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In Beleaguered Babylon, Doing Battle Against Time, Water and Modern Civilization

BABYLON, Iraq — Ammar al-Taee, an Iraqi archaeologist, picked up a clay panel fallen from one of the ancient walls of Babylon. Paw prints of a dog that wandered onto the drying clay more than 2,000 years ago obscure part of the cuneiform inscription — a reminder that these ruins were once a living city.

“This is the heritage of Iraq, and we need to save it,” said Mr. al-Taee, 29.

As part of a new generation of archaeologists, Mr. al-Taee works for the Iraqi government on a World Monuments Fund project aimed at stemming the damage to one of the world’s best known — yet least understood — archaeological sites.

After years of Iraqi effort, Babylon was inscribed two years ago as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognizing the exceptional universal cultural value of what was considered the most dazzling metropolis in the ancient world.

But you have to use your imagination.

A century ago, German archaeologists carted off the most significant parts of the city. A reconstructed Ishtar Gate using many of the original glazed tiles is a centerpiece of Berlin’s Pergamon Museum. Other pieces of Babylon’s walls were sold off to other institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Now, Babylon, like many of Iraq’s archaeological sites, has fallen into disrepair. The elements and damaging reconstruction have left walls crumbling, and construction and fuel pipelines threaten vast areas of the huge, largely unexcavated city.

Read entire article at New York Times