Ancient Civilizations
Looting of Iraqi Treasures
The Ziggurat at UR
Military Presence
US Military to Hand Over Ur
Ziggurat of Ur with US Military Tanks
Image Credit: Antiquitieswatch

On May 13, the U.S. Military will hand back the ancient site of Ur
to the Government of Iraq
The transfer of responsibility for the protection and control of the archaeological site follows the Military’s return of the ancient site of Babylon to Iraqi forces in December 2006 and the partial reopening of the Iraq Museum in February under the auspices of the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

The ancient site of Ur is known today as Tell el-Mukayyar. It lies south of the Euphrates River in Dhi Qar province outside the southern city of Nasiriyah and near the ancient site of Eridu and Hilla, considered to be the site of the Hanging Gardens, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. In the past, Ur was strategically located at the river’s mouth and was a central city in what is popularly referred to as ‘the cradle of civilization’.

Standard of Ur
Image Credit: Antiquitieswatch

Ur dates to the Ubaid Period, approximately 6,000 BC. It later served as one of two great urban centers of the Sumerian Civilization in the third millennium BC. Ur was the seat of power of the king Ur-Nammu who constructed a number of temples, including the well-known Ziggurat of Ur (used as a temple for the moon deity Nanna). The site was later reconstructed and developed under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar II. It was largely abandoned, however, by 550 BC.

Ur is also well known for its ties to Biblical history. Many consider the site to be the city of Ur Kasdim mentioned in the Book of Genesis as the birthplace of Abraham.

Archaeological excavations at Ur began at the turn of the last century. Early excavations were led by the British consul and resulted in the discovery of numerous restorations to the ziggurat as well as evidence of an ancient Babylonian necropolis not far from the ziggurat. Excavations in the 1920s and 1930s resulted in the discovery of 1,850 burials and hundreds of artifacts dating to the first stage of settlement in southern Mesopotamia. The University of Pennsylvania and British Museum in London funded the digs. As a consequence, the majority of archaeological material from Ur is now in their collections.

For many years, Ur was an active archaeological site and considered among leading art historians, cultural historians, and archaeologists to be an invaluable source of information on our shared heritage and the development of civilization in the Near East. With the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, however, the ancient site of Ur was closed to the public. The US Military air base of Talila was set up beside the site. The base includes two runways (12,000 and 9,700 feet long), 350,000 square feet of hangars Military ceremonies (see photo of reenlistment ceremony below) and various gatherings were held on the steps of the ancient ziggurat. Frequent air and ground traffic resulted in damage to the site’s fragile structures and, presumable, undiscovered material. Vibrations from helicopters and large vehicles were blamed for the majority of the damage.

Reenlistment Ceremony at the Ziggurat
                              of Ur
Image Credit: Antiquitieswatch

Perhaps most shocking was the direct, unchecked harm US Marines did to the ziggurat. According to Chalmers Johnson, Marines spray-painted their motto, “Semper Fi” (semper fidelis, always faithful) onto the ancient walls. Many are photographed holding up the bricks originally used the temple’s construction and news reports have suggested that a number of military personnel attempted to take them back as souvenirs. To top it all off, two Burger Kings and one Pizza Hut were built on the base, in the ancient cradle of civilization.

Art historians and archaeologists such as Professor Zainab Bahrani of Columbia University McGuire Gibson of the University of Chicago who are familiar with the site warned the US State Department that the Military’s use of the area surrounding Ur was irresponsible and dangerous. Unfortunately, mismanagement and irresponsible treatment continued in Ur and at a number of other sites including the Iraq Museum.

Now, when it is too late, we see the catastrophic damage and destruction that shared disregard for cultural property can cause. Hopefully, the transfer of control over the site of Ur will lead to better security in the area, thorough and careful restoration initiatives for the area’s numerous damaged structures, and the continued pursuit of artifacts stolen from the site over the past several years.

SOURCE: Antiquitieswatch

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