Site that some biblical scholars say is the Garden of Eden just became a world heritage site

Posted July 25

An oasis in the middle of the Iraqi desert that some biblical scholars believe is the site of — or at least the inspiration for — the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis has officially been classified by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

The marshlands are fed by both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and are home to birds and fish, but the area has also been home for millennia to a group of people known as the Marsh Arabs, according to Reuters.

UNESCO describes the location as a "refuge of biodiversity and the relict landscape of the Mesopotamian cities," calling it truly "unique."

"The Ahwar of Southern Iraq — also known as the Iraqi Marshlands — are unique, as one of the world’s largest inland delta systems, in an extremely hot and arid environment," the organization said.

The description added that the area in Southern Iraq is comprised of four wetland marshes and three archaeological sites, which include the cities of Uruk and Ur; additionally, it includes Tell Eridu, an archaeological site.

The marshland, which once spanned 3,500 miles, has undergone major decimation over the past few decades. The negative impact started with dam projects in the 1970s that reduced water levels, according to The New York Times.

But former Iraq president Saddam Hussein caused much of the damage when he intentionally drained most of the water in the 1990s to push out rebels who were hiding on the land.

More specifically, Hussein constructed dams and canals — an effort that drained 90 percent of the marshlands — as he sought to punish the Marsh Arabs for what he deemed as treasonous acts.

Considering that they played a role in the uprising against Hussein's government, with their land helping to hide rebels, the Iraqi leader responded with the drainage plan. He also later burned and poisoned the land as well, leaving behind devastation, The New York Times reported.

Much of the water has returned in recent years, as efforts have been made to revitalize the land. An organization called "Eden Again" has worked fervently to restore the marshlands by removing Hussein-era water barriers and assessing other means of bringing the area back to its former glory.

The Ahwar of Southern Iraq is just 1 of 8 sites that UNESCO recently added to its list of world heritage sites, with other locations being added in Canada, China, Chad, Iran, Mexico and Sudan.

Additionally, there was a transnational land site in the Tien-Shan mountain system that belongs to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

There is now a total of 1,052 UNESCO world heritage sites — locations of social and cultural importance.

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