Amid the devastation and danger of civil war, Syrian archaeologists and activists are risking their lives in the battle against looting.
The ancient city of Dura-Europos sits on a bluff above the Tigris River a few miles from Syria’s border with Iraq, its mud-brick walls facing a bleak expanse of desert. Just a year ago the city’s precise grid of streets—laid down by Greek and Roman residents 2,000 years ago—was largely intact. Temples, houses, and a substantial Roman outpost were preserved for centuries by the desert sands.
"It stood out for its remarkable preservation," says Simon James, an archaeologist at the U.K.’s University of Leicester who spent years studying the site’s Roman garrison. "Until now." Read more.
TELL MARDIKH, Syria — Ali Shibleh crawled through a two-foot-high tunnel until reaching a slightly larger subterranean space. He swung his flashlight’s beam into the dark.
A fighter opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, Mr. Shibleh was roaming beneath Ebla, an ancient ruin that for several decades has been one of Syria’s most carefully studied and publicly celebrated archaeological sites. He had just made another of his many finds: he lifted something resembling a dried stick, then squeezed it between his fingers and thumb.
It broke with a powdery snap. “This is human bone,” he said.
Across much of Syria, the country’s archaeological heritage is imperiled by war, facing threats ranging from outright destruction by bombs and bullets to opportunistic digging by treasure hunters who take advantage of the power vacuum to prowl the country with spades and shovels. Read more.
(Reuters) - Syrian museums have locked away thousands of ancient treasures to protect them from looting and violence but one of humanity’s greatest cultural heritages remains in grave peril, the archaeologist charged with their protection said.
Aleppo’s medieval covered market has already been gutted by fires which also ripped through the city’s Umayyad mosque. Illegal excavations have threatened tombs in the desert town of Palmyra and the Bronze Age settlement of Ebla, and Interpol is hunting a 2,700-year-old statue taken from the city of Hama.
Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of Syria’s antiquities and museums, says it is a battle for the nation’s very existence.
"We emptied Syria’s museums. They are in effect empty halls, with the exception of large pieces that are difficult to move," Abdulkarim told Reuters during a visit to neighbouring Jordan. Read more.
Today it’s a mirage-like expanse of monumental ruins. But under the Roman Empire, Palmyra was a trading metropolis, according to historical and archaeological evidence.
Despite nearly a century of research, though, a key question remains unanswered: How did this city of 200,000 thrive in the middle of an infertile Syrian desert?
Once a required stop on caravan routes that brought Asian goods west to eager Romans, Palmyra has “always been conceived as an oasis in the middle of the desert, but it’s never been quite clear what it was living from,” said Michal Gawlikowski, the retired head of the University of Warsaw’s Polish Mission at Palmyra.
And what an oasis: Among the ruins are grand avenues lined with columns, triumphal arches, and the remains of an ancient market where traders once haggled over silk, silver, spices, and dyes from India and China. Read more.
In ancient Roman times A.D., Palmyra was the most important point along the trade route linking the east and west, reaching a population of 100 000 inhabitants. But its history has always been shrouded in mystery: What was a city that size doing in the middle of the desert? How could so many people live in such an inhospitable place nearly 2 000 years ago? Where did their food come from? And why would such an important trade route pass directly through the desert?
Norwegian researchers collaborated with Syrian colleagues for four years to find answers.
“These findings provide a wealth of new insight into Palmyra’s history,” says project manager Jørgen Christian Meyer, a professor at the University of Bergen. The project has received funding of over NOK 9 million from the Research Council of Norway’s comprehensive funding scheme for independent basic research projects (FRIPRO). Read more.
Syria’s year-long revolt has exposed to looting and destruction the country’s archaeological treasures, including the ancient city of Palmyra and the Greco-Roman ruins of Apamea, experts warned Thursday.
Most vulnerable are strife-torn areas that have fallen outside the full control of the regime where looters have already targeted museums, excavation sites and monuments, they said.
"In the past three to four months there has been a lot of looting," said Hiba al-Sakhel, director of museums in Syria.
"In Apamea, we have a video showing looters removing mosaics with drills," she told Agence France Presse. "And in Palmyra there is a lot of looting and clandestine digging."
Sakhel said other historical sites across the country have fallen prey to looters who are taking advantage of the violence that has swept the country for more than a year to pilfer antiquities. Read more.
Since the violence that erupted in Syria nearly one year ago — a war that has so far left thousands dead and become one of the world’s biggest stories — the damage to the country’s ancient cities and cultural sites as a result of the conflict has remained largely unknown.
One report to surface last week, however, tells the story of Palmyra, where residents say the Syrian Army has set up camp in a citadel that overlooks both the modern city of 60,000 and the adjacent Roman ruins. Before the uprising, Palmyra was one of Syria’s biggest tourism attractions. Over the past month, though, hundreds of people have fled the city for safety.
“Palmyra is surrounded by the army from all fronts: The Arab citadel, the olive and palm tree groves, the desert, the city,” an escaped resident told the Agence France-Presse. “Machine gun fire rains down from the citadel at anything that moves in the ruins because they think it is rebels.” Read more.
PALMYRA, Mo. — What started as a routine survey of the land surrounding a historic bridge has ended up unearthing two significant sites in the region’s Native American history.
Larry Grantham, an archaeologist with the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Environmental Studies and Historic Preservation department, said his team has discovered a pair of Native American sites bookending the Mo. 168 bridge over the North River just west of Palmyra.
On the east side of the bridge is a 1,200- to 1,500-year-old site from the late Woodland period. The site on the west side of the bridge, however, is much older — 3,000 to 5,000 years old, dating to the late Archaic period. Read more.