Slemani Museum Prehistory Gallery

In February 2021, an exciting new Prehistory Gallery opened in the Slemani Museum, Iraq, with key themes on climate and environment change, sustainability, innovation and development, and creating and connecting communities. The Slemani Museum team have worked hard to complete the installation and provide safe access to the public.

The Slemani Museum was established in 1961 and remains open to the public today under the Director, Mr Hashim Hama Abdulla. After the Iraq Museum, Baghdad, it is academically the most significant museum in Iraq. The Museum staff run an education department, with a visitor program that engages with local schools, and scientific laboratories for documentation, conservation and analysis of ancient materials.

This project included collaboration between the Slemani Museum, Sulaymaniyah Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage, and Dr Rozhen Kamal Mohammed-Amin at Sulaimani Polytechnic University, with support from Dr Wendy Matthews, Dr Amy Richardson, and Professor Roger Matthews from the University of Reading, and funding from the US Consul General in Erbil. The aim was to engage visitors with the deep cultural heritage of local and global importance in the region and to showcase the prehistory collections at the Slemani Museum.

Drawing on new research into the integration of cultural heritage and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the key themes were selected to provide long term perspectives on climate and environment change, food security, innovation and development, health, and creating and connecting communities. These themes were used to highlight the major transformations in human evolution and human-environment inter-relations that took place in this region with the development of agriculture and sedentism c. 10,000 years ago and early urban life >5,000 years ago. The Prehistory Gallery houses artefacts from the major Palaeolithic cave sites of Hazar Merd, Palegawra and Zarzi, and early agricultural settlements of Jarmo and Bestansur (UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List), excavated by Reading.

Display boards, cases, plinths and an immersive cave entrance were co-created by the project team, in consultation with stakeholders, and presented in three languages, for local and displaced communities in the area, and international visitors. The layout of the exhibits was carefully considered to provide maximum visibility and accessibility and used materials and photographs from the archives of the remarkable sites and landscape. The installation team overcame several challenges in the realisation of the project design, including earthquake damage, and local crafts people were sourced to provide the materials and skills for the installation infrastructure, under the guidance of the Slemani Museum team. Current plans include the integration of more audio-visual interactive and tactile displays, online resources and heritage trails to foster sustainable tourism and engage diverse audiences.