Wednesday, 25 November 2015

War, More Than ISIS, Is Destroying Syria's Ancient Sites

'Tel Brak idols', on the market for years
By focussing on blackening the reputation of ISIL, analysis of satellite images shows that the media are giving a poor picture of the cure the actual extent of damage to Syria’s rich cultural heritage.
The team examined images of 1,450 ancient sites across the shattered nation and found that one in four has been damaged or looted in the civil war that began in 2011. More than half of those sites are in rebel-controlled areas, followed by those dominated by Kurdish forces. Damage at sites claimed by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, accounts for a quarter of the destruction, with the remainder in areas loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “It is quite evident that overall incidents of looting are much higher in Kurdish and opposition-held areas than in either Syrian regime or ISIL areas,” said Jesse Casana, a Dartmouth University archaeologist who is leading the analysis. This finding should not be surprising, given that looting tends to spike in places with no civil authority, Casana told a gathering of the American Schools for Oriental Research in Atlanta earlier this month. Contested areas, such as those around the ancient city of Aleppo, have suffered even more extensively than sites under ISIS control. [...] When the team categorized damage as minor, moderate, or severe, sites in ISIS-controlled areas were more likely to have suffered severe damage than those in other parts of Syria. “This could be read as evidence of more organized, potentially state-sanctioned looting in those areas,” Casana added. 
Of course, this is more or less what Sam Hardy and I have been saying all along, for at least two years now. But it is nice to see the Americans catching up. I would say though that there is a need here to look at the phenomenon diachronically. In this and Sam's blog are documented examples where areas now in the control of one group were looted well before the group now there consolidated their current hold. The article is interesting for the mention of how even the team backed by the DoS has had problems getting access to up-to-date satellite imagery.

Andrew Lawler, 'War, More Than ISIS, Is Destroying Syria's Ancient Sites' National Geographic November 25, 2015

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