Many of Iraq’s world heritage sites lie in ruins three years after the collapse of the Islamic State and thousands of mounds conceal remnants of ancient cities. The sites are under threat of looting and need teams of experts to unveil their treasures. But fewer young people want to study archaeology in what is regarded as the cradle of civilization, and jobs are scarce for those who do.
Field excavations led by teams from the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Italy, Germany and the Czech Republic have resumed in Iraq’s southern governorates and the northern Kurdish region.
Iraqi students who could potentially enter the discipline, however, are discouraged by stories like that of Ibrahim Al-Obaidi, who graduated from the University of Mosul’s College of Archaeology in 2018 and hasn’t been able to find a job.
“The graduates’ situation is painful,” Al-Obaidi said. “There are no public or private jobs for us. It has become a joke for an archaeologist to apply for jobs.”
At the University of Mosul only 28 students out of 17,000 students joined the College of Archaeology this year, according to its president, Kossay Al-Ahmady. “It is usually higher,” he said.
Mosul’s College of Archaeology was established in 2008 by expanding a former department to meet the need for experts in a heritage-rich country. Iraq has more than 15,000 archaeological sites, according to an updated digital Atlas of Archaeological Sites in Iraq developed by Abdulameer Al-Hamdani, a former minister of culture, tourism and antiquities.
Usama Adnan, an assistant professor of history at Al-Mustansiriyah University, says the admission of only a handful of students in some of Iraq’s archaeology schools stems from “a lack of archaeological awareness.”
“Unprofessional people started writing about antiquities on social media,” Adnan said. “This made many people think that archaeology is an easy discipline anyone can write about.”
Shifts in Students’ Preferences
In the 2020-2021 academic year, Iraq’s universities admitted more than 210,000 students, with thousands of them competing for places in health-profession disciplines like medicine, dentistry and pharmacy. Faculties of humanities, meanwhile, struggled to attract students.