Archive for March, 2015


Iraqi antiquities ‘depend on the Iraqi people, and the Iraqi people need us more’ (Eleanor Robson)

I don’t normally do link posts, but Eleanor Robson has considered Modern War, Ancient Casualties in the Times Literary Supplement:

Museums have been ransacked, libraries torched, universities turned into terrorist enclaves. The curators and librarians of Mosul, the conservators and researchers, the archaeologists and site guards, are in fear of their lives, if not dead or already fled. This is where the international community needs to offer its first wave of help once ISIS have been disposed of. Physical plant, research equipment, retraining, support of many practical kinds: all will be desperately needed. The fact is that ancient stones can wait, as they have waited for millennia; they depend on the Iraqi people, and the Iraqi people need us more.


A photoshopped frame of the destruction of a lamassu at Nergal Gate…

In the month since the destruction at Mosul Museum and the Nergal Gate Museum, at least in the West, there has been an increase in the profile of reporting and an explosion in the volume of commentary on political violence against cultural property in the conflict (specifically, political violence against archaeological heritage in Iraq, compared to the coverage of previous and ongoing destruction of religious sites in Iraq and Syria and beyond).

There have also been increasing calls for military intervention – albeit, remarkably, only to protect archaeological, cultural, historic sites, not the civilian communities who are the target of the genocide (and based on unevidenced, though not necessarily entirely false claims). I’ll post more on that soon. Still, cultural heritage workers and Western politicians are not the only people who are exploiting events. Amongst the confusion and advancement of political narratives, I spotted a peculiar image and wanted to query it and learn more about it.

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Islamic State-looted antiquities on eBay? ‘The stories are absolutely false and defamatory.’ Multiple libel actions will follow.

With regard to the reports of Islamic State-looted antiquities on eBay, which Paul Barford and I have reviewed, there has been a predictable (and predicted) development.

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Conflict antiquities from Apamea do not finance the Islamic State – they finance the Assad regime

Despite the headline, the Times has not presented any evidence of Islamic State-looted antiquities on eBay.

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Was most of the looting at the most extensively looted site in Syria conducted under the Islamic State or the Free Syrian Army?

A few months ago, I pieced together a sample of satellite image data from the the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project (1) with historical data on antiquities looting and the development of the Syrian civil war (2), in order to work out under which (para)military authorities the looting had taken place. I found evidence of ‘looting within regime and rebel territories as well as under jihadist rule’. There’s been further discussion of the project’s meticulous and much-needed work. As Sarah Parcak has said (separately), you ‘cannot argue w[ith] sat[ellite] data’.

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Islamic State’s reportedly started to bulldoze Nimrud. If it hasn’t yet, it is ‘just a matter of time’.

As far as I know, no material evidence has been published. Certainly, I haven’t seen any, beyond quotes and paraphrases of an official statement by Iraq’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. According to an anonymous antiquities official, ‘destruction began after noon prayers’. Nevertheless, if it hasn’t yet, as Abdulamir Hamdani observed, ‘it [is] just a matter of time’.

Apparently, the Islamic State ‘assaulted the historic [thirteenth-century B.C.E., Assyrian] city of [Kalhu/Calah/]Nimrud and bulldozed it with heavy vehicles‘, ‘heavy machinery’. To be precise, it began bulldozing the ancient city. Seemingly, the Islamic State also ‘used heavy military vehicles to transport the artefacts from Nimrud‘, though a more limited claim only asserts that ‘trucks that may have been used to haul away artefacts had also been spotted at the site’.

I’m away and offline for the next twenty-four hours at least.

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