Friday 10 June 2022

Looting at Apamea Syria 2011-2019 (Overview)


I have been struggling to get this post done for a good while now, but it seems the longer I leave it, the more difficult it gets. There is a lot of information about the destruction of the site at Apamea in the open access satellite photos on Google Earth. These concern landuse, looting, the levelling of damaged areas (bulldozing) and in recent years the destruction of the Roman wall (presumably to create a firing line) and the construction of trenches and bunkers inside the walls. I have loads of notes, but never the time to turn them into text.  

This post therefore aims a simplistic presentation of the main features of what has been happening to the remains of the Roman town (the citadel to the west and the modern town of Qalaat al-Madiq are separate topics and are not covered here).


The city is mostly fields in among the ruins and open excavation trenches. The city walls (shown here in crimson) are not intact. That on the west side is mostly missing down to ground level (the stone had probably been used to build the medieval fortress and later the town buildings and opposite the fort was removed for defensive reasons). In its northern sector it stood a bit higher, but all along the south and west walls there are robber holes already visible on the wall line, these represent the search for reusable building stone. On the north side and NE corner the wall stands higher still and there are no robber holes, but on the east side after the first 970 metres from the NE corner again the wall is missing and there are sporadic traces of digging for stone on its line. 

There are relatively few traces of digging in the interior. Various building schemes are taking place outside the town site on the east and south. 

Things stayed more or less like this into 2011. Unrest began in Syria in March 2011 (part of the wider 2011 Arab Spring protests). The initial protests expressing discontent with the Syrian government and calling for Assad to step down began to escalate into an armed conflict (July 2011 – April 2012).


In the latter part of 2011, anti-government rebels gained control over much of the town (with the Syrian Army maintaining its position in the fortress that overlooks the town). The largest of the rebel groups was the Suqour al-Ghab faction (fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army). By April 2012, a huge area of the interior of the site was riddled with looter holes. 

What is interesting is that these holes are restricted to certain fields and omit others. Also there are areas of the site where excavations have already taken place that are unlooted. There is also military earthmoving (for example near the site cafe) not shown on this image. 


There was further looting in the north part of the Roman town site in  2014 (visible in photos from March and May) This now spreads into fields that had previously been untouched. Much of the rest of the area that had been exploited in 2012 is visible in these photos as lightly overgrown by vegetation, suggesting that most of the area was no longer being dug over. 

In New York at a meeting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, September 22, 2014, US Secretary of State John Kerry delivered an address attacking ISIL for their destruction and looting of cultural property. American jets began bombing ISIL in Syria on 23 September 2014, marking U.S. involvement in the war-torn country [Nota bene ISIL never controled Apamea].


Photos of September 2015 showed that the looted area had expanded slightly in the northwest, but even there, it seems the holes were weathered and becoming overgrown. But further south there were two other areas where looting was now taking place.


There are no Google Earth photos for 2016, by early that year, the al-Nusra Front controlled the town


The Google Earth photos for April, September and October 2017, show that the southern parts of the former looted area had become overgrown, but three new areas were now being exploited. The activities in these areas however also seem to have involved bulldozers.

It was in April 2017 that the photos seem to show that the upstanding towers in the NW corner and in the NE section of the town's east wall had been partially demolished, though whether this was for building material or military reasons is unclear. 

[December 2017 ISIL, accused by many of being the main instigators of archaeological looting in Syria and Iraq is declared defeated]


The Google Earth photos for April, June, July, August, September and November 2018 do not show much new looting activity going on, but along the northern wall and the NW segment there was demolition not only of towers, but whole wall sections between them in 2018 that continued into 2019. 


The region of Qalaat al-Madiq was retaken by the Syrian Government in May 2019, during the 2019 Northwestern Syria offensive. Google Earth photos for April, May, June, August 2019 again do not show much new looting activity going on, but the demolition of the northern and the NW segments of the town wall continued. 

Unfortunately, these are the last satellite photos available through Google Earth.   

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.