuse them to do so is critical for an inclusive approach to the protection and safeguarding of archaeological sites and all other forms of cultural heritage.
As stressed in the preamble of the 2003 UNESCO Declaration “cultural heritage is an important component of cultural identity and of social cohesion, so that its intentional destruction may have adverse consequences on human dignity and human rights”. Our project recognises the need to move beyond the urgency to ‘preserve’ heritage from destruction and rather invest in the forward-looking approach of education and public awareness.
In order to achieve the above and to help widen access to, and the enjoyment of, the rich and diverse archaeological heritage and history of the region, we have created two new and unique museum spaces:
• Slemani Museum Kids space, Suleymaniyah.
• Are you an archaeologist? Garmian Civilizations Museum, Kalar.
Slemani Museum Kids
School children make up the vast majority of visitors to museums in Iraqi Kurdistan. Starved over decades of armed conflict and economic crises by a lack of funding, however, museums have been unable to adapt to the needs of their young visitors.
The new Slemani Museum Kids space is dedicated exclusively to providing visitors with a fun and activity-laden environment, where children, their parents, and teachers can experience, imagine, and creatively express their engagement with the past, expanding as well as complementing the school curriculum.
Slemani Museum Kids is designed to bring the landscapes of the western Zagros Mountains and its archaeological sites into the museum. The space provides a colourful and stimulating environment for children to explore concepts such as: what is an archaeological site, ancient artefacts, their production and uses, archaeological excavation, stratigraphy, the passage of time, as well as interpretation and historical narrative through play, story-telling, and enactment.
A quieter space with tables and chairs allows children to practice ancient crafts such as pottery making and cuneiform writing, while a state-of-the art interactive touch-screen allows for more structured instruction of older students.
Are you an archaeologist? (Garmian Civilizations Museum)
A second museum space in the city of Kalar takes a radically different approach. It focuses on the practice of archaeology and takes the ongoing research of the Sirwan Regional Project as its central theme.
The exhibition, which is designed for visitors of all ages, demonstrates the immense richness and importance of the information that the mostly unexplored archaeological sites in the region hold.
It allows visitors to embark on a journey of how archaeologists explore these landscapes; how they make sense of the information they collect during survey and excavation; and, why it is important to protect archaeological sites from damage and destruction.
It helps visitors to understand how plausible archaeological stories are constructed, and that their vital ingredient – the ‘archaeological context’, the associations between excavated artefacts and their find contexts – is lost forever when archaeological sites are looted or damaged by war or industrial development.
The trilingual, Kurdish, Arabic and English exhibition appeals to all to collaboratively help protect this unique heritage, and to prevent the loss of its archaeological context and the meaningful stories that it can tell us about life in the past.