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Archaeologist on Syria and Iraq: The artistic pillaging is very grave and irreparable

2016-01-22

Along with tremendous loss of life in Syria and Iraq, one can add the destruction of unique ancient heritage. In what's known as the "Cradle of Civilization,” the Islamic State is destroying the memories of humanity in the area. 

PAOLO MATTHIAE
Director, Archaeological Mission in Ebla, Syria
"The looting that has happened in the territories of these two countries is extremely serious. Naturally the situation is worse with the willful destruction that is perpetuated by ISIS.”

Since arriving in the area, Islamic State militants have knocked down extraordinary monuments like the Green Church, one of the oldest testimonies to Christian life in Iraq. They've also damaged the Tomb of the Prophet Jonah, a site of both Christian and Muslim pilgrimages.

PAOLO MATTHIAE
Director, Archaeological Mission in Ebla, Syria
"The looting of archaeological sites, from Syria to Iraq, in these past few weeks and months, has obviously caused irreparable damage because they have violated and destroyed sites of historic significance, archaeological significance, and extreme monumental and important significance.”

In Iraq, the Assyrian city of Nimrod was destroyed with bulldozers. It's the site where, in the Bible, the tower of Babel existed. It dated back to the eighth century BC. The United Nations called its destruction cultural cleansing and a war crime.

Largest parts of the Syrian city Palmyra has been turned to dust. Satellite photos, along with footage shot by jihadists themselves, show how ancient temples have been destroyed.

It's a fate that plenty of monuments in the area have met.

The damage is irreparable, though it's not too late to stop all of the Middle East's ancient history from being wiped off the planet.

PAOLO MATTHIAE
Director, Archaeological Mission in Ebla, Syria
"Facing this loss, reconstruction is something that can allow a partial recovery. It not only contributes to the identity of these countries but also their own artistic heritage, monuments of humanity.”

The latest victim of the destruction is the Christian monastery of Saint Elias in Mosul. It's the oldest monastery in the country, dating back 1,400 years. And satellite imagery confirms it has already been destroyed.

The Islamic State has doubled down on its cultural destruction strategy. On one hand, they have destroyed works. On the other, they sell art on the black market. They have already earned at least 50 million dollars selling cultural treasures.

It's estimated that 300 archaeological sites have been damaged during Syria' civil war. It's a sad fate for the same spot that some of the earliest developments in science, technology, commerce, art, and civil society originated from.


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