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More than 2,500 years after the fiery destruction of the world's first major library, Iraqi scholars are hoping to see a Mesopotamian phoenix rise from the ashes.

Work is slated to start soon on a research centre and museum at Mosul University devoted to the study of cuneiform, the wedge-shaped writing system used across Mesopotamia for three millennia.

Scholars argue that the new centre, dubbed the Saddam Institute after Iraq's president, could leave a lasting legacy if it were to encourage preservation and cataloging of the thousands of tablets languishing in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, as well as prepare for an onslaught of new ones.

But others are concerned that, in an age of digital libraries, the tablet-based project could become a scholarly white elephant.

Reference: Science 296, 834 (2002)