Thursday, 2 July 2015

Palmyra Busts go Under the Hammer

Al-lat lion
Readers will remember that a month ago ISIL released this information to the world's media: ISIS 'will not destroy' Palmyra ruins, only statues. A few weeks ago they demolished the 1,900-year-old Lion of Al-Lat statue  dedicated to an ancient goddess (John Hall, 'ISIS 'destroys' famous lion god statue in captured Syrian city of Palmyra... just days after promising locals they would not obliterate ancient monuments' Daily Mail 28th May 2015 [with distortion of information about the prison demolition represented as an attack on the ruins]).  The limestone statue was discovered in 1977 by a Polish archeological mission at the temple of Al-Lat, a pre-Islamic Arabian goddess, and dated back to the 1st century BC. [UPDATE What I do not understand is that several ostensibly reputable newspapers are reporting  that the lion was destroyed just a few days ago, while there were clear reports that the destruction had happened at the end of May, just a week after the taking of the town. This discrepancy is hard to explain].

Now photos are appearing online which show some Palmyrene busts being theatrically smashed apparently in a public square in the town while onlookers observe impassively: Avi Lewis, 'Islamic State destroys historical statues in Palmyra' (Times of Israel, July 2, 2015): "The Islamic State has begun defacing and destroying ancient historical artefacts in the city of Palmyra, according to unverified reports on social media. In the images, operatives armed with sledgehammers can be seen shattering a row of stone sculptures". In another photo six (the same ?) pieces can be lying on a carpeted floor (perhaps a museum office). Sadly these do not look like plaster casts, but two at least do not seem high quality pieces. Most of the pieces in the city's museum were evacuated by antiquities staff before IS arrived, though the group has blown up several historic Muslim graves in recent weeks.

It is interesting to note that in some of the photos, the face of two of the men involved (one taking a piece of stonework from a truck, the other wielding a hammer) have been blurred out. Who did this and why when others have their face shown in plain view? Could it be that ISIL do not want outsiders who've met these guys in another context being recognized? For example, antiquities dealers? I imagine the sight of these six busts left back in Syria being pulverised has foreign dealers and collectors reaching for their chequebooks to 'save' the ones that they will be very soon be being offered by shady gentlemen with a furtive look.

UPDATE 2nd July 2015, 20:55 PM
As more details emerge, I am less sure what these photos actually show (leading to a comma removed in the heading), watch this space. Sam Hardy is also working on this evening too. It is worth noting that the blurred out faces in the photos affect the two men taking stones from a truck (their truck?) and the third in the stone-smashing scenes seems to be the same man who is shown in another photo which surfaced later being flogged.
UPDATE  UPDATE 2nd July 2015, later still
Now see " Confusion over new photos of ISIL Destroying Palmyra statues"
"Who's Pulling the Journalists' Strings?"

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