Iraq: No haven for ancient world's landmarks
At Nimrud, decay is accelerating for 3,000 years of history.
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For nearly 20 years, there's been little money for upkeep. Under United Nations sanctions following Iraq's 1991 invasion of Kuwait, Iraq was barred from importing even rudimentary conservation materials. That's when the site began to fall into disrepair. After the US invasion in 2003, thieves sawed off two large pieces of the reliefs.Skip to next paragraph
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Unlike the systematic looting at archaeological sites in the south of Iraq, the main problem here has been one of neglect.
Nimrud and other Assyrian capitals have been on the World Monuments Fund list of most endangered sites since 2002. The fund says looting, lack of conservation, and an economic crisis have placed them in jeopardy of eradication.
"My sense is they are suffering from a lack of attention more than any kind of willful destruction – what we call in the conservation business 'demolition by neglect,' " says Suzanne Bott, a conservation expert with the US State Department's Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mosul.
"The ones that have been exposed to the elements are deteriorating terribly fast. It's not so much a willful process, because nobody wants it to happen, but it's the state of affairs in a country where there hasn't been so much of an emphasis on preservation," says Ms. Bott, who has worked on getting US and UNESCO funding to fix the roof and replace broken windows in the palace.
A recent UNESCO mission has highlighted severe signs of water infiltration, erosion, and neglect at the site, including decaying limestone and marble brick carvings. The UN agency has pledged to repair one of the walls at the site in danger of collapse.
Known in the Bible as Calah, Nimrud is believed to have first been settled in 5000 BC.
At its height, 60,000 people lived in the royal city, which was surrounded by five miles of walls and contained parks and gardens. Most of the spectacular panels found in the excavated throne room in the mid-1800s were taken away to the British Museum. Smaller pieces were sold to collectors – a common custom at the time.
But the most dazzling find – unearthed in the late 1980s – is one of archaeological legend. An excavation led by Iraqi archaeologist Muzahim Mahmood came across a royal tomb the British archaeologists had missed. Crawling deep into a hidden vaulted room, he discovered one of the spectacular treasure troves of the last century – hundreds of pieces of gold jewelry and ceremonial objects for an Assyrian queen.
"The whole of Nimrud is a treasure in and of itself," says Dr. Mahmood, who dreams of excavating more of the 95 percent of the royal capital still underground.