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Last Updated: Friday, 30 January, 2004, 16:07 GMT
Ancient harp to play again
Presentation of cedar wood for the harp
An RAF squadron flew cedar wood from Basra for the new harp
A harp enthusiast is hoping to recreate the first working copy of the famous Harp of Ur, which was vandalised in Iraq's national museum following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Andy Lowings, 52, from Cambridgeshire, wants the replica instrument to be as close to the 4,750 year-old original as possible, even down to the source of the wood.

His 25,000 project caught the imagination of a nearby RAF squadron who agreed to collect two pieces of cedar wood from Basra and presented it to Mr Lowings on Wednesday.

The musical director of the Stamford Harp Festival was moved to act last April when the harp's remains were among antiquities destroyed by thieves in Baghdad's main museum.

"I want it to continue as a playing instrument to bring very early Iraqi and Arabic culture to people's attention again," he said.

"This is a multi-dimensional project, historical, musical and social, so I doubt anyone will have any problems with this aspect of our very early mankind, before we were driven apart by modern events."

Interest in the project has flooded in, including offers of help from a skilled Iraqi calligrapher, metal conservationists from West Dean College, in Sussex, and a London-based Iraqi harp player.

Harp of Ur
1,000 years older than the Great Pyramid
Created 1,500 years before Moses left Egypt
Sumerian art made of cedar, with gold bull's head attached
Buried in the grave of Queen Pur Abi, where 68 people committed suicide
Discovered by Leonard Woolley in 1929
He approached RAF Wittering after a Muslim group in Baghdad found him authentic planks of wood.

Bomb disposal experts from 5131 Squadron stationed in Iraq agreed to deliver the materials back to Cambridgeshire.

Squadron Leader Tony Walsh said: "The squadron was finishing its tour of duty so initially they thought my request was a wind up.

"But when they realised what it was about they were happy to help.

"It is a very important thing culturally and symbolically - rebuilding it as it was in Iraq, just like they are trying to rebuild the country at the moment."

The wood is now being transformed into a harp by an expert in Austria and Mr Lowings hopes it will be ready for its first performance in August.

"We want to take it and play it wherever people want us to play it, we have already had invitations from Dubai, New Mexico, Austria, and the British Museum," he said.

He is currently looking for funding to take the completed harp on a year-long tour.

Remains of three harps were excavated from a royal mass grave in the Mesopotamian city of Ur in 1929.

They were shared among museums in Pennsylvania, Baghdad and the British Museum in London.

Each museum reconstructed the harps for display but they were unplayable.

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