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Ancient Capital to be Flooded

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• The Story of the Dam
Assyria: The Big Picture

The ancient city of Ashur, capital of the powerful Assyrian Empire, will soon be flooded, to make way for modern people.

Farmers and settlers in the Tigris River valley near what used to be Ashur need water for their crops and their survival. A dam is being built to contain rainwater and river water. The resulting reservoir will flood the Ashur site and forever bury artifacts that archaeologists have yet to discover.

For the science of archaeology, this is sad indeed. Archaeologists are still digging in and around Ashur, trying to understand more about the Assyrians and why they did what they did. When the dam is finished later this year, that digging will have to stop.

Yet these Iraqi people need water to survive. It's hard to argue that an ancient site should be kept intact in the face of modern starvation.

Such is the nature of archaeology and, in a way, history. Archaeologists and historians continually fight for the need for understanding the past, as opposed to meeting the needs of the present and the future.

History, it can be argued, is a way to understand the present and the future. Population migration patterns, weather patterns, and agriculture practices don't change much from millennium to millennium. By studying how people lived, moved, and grew food thousands of years ago, historians can predict what kinds of changes might be needed in today's and tomorrow's farms and settlements.

And yet, these same historians and archaeologists have to look into the faces of the people who are starving today and decide for themselves what is more important: understanding the past or assuring the present and future.

It's always a tough choice.

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