A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

ASOR Report on Threat to Palmyra

Aerial View of Site (ASOR)
The American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) Syrian Heritage Initiative has published a "Special Report on the Importance of Palmyra" addressing the importance of the site and the need for international concern. Given that there have been conflicting reports about the security of monuments since the ISIS takeover, it's good to see an assessment from a respected source. An excerpt:

So far, there have been few confirmed reports of damage to the site of Palmyra. Video footage has documented combat-related damage to the Citadel, and unconfirmed reports suggest that several mortars fell within the Temple of Bel. The DGAM has also reported the destruction of modern plaster statues at the Museum by ISIL, and other reports suggest that at least one government airstrike hit a position within the ancient city. ISIL also posted a video and a series of images online showing various views of the ancient city, including the Temple of Bel, the Colonnaded Street, and the Theater. On May 26, 2015, a purported ISIL representative made a statement claiming that the group plans to destroy “statues” at Palmyra but will not “bulldoze” other historical monuments. Given current uncertainties about the extent of looting at the site and the state of the collection at the Palmyra Archaeological Museum, it is impossible to specify exactly which archaeological materials are most at risk. Some rumors suggest that deliberate destruction of sculptures has already begun – with the Lion of Al-lāt that stands at the entrance to the Bel Temple – but these claims have not been confirmed (and have recently been denied by the DGAM). At the same time, it is unclear whether or not ISIL will in fact refrain from harming other monuments at the site, either deliberately or for looting purposes. A satellite image taken on May 27, 2015, shows several trucks in the vicinity of the Theater but otherwise shows no visible damage; it must emphasized, however, that many types of damage would not necessarily be visible in the satellite imagery.
Whether or not significant damage has already occurred, the site must be considered at high risk of further damage – in light of the ongoing airstrikes in the area, the potential for renewed conflict on the ground, and the possibility of looting and deliberate destruction by ISIL. The summary provided above has shown that Palmyra is a site of significant cultural and historical importance. As part of the broader, humanitarian response to the current crisis, the international community should do whatever it can to save Palmyra.

Vehicles Parked Near Theater (ASOR)

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