Monday 23 June 2014

New Imagery of Archaeological Site Looting in Syria

The US Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has released some updated satellite Imagery of Archaeological Site Looting in Syria, focussing on three sites in the Euphrates and Khabur valleys in Deir ez-Zor Governate, the area where insurgents have been highly active.

The first site is Dura Europos, Abu Kamal, Deir ez-Zor Governorate, where since the first photograph (June 2012) and before the beginning of April this year, the entire area of the city has apparently been dug over pretty systematically, penetrating deep into many individual rooms of whole ranges of buildings. The latest Google Earth photo of this site dates to 8th April 2011 and when I looked at the looting as seen on Google Earth a few months ago, showed no recent looting. In the latest photos, the shadows are sharp, the sun is low, and the extent of the damage is shocking. It is a superb photo (is this a satellite shot or a vertical survey shot from a plane?). This hole digging was not done for fun or to pass the time, somebody has been getting something from those holes, and that something has been got for a purpose. They've found a way of making this hole-digging in the hot sun worthwhile.

At Mari, Abu Kamal, Deir ez-Zor Governorate, the latest photos available through Google Earth are also from 8th April 2011. The BECA have shown photos of 7th September 2012 and 25th March 2014. The looters' pits are visible in several areas in the second photo. Several of them cut through excavation spoil heaps as though the diggers knew that there was something underneath, and in other cases totally blank areas have been chosen - why? While the pitting is nowhere near as severe as at Dura, this is still disturbing. Again none of this new digging was visible on Google Earth.

The third site chosen by the BECA is Tell Sheikh Hamad ( Dur-Katlimmu / Magdala)where the Google earth photos show nothing (the only photo up there at the moment is a low resolution shot of April 2011). There is digging in three areas between March 2011 and March 2014. There is digging near the recent cemetery on the tell (which seems not to have expanded in the meantime), in spoil-heap covered areas to the southwest (do the spoilheaps perhaps shield diggers from view?) as well as in the old excavation trenches (ditto) to the northeast. There are also new pits on the 'lower town' on the north side of the tell (away from the modern houses) not marked by the BECA.  

What is coming out of these holes, where is it going, and who profits from it all? Whatever the answer we are all the losers here, it is the global archaeological record that is being trashed in front of our eyes, and this raises the question of what we are going to do about it.

US Collectors and their empty-headed, black-hearted, money-grabbing lobbyists, missing the point as usual, say "nothing, better smuggled than lost".   

Vignette: social change in action, destructive imposition of one group's ideals over another's

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