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Saving the ruins of Babylon

The New York Times has posted an interesting article about the rush to save the ruins of ancient Babylon in Iraq.

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 aconservation 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.)

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