A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Concern About Syria's Archaeological Sites

The war in Iraq and the Revolution in Egypt have already caused losses to archaeological sites, in the first case a combination of war and looting, in the second, looting and the disappearance of artifacts when the police forces disappeared. Now concerns are being expressed about Syria. There had already been expressions of concern last month about Palymyra (Tadmur), the desert city whose ruins from the Roman era are a major attraction, but which is surrounded by military bases and was reportedly under siege by armored units, with the old Arab castle overlooking the town occupied by military. Also see here.

Now, this story in Beirut's Daily Star tells a grim tale about antiquities: the ancient site of Apamea, one of Syria's major cities in the Roman and Byzantine era, (discussed last year in my Lost Cities of Northern Syria post),  has been looted; the great Crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers is occupied by armed men; museums and other archeological sites have suffered looting.

The regime will doubtless blame the rebels, and certainly the violence in the country is creating the anarchic situation in which looters thrive, and of course the human losses are far more devastating than the archaeological ones. But once again, as too often in its history, Syria's past is being destroyed by the violence of its present. I've been to Palmyra and many of the other sites, though long ago; I hope the damage is limited. In Baghdad and in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, initial reports of losses were not as bad as feared, and much was recovered; but there are still, of course, irreplaceable losses, as there will probably be in Syria as well.

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