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Conservation of Cultural Heritage: Babylon

The American invasion of Iraq happened in 2003, but Babylon and the ancient ruins of Mesopotamia have suffered from neglect and mistreatment for much longer than that. Today, international agencies and the American and Iraqi governments are working together to preserve the cultural heritage of Babylon.

In 2004, after the invasion, the World Monuments Fund began collaborating with Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage “to assess the conditions of the site and develop a list of priority conservation projects to stabilize the archaeological ruins.” One goal of the project, “The Future of Babylon: Conserving Iraq’s Cultural Heritage,” is to help secure a World Heritage nomination for Babylon.

In October of 2008, the Department of State launched the Iraq Cultural Heritage Project. According to the New York Times, this November the Department announced a new $2 million grant to begin work to preserve the site’s most impressive surviving ruins.

The conservation efforts seem largely geared towards tourism and exploitation, which is reportedly causing some dispute between the various parties involved. Is it about cultural and historical understanding, or is it about economic viability? Should one country implement and control conservation efforts of the cultural heritage of another country?

See this Tour of Iraq’s Ancient Sites, by Steven Lee Meyers, Stephen Farrell, and Shiho Fukada. The writers of the article acknowledge that the conservation efforts will open the sites up to tourists, but they will also re-open them for Iraqis, “whose engagement with the ancient past has been obliterated by the more recent past.” However, conservation of the old is a new concept, and local “existential threats” facing these monuments, such as looting, still persist.

Read the New York Times article here.