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24.1.05

Babylon Threatened

David Nishimura at Cronaca has said some good posts about the damage being done to archeological sites in Iraq, including Babylon. I recently read this little article (Babylone: menaces sur le site archéologique, January 17) from France 2, on the latest report on the "substantial damage" suffered by the ancient city where Polish and American troops have made a military camp. The report comes from a curator in the Near East Department at The British Museum who went to Babylon in December.

John Curtis reports that trenches have been dug and that certain paving stones dating from the 6th century B.C. have been damaged by the movements of military vehicles. In earth turned up because of the camp's needs, he was able to observe pottery shards, including an entire vase, bones, and brick fragments with cuneiform inscriptions. Because of the military presence, "several zones around the site had been covered with gravel, sometimes compacted and treated chemically, in order to be used as a heliport and to create spaces for vehicle parking." As a result, "the site is now going to be contaminated" for future archeological research. Military vehicles have also created hydrocarburant pollution that "will also probably have deleterious effects on archeological layers" underground. In his report, he adds that he observed "new damage on the molded dragon figures on the Ishtar gate. Parts of the (reconstructed) roof of the temple of Ninmah have also collapsed." Finally, sand mixed with archeological fragments has been used to fill sandbags intended for protecting military positions. But while this practice has been stopped, soldiers have brought sand from other regions of the country, "irrevocably contaminating" the site for future archeological research. "It is regrettable that a military camp of this size has been installed" on this site, he explains. "It's as if you had set up a military camp around the Great Pyramids of Egypt," he says.
In the second part of the article, a spokesperson for the American Army in Baghdad, Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, reacts to the report, saying that "We are doing what we can to protect the site, and we are continuing to do as much." It makes me sick at heart.

UPDATE:
See also Martin Bailey, Iraq: US base has caused "shocking" damage to Babylon (The Art Newspaper, January 27), which has some good and very disturbing pictures of what things look like on the ground right now.

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