After 4 years of research – at a quite ‘sensitive’ and not-so-safe area, Imust admit – UNESCOfinally released it’s Final Report on Damage Assesment in Babylon by the International Coordination Committee for the Saveguarding of the Cultural Heritage of Iraq. Be the report not that world-shocking, we all know by now that both Saddam Hussein as well as the Coalition Forces are to blame, the report does clearly devide which damage was inflicted upon the Babylon archaeological area before the start of the Iraq war, and which was brought upon ‘Camp Alpha’ post-2003.
Damage to the archaeological site that occurred before 2003
- Parking lots – Flat areas covered with gravel were built in scattered areas of the city. (Of which some were later used by the MNF-IIraq as airfield.)
- The Al-Hawliyah canal and it’s lakes – The moat surrounds the city of Babylon and has a lenght of 4.5km and a width of 15. The bottom and sides of the moat are lined with cement. The canal is linked to three lakes, of which the largest is 29ha.
- Artificial earthen mounds – Established under the ‘International Babylon Festival’ plan.
- The Palace and buildings surrounding it, as well as restaurants and service buildings constructed in the center of the archaeological site.
- Improper restaurations and reconstructions – Amongst others the Southern Palace of Nebuchadnezzar, the northern portion of the Processional Way, the temple of Minmakh and the temple of Nabu-sha-Hare, the eastern portion of the inner wall, the Babylonian houses and the Greek Theatre. In particular, the use of concrete for the foundations of the reconstructed Greek Theatre is in clear contravention of internationally acknowledged standards.
- Firing positions – Defensive trenches in scattered areas of the city. The spoil from one of these trenches contains archaeological material including a glazed vessel.
- Damage to previous archaeological excavations – The lack of appropriate maintenance and protection caused major damage to the exposed remains from rain, wind, ground water, salt, plans and human activity.
Damage sustained to the site in 2003 after the MNF-1 entered the city
The UNESCO report on the use of Babylon as a military base:”a grave encroachment on this internationally known archaeological site. During their presence in Babylon, the MNF-I and contractors employed by them, mainly KBR, directly caused major damage to the city by digging, cutting, scraping, and leveling. Key structures that were damaged include the Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way.“
The military presence in the city and the establishment of a military zone, entailing fortification and defensive measures caused both indirect and direct damage:
- Excavation works, pits & trenches – Many trenches of different sizes were dug in different parts of the city. Only to often the soil removed was not preserved. In at least one of the trenches pottery fragments and baked brick fragments with Nebuchadnezzar’s name inscribed were found. This trench has begun to collapse, causing additional damage.
- Cutting works – Horizontal cutting into a mound, removing deposits. Again, only to often soil was removed, mixed with sand from other locations and not preserved.
- Scraping and leveling works – On several archaeological areas and tells, which were then covered with sand and gravel. Some of them were treated with chemicals in addition. This operation covered broad areas of Babylon and entailed the use of heavy equipment to compact the soil, which may have destroyed any antiquities beneath the surface. The effects of chemical treatment on the archaeological sub-surface layers are not yet known.
- HESCO containers – Which area a ‘Concertainer Defence Wall System’ were filled with soil from the city of Babylon containing pottery fragments and backed brick fragments. Some of these are still in use.
- Barbed wire and steel stakes – The barbed wire is not limited to a specific location. The damage in this case was caused by the implantation of stakes in archaeological ground and on several tells and walls, as happened to a wall in the central area and a wall in the sacred precinct.
- Ishtar Gate – The Ishtar Gate serves as a ritual gate leading into the northern part of the inner city. The damage to the gate includes smashed bricks on nine of the bodies of the animals adorning the gate. These animals depict the legendary dragonsnake, the symbol of Marduk, the god of the city of Babylon.
- Southern portion of Processional Way – Major damage can be observed in the southern part of the Processional Way, which was rediscovered during the Babylon Revival Project excavations in 1979. Starting from the Nabu-sha-Hare Temple, the effects of heavy vehicle wheels are clear, breaking the paving of the street. Three rows of 2-ton concrete blocks were placed in the middle of the Processional Way on top the paving by heavy vehicles, which is itself an encroachment. These blocks were removed by helicopter on November 29, 2004 to prevent further damage to the Processional Way. In addition, a row of HESCO containers with soil taken from the eastern wall of the sacred precinct were placed on the way, and barbed wire was attached by steel stakes to the wall itself and in the middle of Processional Way. There is also a cut in the wall itself with a length of 2.5 m, a depth of 50 cm, and a height of 1.5 m.
- Many of the reconstructed features and buildings have suffered damage, including the Inner Wall, the Temple of Ninmakh, the Temple of Ishtar, the Nabu-sha-Hare Temple, the royal palaces and the Babylonian houses. Part of the roof of the Ninmakh Temple collapsed and cracked. Fractures and openings can be seen in the walls of various buildings. The presence of the MNF-1 in Babylon made these structures inaccessible, preventing the SBAH from maintaining their normal procedures of monitoring and repair. A contributing factor to the damage in the Ninmakh Temple may have been the vibration resulting from constant air traffic coming from the close-by helipad. Also, the movement of heavy vehicles within the site caused undefined damage to the archaeological sub-surface layers by churning up or compressing earth.
Looting & damage to artefacts and archives during the war
During the war in 2003, the archaeological city was subjected to encroachment and damage. The Nebuchadnezzar and Hammurabi museums were broken into and everything in the two museums was stolen. Fortunately, the objects exhibited in the two museums were plaster replicas rather than originals, but this did not prevent them from being stolen. Some of these replicas were found scattered and destroyed in the grounds of the two museums. The Project Management Headquarters (Study Centre) and the Museum Office also attracted the thieves and robbers. Whatever could not be stolen was burned. Everything in the Babylon Library and Archive was destroyed, including important reports, maps, and studies on the results of excavation and preservation works undertaken by the Babylon Archeological Restoration Project.
You can read the full report at the UNESCOwebsite. But after taking a glance at even just this short summary, one can not help but wonder if archaeologists should advise the military on Middle East heritage?