Reading The archaeologists start with restoration work, excavations and track down stolen finds Gulf War, burning oil refineries, poverty as far as the eye can see. This picture has impressed us. But now Iraq is slowly awakening from its post-war lethargy. Last April, the National Iraq Museum reopened. Restoration works and excavations are resumed.

Most buildings in ancient Baghdad date from the Ottoman period (14th to early 20th centuries). With their finely formed facades, they stand in stark contrast to the ugly living silos of the 70s and 80s, which were built on the model of the Soviet model. The Gulf War and subsequent UN sanctions had almost brought the restoration work to a standstill. Only now are they blossoming again.

But Baghdad is not only trying to restore the architecture of the last centuries to its former glory. Even the much older cultural heritage of the millennium BC, when the Sumerians and Akkadian and later the Assyrians and Babylonians ruled over the former Mesopotamia and far beyond, wants to preserve and protect Baghdad.

Everywhere in the desert areas of Iraq, sunken cities slumber, recognizable by the tells, so-called mounds of ruins, in which the remains of cities up to 6, 000 years old are buried. Cities with temples, palaces and cemeteries made of mud bricks. Such sites were plundered in chaos after the 1991 war and years of poverty. Also from the regional museums disappeared 4000 found objects, sometimes by organized smuggling bands. So far, the anti-service could only watch helplessly. Now he is planning a new approach to tackle such looting. With the help of neighboring Jordan, Iraq has already recovered thousands of stolen finds. Nevertheless, much remains to be done. display

"To protect the sites, workers and security personnel must be on-site, " says archaeologist Donny George. "So far, this method has paid off 100 percent." In the last two years, archaeologists have begun excavations at 21 endangered sites.

In April 2000, the National Iraq Museum reopened its doors for the first time since the Gulf War. The valuable finds had been kept there for more than a decade to protect them from theft and destruction. Now the treasures are open to the public again. These include ornate ivory carvings, large Assyrian wall reliefs and a Sumerian marble head. (BBC News)

Birgit Stöcklhuber

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