SAMAWAH, Iraq – Japan plans to help prevent the theft of precious artifacts from being stolen from the ruins of Sumer in southern Iraq, site of the world’s oldest known city-state system, government sources said.
Because valuable artifacts continue to disappear from the ruins, Japan will help local authorities tighten security at the sites, providing them with patrol vehicles and other equipment, according to the sources.
The government is considering extending such assistance to Iraq through UNESCO, using $600,000 in grant aid, the sources said.
The Sumerian site of Uruk, dating to around 3000 B.C. and known for the Epic of Gilgamesh, is one of the sites for which Japan is expected to provide the assistance, the sources said.
The Uruk site is about 30 km east of the city of Samawah, where Ground Self-Defense Force troops have been deployed on a humanitarian mission.
The site has not been severely damaged, but local people say groups have attempted to dig there.
In addition to providing clean water and medical assistance to Iraq, Japan has also decided to step up efforts to preserve important cultural assets in the country.
Since the regime of Saddam Hussein collapsed last April, it has been difficult to assess fully the extent of damage to ancient sites, as archaeologists have refrained from visiting excavations in the strife-ridden country for security reasons.
When a UNESCO investigative group, including Japanese archaeologists, visited Iraq from last June to July, it confirmed that some ancient sites had been damaged.
“Iraq has many ruins that can be nominated for World Heritage sites, such as Uruk,” said Ken Matsumoto, a professor at Kokushikan University’s Institute for Cultural Studies of Ancient Iraq. “It is preferable to come up immediately with preventive measures, such as forming security units.”
Japan plans to disburse about $28 million worth of grant aid to help Iraq purchase police cars and $1 million to repair museums and other places.
The latest plan to provide security assistance is in addition to the previous aid for Iraq’s reconstruction, the sources said.
The Sumerian civilization appeared in southern Mesopotamia around 3000 B.C. It had a great influence on the law, culture and religion of the region at the time.
Sumerian is also the oldest written language in existence.