Ancient manuscripts preservation, digitalization underway in Iraq
Delicate restoration work as part of efforts to preserve and digitize 47,000 precious texts is underway. Iraqi conservators strive to preserve ancient manuscripts
A conservator examines a 17th-century manuscript in an annex of Iraq's national museum, performing delicate restoration work as part of efforts to preserve and digitize 47,000 precious texts.
"Some manuscripts date back almost 1,000 years," said Ahmed Al-Alyawi, who heads the House of Manuscripts body.
In a country that bears the scars of decades of conflict and has seen antiquities and cultural heritage regularly looted or burned to ashes, the House of Manuscripts collection has managed to survive.
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It was safely hidden in the Baghdad suburbs, while the National Museum was ransacked in the aftermath of the US-led invasion in 2003. Employees and residents thwarted subsequent looting attempts at the "underground shelter" where it was kept, according to Al-Alyawi.
The collection, which is now housed in Baghdad's National Museum, includes books, parchments, and calligraphy boards, some of which have been damaged by humidity, pests, and centuries of use.
Some manuscripts are from the early Abbasid period, and some seventh-century calligraphy boards in Kufic script were written on parchment "even before the manufacture of paper," according to Alyawi.
'To live longer'
Tayba Ahmed, who has been doing restoration for three years, said each intervention must "preserve the old appearance" of a work, stressing that at the same time it must reduce any damage to the work "so that it can live longer."
A text "may not have a cover, the pages might be detached, you may have to sew and make a leather cover," she said. "You can spend several months with the same book."
Ahmed is one of seven Iraqi conservators undergoing training funded by the Italian Embassy to assist them in carrying out their massive restoration mission.
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Working with Italian expert Marco Di Bella, whose country has previously funded equipment for the House of Manuscripts' offices, including lighting, is part of the program.
Di Bella made comments while peering over an 18th-century Ottoman astronomy book filled with elegant black ink calligraphy. "The most complex process is... deciding what to do and how to intervene on the manuscript," the Italian conservator told AFP.
"Every single manuscript is assessed... we describe the damage" and try "to understand... the origin" of each piece, he added.
The program also aids in the reintroduction of traditional conservation materials that are now "coming back into fashion," according to Di Bella, such as starch as an adhesive.