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Umm Khashm Cemetery: Iraq's ancient Christian burial ground

Graves in the Umm Khashm Cemetery in Iraq.   -  
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Cleared / AP


In the Iraqi province of Najaf, south of the capital Baghdad, lies a historical site that serves as a testament to the nation's rich and diverse heritage: the Umm Khashm Cemetery.

The cemetery which is located in the al-hira district is over 1,800 years old, authorities say.

Nowadays, sheep are herded near the historical site where Christian graves were dug.

The graves which vary in construction from ones covered with pottery urns to gable-shaped pottery coffins, offer a window into the burial practices and beliefs of Iraq's ancient Christian communities.

"Al-Hira was an area inhabited by a community called 'al-obbad', most of whom were Christians. The Christian cemeteries are like a living witness that speaks about the Christian heritage, civilization, and our cultural diversity. Among those cemeteries are the al-Manabir Christian cemetery and Umm Khashm Cemetery. This cemetery, Umm Khashm, is considered one of the biggest Christian cemeteries in the Middle East and may match or reach the status of the Vatican’s Christian cemetery."

One of the site's main enemies have been looters. Umm Khashm has been plagued with illegal excavations and vandalism due to negligence and insufficient security by Iraqi authorities.

Looters pilfer valuables buried with the deceased. These include treasures and artifacts alongside personal items like crosses or glass bottles containing perfume.

Reserchers regret a lack of maintenance.

"Unfortunately, this area has been subjected to unjust and illegal excavation by antiquities thieves. The cemetery was exhumed after 2003 in a terrifying manner, and these antiquities were smuggled to unknown destinations. We deeply regret the government’s neglect of this cemetery and its failure to protect it along with its antiquities."

The aftermath of the U.S. invasion in 2003 marked a dark period of escalated looting and desecration of archaeological sites across Iraq.

The burial ground in al-Hira district was discovered in 1986.

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