The situation of the archaeological sites across Syria is pretty desperate. It is a fact that some of the country’s highest-profile historic sites are being compromised by fighting and as if that is not enough, by looting.
It is heartwarming to hear that local volunteers are risking their lives to preserve and protect as much as possible Syria’s irreplaceable monuments and mosaics. Like earlier in countries as Afghanistan and Iraq, civilians have turned over thousands of ancients artifacts for safekeeping.
Aleppo today [Picture from National Geographic News]
In their despair, curators and experts have recently set up workshops in Turkey, close to the Syrian border, in order to teach the Syrians some basic emergency conservation techniques. There are different ways to secure objects and collections, and one of such a procedure is simply wrapping ceramics and mosaics in Tyvek, a tough plastic used in construction, before burying the precious pieces.
Aleppo as it was in 2009
Of course, this kind of salvation cannot be applied to buildings and cities. The famous Crusaders’ castle of Crack des Chevaliers was shelled while it was used as a rebel stronghold. The historic center of Aleppo was sadly devastated in the early days of the fighting and now even the walls of its grand Citadel have been blown to pieces. Meanwhile, all eyes are fixed on Palmyra in the hope this magnificent city will be spared.
Looting is a thriving business and the satellite images of Apamea and Dura-Europos, for instance, speak for themselves as the cities look like a sequence of bomb craters. Classical objects, i.e. those belonging to ancient Rome and Greece are rather easy to sell on the black market as their provenance is hard to track down.
In a desperate attempt to limit the damage, the American Schools of Oriental Research is going to document the museum collections and the cultural sites of Syria in the hope that law enforcement officials can spot looted items more efficiently. Every little bit helps.