Lamia al-Gailani Werr, 80, Dies; Archaeologist Rescued Iraqi Art | Modern Society of USA

Lamia al-Gailani Werr, 80, Dies; Archaeologist Rescued Iraqi Art

Lamia al-Gailani Werr, 80, Dies; Archaeologist Rescued Iraqi Art

Thousands of artifacts were eventually recovered, and the museum reopened in 2015.

Lamia Al-Gailani was born on March 8, 1938, in Baghdad, where she grew up with four siblings. Her father, Ahmad Jamal al-Din Al-Gailanilani, was a landowner, and her mother, Madiha Asif Mahmud Arif-Agha, was a homemaker.

Iraqi history ran deep in her family. Her father descended from Abdul-Qadir al-Gailani, a 12th-century Muslim theologian and mystic, and her lineage included the first prime minister of modern Iraq.

“Nobody in her family before her was in archaeology, but because her family is one of the oldest in Iraq, her sense of history was very keen,” Zainab Bahrani, a friend and professor of ancient Near Eastern and archaeology at Columbia University, said in a telephone interview.

Her archaeological education began with one year at Baghdad University before she moved to England, where she graduated from the University of Cambridge with a bachelor’s degree in archaeology and architecture. She earned a master’s at the University of Edinburgh and her Ph.D at University College London, where the subject of her thesis was cylinder seals.

Dr. Gailani joined the National Museum of Iraq in 1961 as a curator. One of her first tasks was to make clay impressions of the cylinder seals. But her ambition to join an archaeological dig in Iraq — fertile territory for excavations — was circumscribed by conservative Iraqi attitudes toward women. Still, she convinced the museum authorities that she was capable of the work, although in agreeing to take her on they limited her to excavating in the Baghdad area.

At Tell al-Dhibai, on the outskirts of the city, Dr. Gailani was part of a group that discovered a Babylonian town, complete with houses, a temple and an administrative building.

“The finds from the site, while not visually spectacular, were incredible important,” she wrote in an essay in the book “The Looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad” (2005), edited by Milbry Polk and Angela M. H. Schuster. Unearthed from the site were many cuneiform tablets, including one that was identified as a proof of the Pythagorean theorem, arrived at 2,000 years before Pythagoras lived.

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