daughter of a diplomat, Selma al-Radi was born on July 23 1939 in Baghdad and
brought up mainly in Tehran and New Delhi, where her father served as the Iraqi
ambassador for many years.
Selma recalled family trips to temples, picnics and camping
under the stars on expeditions to see ancient buildings. But it seems to have
been the turmoil of Indian Partition that convinced her to become an
archaeologist: "I decided early in life that I was not keen on modern
things, partly because of all this turmoil and upheaval around us. The only
tranquil phase for me was the past."
Selma's father lost his job in the diplomatic service after the
overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy in 1958 and, though they continued to own
property on the banks of the Tigris in Baghdad, the family later moved to
Selma graduated from Cambridge University in Oriental Studies,
specialising in archaeology and ancient Semitic languages, and then went on to
study for a master's degree at Columbia University, where she come under the
influence of Edith Porada, a leading expert on the art history and archaeology
of the Middle East. She returned to Iraq in the early 1960s and remained there
for three years, working at the Baghdad museum and on her master's, then took a
doctorate at the University of Amsterdam on the Neolithic site of Phlamoudhi
Vounari in Cyprus.
During her career Selma al-Radi worked on excavations in most
countries of the Middle East, including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait and Egypt.
For many years she was a research associate at New York University's Institute
of Fine Arts.