U.S.-Led Troops Have Damaged Babylon, British Museum Says
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ONDON, Jan. 15 (AP) - American-led troops using the ancient Iraqi city of Babylon as a base have damaged and contaminated artifacts dating back thousands of years in one of the world's most important archaeological sites, the British Museum said Saturday.
For example, military vehicles crushed a 2,600-year-old brick pavement, and archaeological fragments, including broken bricks stamped by King Nebuchadnezzar II, were scattered at the site, a museum report said. The dragons at the Ishtar Gate were marred by cracks and gaps where someone tried to remove their decorative bricks, the report said.
John Curtis, keeper of the British Museum's Near East department, who was invited by the Iraqis to study the site, said in the report, "This is tantamount to establishing a military camp around the Great Pyramid in Egypt or around Stonehenge in Britain."
He acknowledged that at first the American presence protected the site from looters. But later work - including covering large areas with gravel to provide parking lots and helipads - was damaging, he said.
In an interview on Saturday with Associated Press Television News, Iraq's minister of culture, Mufeed al-Jazairi, said "I expect that the archaeological city of Babylon has sustained damage but I don't know exactly the size of such damage."
The remains of Babylon have been occupied since the early days of the invasion by American marines and, more recently, by soldiers from Poland and other countries. Babylon is 50 miles south of Baghdad.
A Polish military spokesman in Iraq, Lt. Col. Artur Domanski, said troops were cooperating with Iraqi authorities in efforts to protect the site. "I have asked our archaeologists to prepare a specific answer to the accusations, but I have to give them some time," he said.
The city's main sites - the Ishtar Gate, the ruins of Babylon and the Nebuchadnezzar Palace - are in a separate area on the camp's perimeter, run by Iraqi officials as an archaeological park to paying visitors.
The United States military says that all earth moving has been halted and that it is considering relocating troops to protect the ruins.
Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, an American military spokesman, said that all engineering work was discussed with the head of the Babylon museum. "An archaeologist examined every construction initiative for its impact on historical ruins," he said.
Copyright 2005 NYT