Launched in 1932 the school has spent almost a century uncovering Iraq’s ancient treasures, including the spectacular Assyrian capital at Nimrud

On a dark November day in 1929, the nascent British School of Archaeology in Iraq launched its appeal for funds. Central Hall in Westminster was packed to overflowing and the audience was treated to a lantern slide show of recent discoveries in Iraq, followed by a long list of speakers, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lady Astor, Britain’s first female MP. Presiding as chairman was Major-General Sir Percy Cox. After the first world war, Cox had served as the first High Commissioner of Iraq at the beginning of British Mandate rule, and it was in this role that he had come to be friends with Gertrude Bell.

The British School of Archaeology in Iraq (BSAI) was Gertrude Bell’s idea and she was the reason for this gathering of the great and good. Famous as a traveller and writer, and deeply tangled in the politics of mandated Iraq and the wider Middle East, Bell’s primary passion throughout her life was archaeology. When she died in 1926 she left £6,000 with the trustees of the British Museum to be used to found the BSAI.

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