In Ancient City, Conservationists Can't Help Sprawl's Effects

Ninevah, one of the world's most endangered heritage sites, is deteriorating due to recent development and urban sprawl, say officials.
March 3, 2009, 12pm PST | Judy Chang
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'There is very little left of Ninevah now because of the encroachment,' says Muzahim Hussein, director of antiquities in Ninevah Province. Mr. Hussein says renovation in the 1990s of the Nebi Younis mosque – dedicated to the prophet Jonah and built on the site of an older church – destroyed part of the ancient city, across the river from modern Mosul.

'There are many treasures under there, but archaeologists could not stop the renovation,' says Hussein, who believes there is an Assyrian palace buried underneath the site. 'The department of antiquities could not stop the renovations because it was done by President Saddam Hussein himself, and because religiously, it's a holy place and you can't excavate near it or under it.'

The Iraqi archaeologist's excavation at Nebi Younis in 1990 revealed neo-Assyrian sculptures that appeared to be the entrance to a palace. Hussein says he wrapped them in plastic and buried them again to hide and protect them.

Conservation experts say that in Ninevah, unlike more remote archaeological sites in southern Iraq, urbanization is more of a threat than looting is. Ninevah was once the most powerful city in the ancient world. In the 7th century BC, the city was the wealthy capital of an empire stretching from the Nile Valley to the Caucasus mountains."

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Published on Tuesday, March 3, 2009 in The Christian Science Monitor
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