In Mesopotamia… Iraq's archaeological sites are victims of climate change

Thousands of years old archaeological sites in Iraq are exposed to great damage due to factors resulting from climate change, such as sand storms and increased salinity, in a country that "suffers more than others and works less" to confront this phenomenon.

Iraqi archaeologist Aqil Al-Mansrawi speaks while he stands on top of sand that almost completely covers one of the archaeological sites, and contemplates the antiquities around it dating back more than 4 thousand years, saying, "Umm al-Aqarib is in fact one of the most important Sumerian cities in southern Mesopotamia," referring to It "had a distinguished role during the third millennium BC."

The mother of scorpions – which brings together many temples, including the Sumerian god "Sharaa", on a desert land of 5 square kilometers in southern Iraq – reached the peak of its glory in 2350 BC.

During their missions, archaeologists discovered canals, pottery pieces, tablets, tablets, and vital pieces that tell the history of the Sumerians.

Today, the site of Umm al-Aqrab suffers from indirect effects caused by climate change, including the increasing sand storms in Iraq, in addition to the frequent looting of the site, as is the case with other sites that lack good protection.

More than 10 sand storms swept Iraq during the year 2022, according to a report prepared by the French Press Agency.

Archaeologist Aqil Al-Mansrawi inspects ancient bricks and building remains at the archaeological site of Umm al-Aqrab (French)

Sand expansion

Al-Mansrawi points out that "moving sands began to creep and cover large parts of the" Umm al-Aqrab" site, in a phenomenon that has been going on for "10 years."

According to him, "moving sands, with their large quantities creeping on these sites, will probably cover, during the next ten years, 80% to 90% of these archaeological sites" in southern Iraq.

"(Future) archaeological missions will have to do more" to clean the land before excavations begin, he continues.

Remains of an ancient structure in Umm al-Aqrab, which was buried by sandstorms due to desertification in the Rifai region in southern Iraq (French)

Sand, silt and salinity

For his part, Jaafar Al-Jawthari, a professor of archeology at the University of Al-Qadisiyah, says that the winds are currently "full of larger quantities of dust" and "carry impurities from the earth, especially sand and silt, which leads to the erosion of archaeological buildings."

He points out that the problem lies in drier winters and increasingly hot summers, with temperatures exceeding 50 degrees Celsius, which leads to "weakening and fragmenting the soil due to the lack of vegetation cover."

The other factor is salinity, which constitutes the second enemy of archaeological sites, and is due to the “very dry” environment, according to Mark Al-Taweel, professor of Near Eastern Archeology at UCL University in London, saying when “water evaporates very quickly, only salts remain.” ". And the accumulation of large quantities of salts eats everything.

Iraq is one of the 5 most affected countries in the world by some of the tangible effects of climate change, led by long periods of drought, according to United Nations reports.

Iraq's archaeological marvels that survived millennia and the devastation of war now face a modern threat from climate change (French)

Iraq suffers from drought despite the presence of its two famous rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, which are the main source of irrigation for the majority of the farmers of this country. The drought is largely due to the lack of rain, and some dams in the countries neighboring Iraq limit the flow of water as well.

Al-Jawthari says that Al-Iraqi has the “worst hydraulic management,” as it dates back to the Sumerian and Akkadian eras and continues to this day, in which farmers depend on irrigation by the immersion method, which consumes huge amounts of water and causes great losses.

Hence, the water shortage is gradually driving farmers and herders to migrate to the cities in order to survive.

As a result, "after farmers abandon their land, the soil becomes more vulnerable to the winds," which carries sand and silt with it, according to al-Jawthuri.

The former President of the Republic of Iraq, Barham Salih, warned at the end of 2021 that "39% of Iraqi lands were affected by desertification", which is a percentage that could be increased.

Land stripped by high temperatures and prolonged drought (French)

Climate change

Here, a solution must be sought to save Iraq's archaeological heritage, as this country suffers from corruption, a third of its population lives in poverty and its archaeological sites are neglected, despite its vast oil wealth.

Shamil Ibrahim, Director of Antiquities in Dhi Qar Governorate – where Umm al-Aqrab is located – acknowledges that the archaeological sites are "more vulnerable to erosion and winds than others due to desertification, drought and climate change, especially during these years when Iraq faced water shortages, lack of rain and drought."

At the same time, he affirms that the Iraqi government is working to control the sandy areas that are blown by the wind, by afforestation of these areas and the establishment of a "green belt" represented by planting trees at a cost of up to 5 billion dinars (about 3.8 million dollars).

Despite this, Al-Jawthari questions the effectiveness of these initiatives, because preserving vegetation "requires large amounts of water," adding, "We are the country that suffers the most and works the least" to face the effects of climate change.

Despite the great disadvantages of desertification and drought on the Iraqi antiquities, the recent decrease in the water level in the Tigris River led to the emergence of the antiquities of Zakhiko in the Kurdish region in Iraq. A team of local and German archaeologists began excavations at the site, revealing new details about the city after short preliminary excavations in 2018 revealed the ruins of an ancient palace.

Zakhiko completely disappeared in the 1980s, when it was flooded as part of the Mosul Dam project built under the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (previously known as the Saddam Dam ), the largest and most important water reservoir in Iraq used for irrigation downstream.

Peter Walzner from the University of Tübingen in Germany, an archaeologist working at the site known locally as "Kamuna", told a previous report published on Al Jazeera Net, that "with the recent excavations, the locals have become familiar with Zakhiko … they visit the site, and it was broadcast on local television." People are getting deeper into their history and they are proud of it."

Mesopotamia has long been known as the oldest region where wheat was first cultivated around 10,000 years ago. Bread was the staple food of the Zakhyko people, often eaten with vegetable soups and stews, according to Walzner.

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