Dr Lamia Al Gailani Werr

The Trustees of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq were deeply saddened to hear of the sudden death of Dr Lamia Al Gailani-Werr last Friday 18 January 2019 in Amman, Jordan.

Lamia has been buried in Baghdad and a special procession was held from the Iraq Museum to the Gailani shrine, where she has been laid to rest.  The news of this loss has been difficult for all her family, friends and colleagues. We relied upon her fountain of wisdom and profound knowledge of Iraq and Mesopotamian archaeology and in particular cylinder seals. She shared it with all of us unstintingly with kindness and good humour.

Dr Lamia al-Gailani-Werr grew up in Baghdad and studied at the University of Baghdad before coming to Cambridge on a Scholarship. She returned to Baghdad and work at the Iraq Museum in 1961 as one of the rare women archaeologists. Lamia later completed a second MA degree at the University of Edinburgh and her PhD at the University of London. In 2003 she returned to Baghdad after the looting of the Museum to assist Iraqi colleagues. She was an Honorary Research Associate of the Institute of Archaeology UCL and a recent research fellow at the Metropolitan Museum where she had been working on a book on the History of the Iraq Museum, amongst many other research topics.

In 2010 Lamia became a Trustee of the Friends of Basrah Museum with Sir Terence Clark and Dr John Curtis and other founding Trustees and had been working tireless on the project since that time. One gallery of The Basrah Museum was opened in September 2016, marked by a two-day BISI international conference. She was closely involved with the opening, even to the extent of arranging some of the objects in a display case, and when the Trustees were subsequently awarded a large Cultural Protection grant in 2016 to further the project, Lamia continued to work tirelessly with many meetings at the Iraq Museum on the selection of objects. She also participated in two training programmes for the Basrah Museum staff and volunteers in January and December 2018 along with her daughter Dr Noorah Al Gailani.  Lamia was a special advisor to the Co-directors of the acclaimed film on Gertrude Bell, Letters from Baghdad, and her archival work in the Iraq Museum provided important insights to the film directors. She was a speaker at BISI’s 2013 conference Gertrude Bell and Iraq – a life and legacy and her paper on the Iraq Museum is a chapter in the proceedings published by the British Academy. Her talk to the BISI in November 2017 on the Story of the Iraq Museum is available to hear on the BISI website along with Dr Paul Collins’ introduction on Lamia’s accomplishments.

She has long been a particular friend of the BISI and was its only Honorary Life-time member. At its 76th AGM in 2009 the Institute awarded Lamia the Gertrude Bell Memorial Gold Medal "for outstanding services to Mesopotamian archaeology". She was the fifth recipient of this medal after Professor Sir Max Mallowan, Professor Seton Lloyd (1979), Professor David Oates (1997) and Dr Roger Moorey (2003).

In making the presentation to Dr Lamia al Gailani-Werr the then BISI Chairman, Professor Roger Matthews, cited in particular her unceasing efforts and invaluable advice and energies in sustaining academic and personal links between scholars in the UK and Iraq. Her continuing input into BISI's highly active Visiting Scholars programme has been fundamental to its great success in recent years, providing training and experience to a broad range of Iraqi colleagues who have taken their enhanced skills back to Iraq. Roger noted that Dr Lamia al-Gailani Werr was, a ray of intense and brave light in an age of darkness and difficulty – and that view has remained until now. 

May she rest in peace.

Joan Porter MacIver


Dr Paul Collins