Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Efforts Underway to Preserve Iraq’s 'Cradle of Civilization'

Dignitaries stop at the Ctesiphon Arch during a visit in late October. Efforts are underway to preserve it and other historical artifacts in Iraq. (Photo by Multi-National Division - Center.)

Dispatches from the Front:

CAMP VICTORY, Iraq, Dec. 9, 2008 -- Overshadowed by years of tyranny and armed conflict, the country of Iraq hides many signs of what it once was – the cradle of civilization. Sitting in varying states of decay, or even beneath layers of earth, historical locations and artifacts recall the significance that Iraq and her people have played on the history of all mankind.

In the town that housed one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, Babylon became one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. It was the holy city of Babylonia, as well as the seat of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Babylonian citizens could visit such monumental places as the Tower of Babel, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Ishtar Gate, to name a few.

Today, only a distant trace remains of this culturally and historically significant city. Walls crumbled, artifacts were moved to museums around the world, and damages caused by friends and foes alike during the Global War on Terrorism mark this landscape. The proof of what once was slowly fades away; great walls and structures replaced by sand, concrete and the constant evolution and destructiveness of mankind.

In an unprecedented move, the World Monument Fund (WMF) – an organization designed and designated to protect Earth’s historical sites and artifacts – declared the entire country of Iraq as one of the world’s most endangered architectural and cultural sites in 2006.

This year, they placed it on the list again. Iraq’s historical sites remain at risk, even with the increased stability her people now witness, thanks to Coalition forces and capable, strong Iraqi security forces.

Hope remains strong as powerful entities form together with the succinct goal of saving Iraq’s legacy.

Teaming with the Getty Conservation Institute, based out of Los Angeles, the two organizations joined with the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in the colossal task of inventorying, monitoring and managing the archaeological sites and monuments in Iraq, for future generations to behold.

This state-of-the-art system will provide archaeologists with the information necessary to protect these sites and antiques from future damages and decay.

The WMF also launched a new project at Babylon, as well as coordination programs to better train and prepare Iraq’s archaeologists and conservators. The latest methods, technologies, tools and techniques all are available at WMF training workshops – something that has escaped the Iraqi preservation for 20 years, as they had limited access to the revolutionary new archaeological technologies that came into existence during this time period.

The Multi-National Division – Center area of operations contains numerous artifacts of significance to Iraq and her people.

The city of Ur was home of biblical patriarch Abraham, but is best known in the historical community for its famous ziggurat and the royal tombs unearthed there during the early 20th Century.

Just south of Baghdad sits the ruins of Ctesiphon, the largest city in the world during the 6th Century. Today, a single, solitary arch stands as the only reminder of the city’s majesty. It is the world’s largest single-span arch of unreinforced brickwork.

The capital of the legendary King Gilgamesh, Uruk, is believed to be the second city founded by Nimrod in Shinar – one of the first cities known to the human world. Little is known about the history of Uruk, making it a great site for future generations to explore and come to understand.

These sites are but a bit of the rich cultural heritage that resides, often hidden, in Iraq.

Worse yet, some are gone from sight.

The arrival of U.S. troops in 2003 set off looting at its National Museum, as criminals took priceless artifacts in an attempt to sell them for cash. Missing were gems, jewelry, terracotta figurines and cylinder seals, in addition to larger items such as a mask more than 5,000 years old. Reports indicated 15,000 precious items gone – a devastating, almost crippling defeat.

While the artifacts are slowly recovered and restored, the museum remains closed. Behind its locked doors reside numerous artifacts of the more than 7,000 years of Iraqi history.

While the reopening of the museum may be some time away, eventually, visitors will stand among these fascinating artifacts of civilization, another benchmark in the establishment of a safe, stable Iraq – both internally and to the international community at large.

For more information about the World Monuments Fund or to arrange a donation to help preserve Iraq’s historical sites, visit: http://www.wmf.org/.

(Report by Spc. Josh LeCappelain, Multi-National Division – Center)

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