Saturday 4 May 2013

Looting and Conflict in Syria - do you KNOW where those antiquities have come from?

There is some horrific photographic evidence of looting of a site in Syria in Google Earth Images. The evidence has recently been examined by Dr Ignacio Arce, Director of the Spanish Archaeological Mission to Jordan. These two images below show the same part of the same archaeological site, the ancient city of Apamea, on the Orontes, about 55 km (34 mi) to the northwest of Hama in Syria. The top image shows the appearance of the site as captured by Google Earth on 20th July 2011, and the one below it as it appeared just nine months later on 4th April 2012. It is quite clear that there has been large-scale looting taking place between these two dates (and there is no reason to assume that it has stopped).

Google Earth  20th July 2011

Google Earth,  4th April 2012

See Trafficking Culture . Despite the latter's name, they do not follow through, several dealers on V-coins are currently offering coins minted in Apamea (Forum Ancient Coins, Shick Coins, Praefectus Coins, Time Machine Co., Sebastian Sondermann,   Sphinx Numismatics, Zurqieh,  Zuzim, Ancient Imports, Tom Cederlind, Nemesis Ancients) . Only one of them has any sort of collecting history ('Ex. F. Kovacs') , while the description of another indicates it still has an "earthen green patina with some minor deposits".   There are many other artefacts from Syria on the same website, with no attempt to explain how they got there.

Over on the European equivalent, MA-coins, there are similar items (dealers Sondermann Numismatics, and Münzenhandlung Dirk Löbbers ). None have any sort of collecting history given. There are many other artefacts from Syria on the same website, with no attempt to explain how they got there.
For a long time people have been aware that looting of archaeological sites for collectables and breakdown  of civil order (or the outbreak of war or unrest) go together. The photos above seem to be another piece of evidence pointing to this. The dealers and collectors who are buying the looted goods coming from this region are cynically exploiting the human misery and death caused by this war, and it would seem - from the lack of reference to such informnation on the part of the dealers - they do not give even a moment's thought to whether a dugup artefact on sale "surfaced" before or during the present conflict.  This would hardly be the case if there had been any expressions of concern from clients of these dealers. While the trade in blood antiquities is self-evidently evil, we see absolutely no sign that the dealers selling coins from this region are at all concerned to disassociate themselves from it.

To come back to the photos, it would be interesting to know what the site looks like on the ground. What we can see from the air is that there are the cropmarks of the street layout, and the looters holes are avoiding the streets and going for the buildings. They are also avoiding the margins of the town, in the lee of the defences, in many urban sites these areas were only built-up later and often contain poorer establishments than those nearer the core of the town. These looters have a relatively good idea of where to look and seem to be relatively well-organized. In several regions evenly-spaced holes can be seen in areas not subsequently (at the time the latest photos were taken) explored. It's almost like these are sondages. The activity in the southern regions quite clearly is being carried out within (and respecting) modern property boundaries, suggesting that it is not necessarily outsiders involved in clandestine digging, but the property owners/users themselves. In the southwest some holes have already been backfilled and ploughed-over. Looking at the size of the spoil-heaps, most of these looters' holes seem to be quite shallow (but then the stratification itself might not be very deep).

What however is interesting is that there are several dozen tells in the near vicinity of Apamea, and only one of the ones I looked at on Google Earth this evening (Tell Jifar) showed any looting pits at all, though Tell jifar was rather heavily damaged, so that is no consolation. It would however be interesting to know the reasons for the differences in the scale and scope of the looting. 


Unknown said...

I Syrian city of Apamea in the selection
Very unfortunate what happened and get to the city of Apamea and Castle Strait (qalaat Al-mudiq), which is now a military hostel Army Assad

Thing .. very sad ..

Paul Barford said...

Sad indeed, we are all thinking of the people of Syria and praying this will end soon.

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