A Triage to Save the Ruins of Babylon
By STEVEN LEE MYERS (NYT)
Published: January 2, 2011
JIMIJMA, Iraq — The damage done to the ruins of ancient Babylon is visible from a small hilltop near the Tower of Babel, whose biblical importance is hard to envision from what is left of it today.
Across the horizon are guard towers, concertina wire and dirt-filled barriers among the palm trees; encroaching farms and concrete houses from this village and others; and the enormous palace that Saddam Hussein built in the 1980s atop the city where Nebuchadnezzar II ruled.
Something else is visible, too: earthen mounds concealing all that has yet to be discovered in a city that the prophet Jeremiah called “a gold cup in the Lord’s hands, a cup that made the whole earth drunk.”
On the hillside during one of his many visits to the ruins, Jeff Allen, a conservationist working with the World Monuments Fund, said: “All this is unexcavated. There is great potential at this site. You could excavate the street plan of the entire city.”
That is certainly years away given the realities of today’s Iraq. But for the first time since the American invasion in 2003, after years of neglect and violence, archaeologists and preservationists have once again begun working to protect and even restore parts of Babylon and other ancient ruins of Mesopotamia. And there are new sites being excavated for the first time, mostly in secret to avoid attracting the attention of looters, who remain a scourge here.
The World Monuments Fund, working with Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, has drafted a conservation plan to combat any further deterioration of Babylon’s mud-brick ruins and reverse some of the effects of time and Mr. Hussein’s propagandistic and archaeologically specious re-creations.
In November, the State Department announced a new $2 million grant to begin work to preserve the site’s most impressive surviving ruins. They include the foundation of the Ishtar Gate, built in the sixth century B.C. by Nebuchadnezzar’s father, Nabopolassar, and adorned with brick reliefs of the Babylonian gods Marduk and Adad. (The famous blue-glazed gate that Nebuchadnezzar commissioned was excavated in the early 20th century and rebuilt in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.)
The objective is to prepare the site and other ruins — from Ur in the south to Nimrud in the north — for what officials hope will someday be a flood of scientists, scholars and tourists that could contribute to Iraq’s economic revival almost as much as oil.
This is very good news, but there are plenty of challenges remaining.
This Tower of Babel business (carried to the point of silliness by Arutz Sheva here
) refers to the ruins of a ziqqurat from the time of Nebuchadnezzar II (c. 600 BCE). He may have rebuilt an older ziqqurat, but this is the Tower of Babel only in that it may have inspired the creation of that legend when the Jewish exiles of Nebuchadnezzar's time saw it.
Related, also in the NYT: A Tour of Iraq’s Ancient Sites
. Included are a video about the (traditional) tomb of Ezekiel (already noted here
) and a photo of Hebrew inscriptions at the (traditional) tomb of the prophet Nahum
, as well as photos and videos of other sites of biblical and related interest.