I've been reading with widening eyes a book I was given from the collection of a friend who died recently.
The book in question is Werner Keller's "The Bible As History".
It's still available, I think, but the version I've got is forty years old.
What first struck me is the amount of information that can be gleaned from ancient sites. Clay tablets with old texts that can be decoded recorded the routine commerce as well as the legends of history of long forgotten cities like Ur of the Chaldees.
These records have been found in thousands and are still being found.
They provide astonishing detail about life thousands of years BC. And many of the places Mr. Keller describes are in modern day Iraq.
For example, here is Keller's description of a temple site found under a dusty mound:
"Almost hidden by forests of shady palms the Euphrates flowed in those days past this spot. This great life-giving river carried a heavy traffic between Ur and the sea. At that time the Persian Gulf cut much deeper into the esturary of the Euphrates and the Tigris. Even before the first pyramid was built on the Nile Tell a-Muqayyar [a mound excavated in the 19th c.] was towering into the blue skies.
Silence reigned over this sanctuary, where priests performed their offices at the shrine of Nannar, the moon-god. The stir and noise of wealthy metropolitan Ur, one of the oldest cities of the world, hardly penetrated into it."
What dawned on me was that sites like that are so vulnerable in this time of risk and security crisis in Iraq.
Some checking confirmed my fears. Criminal gangs are apparently digging up these sites and the artefacts and clay tablets beneath them for a quick profit.
The tablets, statues and pottery excavated in this way may, perhaps, end up in the hands of those who will treasure them.
But what's lost, of course, is the information which connects them to the ancient world - their location and depth.
I'll be following up on this story over the next few days, and would be grateful for any information you might be able to give.