Graverobbers feared as lake reveals Iraqi history

Mon Apr 6, 2009 11:12am EDT
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By Mohammed Abbas

HADITHA LAKE, Iraq (Reuters) - Drought and dams have vastly shrunk a lake in Iraq's western Anbar province, revealing ancient dwellings and burial sites that archaeologists fear will now be targeted by thieves.

"We found recently opened graves with destroyed grave items around. We found some bones scattered nearby. Some of this is due to the water, but this was also due to recent activity," said Yassin Jbara, an archaeologist supervising Haditha sites.

Recently broken ancient jars lie scattered on the lake's banks, where an eerie forest of skeletal trees have re-emerged from water that flooded the area in 1986 when a dam was built.

Dams further up the Euphrates river and drought have vastly dried the lake over the past two years. Now the dead trees stand stark against the bleak desert landscape, and decaying birds sway in the fishing nets tangled in the tree tops.

"There are people that dig up these pots and break them open looking for gold," said Jbara, plucking pottery from the mud.

Looting of the country's ancient sites has been a common problem in the decades of war and sanctions under Saddam Hussein and the lawlessness that engulfed Iraq since he fell in 2003, when looters carted off 15,000 artifacts just from the museum.

Iraq lies in the heart of a region many call the cradle of civilization, where Assyria, Babylonia and Sumer are among cultures and empires that have risen and fallen over millennia.

On the banks of Haditha Lake, rock staircases and the domed ceilings of mud-filled rooms are now visible under a carpet of shells left behind by the lake water.   Continued...