Antiquities experts guarding treasures

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The Independent Online

Iraqi archaeologists are risking their lives to guard some of the world's most important ancient treasures.

Iraqi archaeologists are risking their lives to guard some of the world's most important ancient treasures.

Mankind's earliest written documents, world-famous ancient sculptures, some of the earliest portrayals of gods, and ancient mathematical texts are among more than 100,000 treasures being guarded by 30 senior archaeologists at the Iraq Museum in the central Baghdad district of Salihyia. The museum is at particular risk because it is adjacent to one of the city's main telephone exchanges, and just 700 metres from the foreign ministry which has been hit in air raids.

The treasures dating from 7000 BC to 1000 AD – chronicle the achievements of the Uruk, Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian and early Islamic civilisations. The archaeologists are trying to protect many of the spectacular sculptures and bas-reliefs with sandbags, and they are now living in the museum to defend the collection from possible looting. They are led by the well known Iraqi prehistorian, Dr Donny George, director of research at the Iraq Antiquities Department.

Some of the ancient texts describe the adventures of Gilgamesh, the figure on which Noah is based. Other texts reveal Iraq's mathematical prowess by describing the Pythagoras theorem, 1500 years before the Greek mathematician.

There are also fears for the safety of internationally important archaeological and historic treasures in other parts of Iraq, especially at Ctesifon near Baghdad and in Mosul. Ctesifon has the largest unsupported brick arch in the world – dating from the 5th century AD – while Mosul is home to more than a dozen of the world's earliest churches.

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