I woke up to messages from all over the place. So, “thanks” to all of the bearers of bad news (and to Allison Cuneo @aecuneo and @oivej, who pointed out other Arabic-language material). The Islamic State has released yet another video. Following its action B movies from Mosul Museum and the Nergal Gate Museum at Nineveh (thoroughly assessed by Christopher Jones) and Hatra (again assessed by Christopher Jones), it’s released a video of its attack on Nimrud.
First things first
There is a lot of study and discussion. I’m posting this now, just to get some info out. But – amongst others – people should look up Lynda Albertson (@sauterne), Paul Barford (Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues), Iraq Crisis (@IraqCrisis), Charles Jones (@AWOL_tweets), Christopher Jones (@cwjones89), Eleanor Robson (@Eleanor_Robson)… While the attack is awful, as Eleanor has pointed out, the Islamic State has destroyed ‘a few excavated buildings’; the ‘large majority of Nimrud is still underground, undug‘. She’s also discussed the situation at length.
We do not know when it happened
At the time of the first reports, an anonymous antiquities official reported that ‘destruction began after noon prayers’ on the 5th of March (which Iraq and UNESCO also stated); but their other statements do not really correspond to the (new) evidence, so there is no reason to assume that the date was correct. Now, a ‘reliable source‘ has told Charles Jones that it happened on the 2nd of April.
Between 00h00m19s and 00h00m23s, the video shows an Islamic State activist sledgehammering a carved wall panel, but overlays three artificial xylophone-like sounds; then, from 00h00m25s, it plays the recorded sound (albeit with other audio-visual effects to emphasise it, such as play in distorted slow motion and a thickening of the noise of the action). What did they have to mute out?
Evidence of (previous) looting
I don’t know about 00h03m45s, but at 00h00m42s, 00h00m53s, 00h00m59s and 00h01m39s, it looks like the most saleable parts of carved panels have been broken off or cut out and taken away. I don’t know when that happened, though I would assume that it was not done by the Islamic State before the recording of the video.
If nothing else, remarkably, at 00h01m03s, it is clear that someone had started to chisel out the head of a figure in another panel, but was unable to complete the extraction. But also, it is unlikely that they would broadcast which pieces they had stolen. They may have been a little bit careless, though. See below…
Between 00h03m19s and 00h03m32s (which I have clipped at 00h03m25s, 00h03m29s, 00h03m32s a, 00h03m32s b and 00h03m32 c), the men perform an action sequence where they break and enter through a wall, much as they do in urban warfare to move without exposing themselves to their enemies. However, obviously, there are no enemies anywhere near, so there is no danger.
Moreover, while this is implicit in their recording from the other side of the wall, the activists also break through the “fourth wall” (of the television screen). When they record their entry from “their” side, through the hole in the wall, around 00h03m32s, they show their partners-in-crime all ready and waiting on the other side. One of the presenters is visible on the left and one of the cameramen is visible on the right.
The first reports appear to have been wrong. There is no evidence that Islamic State has ‘bulldozed [Nimrud] with heavy vehicles‘, ‘heavy machinery’. (We may yet find out that it has ‘used heavy military vehicles to transport the artefacts from Nimrud‘.)
Iraq’s and UNESCO’s statements, too, appear to have been wrong. UNESCO had relayed that the Iraqi government had ‘confirmed that the site was attacked by armed extremists using bulldozers‘. UNESCO had ‘condemn[ed]… the destruction of the archaeological site of Nimrud’. I warned that ‘no material evidence [had] been published’. At least in the video, there was one earthmover on site. And none of the panoramic shots appear to show any evidence of machine-flattening of structures or ploughing of stretches of earth.
(Compared to UNESCO’s statement, the statement of the Republic of Iraq Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (ROIMTA) on the 5th of March was far less specific and the statement of the ROIMTA on the 7th of March was far less certain. But that would only show that UNESCO had misreported Iraq’s information if UNESCO got its information from Iraq’s Facebook page. It appears that Iraq did tell UNESCO that it had confirmed the bulldozing of the site.)
More (machine-assisted) performance art
Having watched the video, the BBC said that it showed the Islamic State ‘using bulldozers and then explosives on the ruins of the ancient city’; ABC News mentioned ‘[t]he bulldozing that took place at the Nimrud site’.
There is no evidence of “bulldozing” (in any meaningful sense). The earthmover – a Kawasaki 80 Z5 loader – was used to move some carved wall panels (00h04m36s) – and other architectural fragments (00h04m52s), wire mesh fencing (00h05m02s)… – a few metres (00h05m01s), then drop them cinematically (00h04m45s). Considering the fact that much of the complex was blown up, the panels may have been protected more than they were damaged by the performance.
The earthmover transported (some) undestroyed pieces
Notably, look at 00h04m45s. In contrast to one showily-destroyed face, which was hammered (clipped at 00h04m25s, 00h04m29s and 00h04m30s) then blown up (clipped after preparation at 00h06m05s), the earthmover transported (some) undestroyed pieces.
“Rubblising” and removal
However, even the idea of something being more protected by transportation than damaged by detonation would only be true if the building had been blown up in the first place. Look at 00h06m21s, before the detonation of the complex; 00h06m22s a and 00h06m22s b, during the detonation; and 00h06m25s, after the detonation and even the expansion of the blast cloud, when the Islamic State video cut away.
At least the front right side of the building was not blown up; the front left side was blown up, but the panels might have been taken from that side. The pile of machine-moved material, certainly, was left untouched. That may explain why the “aftermath” shots of rubble, around 00h06m56s and 00h07m01s, were so restricted. Not everything was reduced to rubble…
Other video frames