Sunday, 26 May 2013

Syria (1) Evidence of Looting from Google Earth as of 5th May 2013, Southwestern parts

As I mentioned earlier, I decided to have a look through the Google Earth coverage of Syria looking for evidence of the looting. As guide to the search I used the ANE Placemarks for Google Earth by Olof Pedersén (I mentioned them earlier here). I imagine it does not show every known site in Syria (it shows very few flat sites, or lithic sites, concentrating mainly on tells), but it probably highlights the most important and visible sites -  so those looters searching for good stuff to sell might be expected to be targeting. I consider my search of the sites highlighted in this database and the areas around to have been quite thorough. The evidence will be presented within the present administrative districts of Syria in three posts, the southwestern regions (this post) and the western and northern regions (below - under construction).

The latest photos of these sites on Google Earth at the time of writing (sadly, mostly from 2012 rather than this year) were examined from a variety of 'heights' (300 to 100 m most commonly) and where holes were seen, they were marked with a red placemark. Single holes often in the top of mounds were ignored, they could just as easily have been dug by bored teenage boys fired by folk legends of 'treasure'. Also open trenches obviously made by archaeologists (a surprising number of open holes in fact) were ignored, but were searched for evidence of subsequent digging and disturbance (fairly rare in fact, though some may have been hidden in shadows of trench walls). Also ignored were irregular holes made at the foot of tell slopes, often with traces of tracks leading to them, where it seems the mounds had been damaged by activities connected with quarrying soil (mud brick?) for building or other purposes. A very large number of tells in fact had modern or old cemeteries on them, either covering a substantial are of the surface, or part of the area. While these represent disturbance, they also may well have discouraged amateur digging in the near vicinity. A number of sites - especially in the coastal regions and in the southwestern tip of the country facing Lebanon had military installations on and in them, including the digging of sunken artillery posts. These are not listed here.  I have not been to any of these sites, nor have I sought ground-level photos.

I have not listed the eroded traces of what seem to be earlier looters' holes which also appear in the layers of earlier photos, going back to the years before the current civil war. These would repay further study, but the present project was intended to look at the effects Google Earth shows of the present conflict. It seems there had been a spate of looting of some sites before 2007 (though in many of these cases earlier Google Earth photos were not detailed enough to check when).

To save the reader ploughing through it, the results show that at the time of the survey (5th May 2013) there was in fact little evidence of the sort of looting exhibited by Apamea, Al-Suqaylabiyah district of Hama governate, and nowhere else on the same scale (which in itself raises questions about what is happening at Apamea). most of the looted sites are in the north of the country. 

[I've not yet worked out how to embed Google Earth placemarks into this post, when I do, I hope to come back and do that, until then to use this you'll just have to use the search box to find the spot]

Southwestern region

Quneitra Governorate (35 sites listed on ANE placemarks)

No looters' holes detected 

Daraa Governorate (18 sites listed on ANE placemarks)
Few looters' holes detected, one possible example at Tell Ash'ari ( 32°44'36.62"N  36° 0'52.17"E)

As-Suwayda Governorate (10 sites, mostly in west,  listed on ANE placemarks)

No looters' holes detected (photos mostly 12th Feb 2011)

Rif Dimashq (30 sites, mostly in west, listed on ANE placemarks)

Few looters holes detected. One extensive area of holes to NW of cemetery (some graves exhumed?) at Tell Ghizlanieh  (33°23'39.51"N  36°27'12.78"E).

Homs Governorate (44 sites, mostly in west, listed on ANE placemarks)

A number of looted sites detected:

Tell Hajbah [ 34°53'58.93"N  36°53'53.94"E],Qatna/Tell Mishrifeh [ 34°49'57.33"N  36°51'54.12"E],
Tell es-Silla,
Tell Noguaira,
Tell Arquni [ 34°34'55.36"N 36°39'26.24"E]
Tell el-Kebir [ 34°35'53.93"N ] 36°31'40.15"E,
Tell Zira'at/Ribla.  [34°27'34.65"N  36°34'23.38"E]
Palmyra (Tadmur), despite international concern, no clear traces of looters' holes seen here on Google Earth photos.

Southeastern region
Deir ez-Zawr Governorate (44 sites, mostly in west, listed on ANE placemarks)
basically a desert area, except for a cluster of   24  sites along a 200 km stretch of the Euphrates, and another 7 in the lower reaches (60 km) of the Khabur.

There are two Roman town sites here, Circesium (Buseire - latest photos 2007) and Dura Europos, neither of which show any clear signs of looting from the satellite photos. The latter (latest photos 7/4/2011) has a couple of irregular pits in the centre, but these were there in 2007. The only clear looting in this area is at Tell Marwaniye, but these holes were visible in photos of 12/12/2007. The site at Mari (Tell Harir) has photos of 21/5/2011 where there are few unambiguous traces of looters' holes, perhaps there has been some digging within the open trenches 200m to the east of the protective building and there is a cluster of dark features with light soil around just to the north of this, they may be holes but are more likely bushes (the resolution is not too good). 

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