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Lost Roman Treasure

Damming the Past

 

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Iraq: Ancient Mesopotamian city threatened
In 1903, German archeologists began extensive excavations at the Mesopotamian capital of Assur, which is known as "the cradle of civilization." But their work and that of countless subsequent archeological teams over the ensuing century was interrupted by two world wars, the Iran-Iraq and Gulf Wars, and UN sanctions against Iraq. Only recently have German, Austrian, and Japanese research teams resumed work at Assur, which lies on the banks of the Tigris River in modern-day Iraq.

Assur was the capital and religious center of Assyria, a northern region of Mesopotamia, from roughly 2000 to 614 B.C., when the Babylonians assumed control. Writing—accomplished with sticks on clay tablets—first developed there, as did work with bronze and iron. So far, archeologists have found only 10 of 34 temples thought buried at Assur. Scholars believe further excavations will pinpoint the remaining temples as well as artworks, residences, and other windows into this key period in the history of civilization.

That is, if time permits. Construction is currently underway on the Makhul Dam, which will stretch across the Tigris valley between two mountains, creating a 20-mile-long lake. The new lake will flood the ancient city, reducing priceless cuneiform tablets to mud and destroying other irreplaceable artifacts. Archeological teams from Iraq and elsewhere have until 2007, the dam's scheduled completion date. With the Iraqi government determined to go ahead with the dam project, which will provide desperately needed water to northern Iraq for agricultural purposes during the dry season, archeologists and conservationists have begun arguing for a costly barrier wall to be built around Assur.

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Iraq

A worker surveys excavation work in progress at Assur.

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