Iraqi ‘treasure’ Lamia Al Gailani Werr dies in Amman

Her death follows that of the Iraqi National Museum's first female director Bahija Khalil Ismail

Dr Lamia Al-Gailani - Iraqi archaelogist
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Eulogies have been offered online following the death of a renowned Iraqi archaeologist described as an “Iraqi treasure” for her tireless work over half a century to preserve her country’s heritage.

Dr Lamia Al Gailani Werr was one of the first female Iraq archaeologists, an expert on Mesopotamian antiquities, and a staunch defender of her country’s cultural heritage. She passed away suddenly on Friday in Amman, Jordan, according to the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (BISI).

Raised in Baghdad, Gailani Werr studied at the archaeology department of the University of Baghdad in the 1950s before obtaining a fellowship to study at Cambridge University.

Returning to Iraq in 1961, she became one of the country’s first female archaeologists and worked in the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad.

She later obtained a second masters degree from the University of Edinburgh and her PhD from the University of London, where she was a research associate with the Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

She returned to Baghdad after the American invasion in 2003 to assist Iraqi colleagues after the museum was looted, serving as an adviser to the ministry of culture during its restoration.

In 2009, Gailani Werr was awarded the Gertrude Bell Memorial Gold Medal by BISI for her outstanding services to Mesopotamian archaeology.


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At the reopening of Iraq's National Museum in 2015, she described the destruction of Iraq's heritage as "a nightmare we can't wake up from."

Colleagues described her as a “hero of Iraqi archaeology and heritage”.

“Her absence will be truly felt,” BISI wrote on its Twitter account. “We have lost a dear friend and would like to take this opportunity to send our condolences to her family, her daughters and to the entirety of Iraq.”

Gailani Werr “never gave up on Iraq, even in the darkest hours,” wrote Jane Moon, an archaeologist working in southern Iraq. “She had true nobility, in the genuine sense. Could listen to anyone, talk to anyone – from the Museum porter to royalty. She steered right through sectarian or class or national differences.”

"Any Iraqi treasure is gone," wrote journalist Jane Arraf. "Dr Gailani had an infectious love of archaeology and of life."

Her death follows that of her colleague Dr Bahija Khalil Ismail, the first female director of the Iraqi National Museum, who died in Amman last Sunday. Ismail published dozens of books and research papers on Iraqi history and was the first Arab woman to receive her doctorate in Germany, according to Iraq’s General Authority for Antiquities and Heritage in its announcement of her death.