U.S.-led forces, using Iraq’s ancient city of Babylon as a military base, have caused “substantial damage” to one of the world’s most renowned archaeological treasures, a British Museum report said.
The report, quoted in Saturday’s Guardian newspaper, said U.S. and Polish military vehicles had crushed 2,600-year-old pavements in the city, a cradle of civilization and home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Archaeological fragments were used to fill sand bags, it added.
John Curtis, keeper of the museum’s Ancient and Near East department, invited to visit Babylon by Iraqi antiquities experts, also said he had found cracks and gaps made by people who had apparently tried to gouge out the decorated bricks forming the famous dragons of the city’s Ishtar Gate.
U.S. military commanders set up a base in Babylon in April 2003, just after the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, and handed it over to a Polish-led force five months later.
“This is tantamount to establishing a military camp around the Great Pyramid in Egypt or around Stonehenge in Britain,” Curtis said in the report.
Iraqis to take back control
The camp will be formally handed over to the Iraqi culture ministry on Saturday.
Babylon was the capital of ancient Babylonia, an early civilization that existed from around 1,800 BC until 600 BC.
Most famous for the Hanging Gardens built by Nebuchadnezzar, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, large parts of it were reconstructed by Saddam in an attempt to associate himself with his country’s past glories.
In the report, Curtis described the decision to set up a base in the area as “regrettable.”
Large areas of the site were covered in gravel, the report said, brought in from outside which was compacted and sometimes chemically treated to make helipads and car parks.
“The status of future information about these areas will therefore be seriously compromised,” the report said.
Lord Redesdale, the head of Britain’s all-party parliamentary archaeological group, told the Guardian he was horrified.
“Outrage is hardly the word, this is just dreadful.
“These are world sites. Not only is what the American forces are doing damaging the archaeology of Iraq, it’s actually damaging the cultural heritage of the whole world.”
The newspaper quoted Lieutenant Colonel Steven Boylan as saying the significance of Babylon was not lost on the foreign troops.
“An archaeologist examined every construction initiative for its impact on historical ruins.”