Over the last few months I highlighted the effects of conflict on antiquity especially in Syria, and I discussed the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property. Today I would like to bring up some updates on the effect on the Syrian conflict on archaeology and cultural heritage.
Last week, the Department of State issued a press release concerning Syria and U.S. aid. Under the section entitled "Additional Support for the Syrian People" the State Department (U.S. Department of State 2014) stressed the following:
The State Department is also working with a range of Syrian, American, and international partners to protect Syria’s rich cultural heritage – including archaeological sites, historic buildings, monuments, and collections of objects – and to halt the trade of looted Syrian cultural property in international antiquities markets.
I of course find it interesting that the State Department finally recognizes that the destruction of heritage affects the psyche of the people caught in the middle of the conflict.
I recently read an interesting article on Live Science's website titled " Widespread Damage to Syria’s Ruins Seen from Space" by Megan Gannon. In the article, Gannon discusses the work of archaeologist Jesse Casana who studies the Near East. Dr. Casana began looking at satellite images of archaeological sites in Syria to track the destruction cause by the civil war.
Ms. Gannon discussed the site of Apamea (Figure 1), a Roman site founded in 300 BCE as a Hellenistic site, and later absorbed by the Roman political leader, Pompey in 64 CE (Hayes 2009). If you look at Fig. 1 you can see satellite images before and after the war began. After the war you can see holes (there are thousands, which make the site appear like the surface of the moon). The holes indicate looters holes, left behind after looters scavenged the site for archaeological material to sell on the antiquities market.
Next, the site of Tell Qarqur (Figure 2) located in Northwest Syria. The sites dates to 8500 BCE, but is best known for the site of Qarqar, which was "the location of a major battle in 853 BC fought between the Neo-Assyrian armies of Shalmaneser III and a coalition of Levantine city-states that included Biblical figures such as King Ahab of Israel and King Haddezer of Damascus. References to the battle appear in numerous Neo-Assyrian texts, with the longest description found on the Kurkh Monolith" (University of Arkansas 2014). Looking at Fig. 2 one could now see what appear to be military bunkers belonging to the Free Syrian Army (Gannon 2014).
Of course I must note that the Free Syrian Army is not a state party/nation and is not bound to the 1954 Hague Treaty, meaning that they do not officially recognize that that the use of cultural sites in warfare is not just. Syria did ratify the convention, but as I like to point out, in times of conflict, treaties tend to be thrown out.
Unfortunately, the conflict does not have an end in sight and the loss of human life and cultural heritage will only increase.
2014. Widespread Damage to Syria's Ruins Seen from Space. http://www.livescience.com/42670-syrian-war-satellite-images-archaeology.html, accessed January 20, 2014.
2009. Apamea. October 25, 2009. http://www.sacred-destinations.com/syria/apamea , accessed January 21, 2014.
U.S. Department of State
2014. The Syrian Crisis: U.S. Assistance and Support for the Transition. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/01/220029.htm, accessed January 14, 2014.
University of Arkansas
2014. History: Tell-Qarqur Expedition. http://www.cast.uark.edu/projects/tell-qarqur/about/history.html, accessed January 21, 2014.