An ancient Mesopotamian city discovered recently in Syria could be lost forever, experts fear. The circular city, dating back 4,500 years in the enclave of Tall Qabr, was found using cutting edge geo-lasertechnology. Its location along the Euphrates River means it may hold the key to boundaries between the Mari Kingdom and its southern Babylonian neighbours, in modern Iraq.
Yet the city may be lost forever, thanks to flooding from a modern dam. Its Spanish discoverers, from the universities of Coruna and Vigo, have hastily prepared a report for UNESCO in the hope that it can send scores of archaeologists to dig up the city before disaster strikes. The city could even make it onto UNESCO’s 31-strong list (controversially missing Kashgar) of world heritage sites in danger, which already includes Samarra in Iraq, and Israel’s holy city of Jerusalem.
The danger is a sour note on what has been an successful project so far, for a 20-strong team led by Jean Luis Montero. The group has worked since 2008 in the area, known as the Hill of the Tomb, alongside the Syrian government. And thanks to groundbreaking geo-lasers, which can sniff out sites without having to break ground, Montero believes the team has found a site which will change Mesopotamian history.
The city’s circular plan is its most significant feature, singling it out from established cities in the area such as Mari. A fort was also unearthed, built around a thousand years after the initial layout.
Montero, who will announce his team’s breakthrough later this month in Madrid, has likened the well-preserved state of the city to that of doomed Roman metropolis Pompeii, which was frozen in time when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.
Montero’s team are hoping the city can reveal more about a time in Middle Eastern past notably devoid in written history. The Kingdom of Mari was inhabited from the 5th millennium BC, yet flourished three thousand years later. It met an abrupt end in 1759 BC, however, when it was sacked by legendary Babylonian King Hammurabi.
Sadly, the city is just one of many Mesopotamian treasures to face destruction in recent years. Thanks to ongoing conflict in Iraq, much of Babylon’s ruins have been destroyed – with many placing blame on the US Army. Likewise, Baghdad Museum has been ravaged by looting and insurgency. Artefacts dating back to the beginnings of civilization have been found as far afield as The Netherlands and Japan, as the region desperately tries to claw back its amazing heritage. Montero and his team will be hoping their fledgling find is not the latest to suffer at the hands of modern man.