Mosul archaeologist aims to reclaim her city’s lost heritage

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Marta Bellingreri ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images Layla Salih, head of Antiquities for the province of Nineveh, of which Mosul is the capital, poses in front of an underground tunnel in east Mosul on March 6, 2017.

When Layla Salih walks amid the rubble of Mosul with her quick, soft steps, she knows exactly where she wants to go. Whether in the Old City of Mosul, in Nimrod, or at a spot where some of the Mosul Museum’s antiquities were destroyed, Salih knows that rubble can often hide remnants of destroyed artifacts that can be put back together if one has the drive and patience to do so. After graduating from the University of Mosul in 1999, Salih dived straight into archaeology. Until 2009, she worked at the Mosul Museum. In 2012, she was appointed as head of the Heritage Buildings in Antiquities Board of Ninevah province, the provincial section of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage of Iraq. Meanwhile, she continued her academic studies and completed a master’s degree in Islamic archaeology at Baghdad University in 2013. A few months after she received her postgraduate degree, she had to flee her beloved city, following its occupation by the Islamic State (IS), moving along to Kirkuk, Baghdad and Erbil. “During the three-year occupation of our city, it was really hard to watch how IS was destroying our common ancient culture, the Mesopotamian cultural heritage that we all belong to,” she told Al-Monitor, cringing as she remembered propaganda videos the terrorist group would put online every few months to show to the world the destruction the group had wreaked on non-Muslim heritage. Read more: