CBS News has some terrific first-hand reporting of antiquities smuggling from Apamea to Istanbul in a video report. Nothing here comes as much of a surprise sadly, but it confirms what we all suspect has been happening. A Roman mosaic, and various other portable objects, including some Roman glass (some of which the report points out may have been fakes).
“A human life doesn’t have much value without culture to go with it” says Markus Hilgert, director of the Pergamon Museum. He’s interviewed in a CNN profile of Heritage for Peace, a group working to document the destruction taking place there. The group walks a delicate line, trying not to take a stand in the dispute. The group has limited funding and works with a number of volunteers with founder Isber Sabrine:
A 29-year-old archaeologist from a village near the Mediterranean coast in western Syria, Sabrine is using modern technology to trace and document the looting and destruction of his country’s ancient heritage.
Working from Berlin, he runs a network in Syria of around 150 volunteers — archaeologists, architects, students and simply concerned citizens — who often pose as antiquities buyers to see what has been stolen in the course of Syria’s now more than four-year uprising. He communicates with them via Skype when the Internet in Syria is working, which isn’t often.
“They go to the locals and they say look, we are interested. They cannot buy, but at least they make photos and they send us photos,” says Sabrine. “Like this we have a list of looted materials from Syria.”
That list is shared with law enforcement, auction houses and collectors. CNN asked if we could publish some of those photographs — we saw statues, mosaics and coins — but Sabrine declined for fear the photos might expose the volunteers.
After years of chaos, the market for stolen antiquities is flooded, and dealers are holding back some of their most valuable items. “We know that the most important objects don’t go to market now,” says Sabrine. “The big dealers are waiting, maybe two, three or four years, and then when the opportunity is right, they will sell.”
- Ben Wedeman, Syria’s Struggle to Save the Past – CNN.com, CNN.
A new project announced in Austin a few weeks back uses declassified satellite images has revealed as many as 10,000 new archaeological sites in the Middle East:
[T]he new Corona Atlas of the Middle East, unveiled Thursday at the Society for American Archaeology’s annual meeting, moves spy-satellite science to a new level. Surveying land from Egypt to Iran—and encompassing the Fertile Crescent, the renowned cradle of civilization and location of some of humanity’s earliest cities—the atlas reveals numerous sites that had been lost to history.
“Some of these sites are gigantic, and they were completely unknown,” says atlas-team archaeologist Jesse Casana of the University of Arkansas, who presented the results. “We can see all kinds of things—ancient roads and canals. The images provide a very comprehensive picture.”
The team had started with a list of roughly 4,500 known archaeological sites across the Middle East, says Casana. The spy-satellite images revealed another 10,000 that had previously been unknown.
The largest sites, in Syria and Turkey, are most likely Bronze Age cities, he says, and include ruined walls and citadels. Two of them cover more than 123 acres (50 hectares). (See also: “Drought Led to the Collapse of Civilizations.“)
This sounds like a wonderful use of technology, offering some extremely useful comparisons with respect to climate change, migration patterns, etc. But for the illicit heritage trade, this offers a mixed set of challenges and opportunities. Looters have another tool (if they needed one) to find sites. But it also allows an opportunity for nations to harden these sites. The comparison of Apamea today to the satellite image of the same site in the late 1960’s is troubling:
The level of detail in the newer image is stark, but there don’t appear to be the mass-looting pockmarks. What do you all think, does increased technology assist hardening of these sites, or provide a map for looters?
As Congress debates whether to authorize military action in Syria in the wake of reported chemical weapons attacks, NBC’s science blog discusses the current state of looting and destruction during Syria’s ongoing Civil war:
Over thousands of years, a large mound, or tell, forms with layers of each civilization piled atop one another, said Jesse Casana, an archaeologist at the University of Arkansas and the chairman of the American Schools of Oriental Research’s Damascus Committee.