In this op-ed for Al Jazeera, senior fellow at Iraq Heritage, George Richards, writes about the state of archaeology in the Middle East which has sadly been subjugated by the crimes of black-market deals and extremist groups.
Richards explains how looters are able to target known ancient sites, digging relatively shallow holes where they are often rewarded with ancient coins and even, historically significant statuettes. Sarah Parcak, known as a “space archeologist,” has used satellite images to reveal archeological sites in Syria and Iraq that were once earmarked for future excavation but are now peppered with holes, and as Richards pens, “more closely resembling the pock-marked surface of the Moon.”
Many antiquities are coming through ISIS-controlled territory in Syrian and Iraq, making their way to Lebanon and Turkey where they are sold on the black maret. The UN Security Council has recently passed a resolution banning the trade of antiquities from Syria. A resolution has been in place for Iraq for some time now.
Richards concludes with, “The antiquities looting crisis in the Middle East – one aspect of the region’s broader cultural heritage destruction disaster – will probably persist at least until the wars in Syria and Iraq are brought to an end.
It is a cruel irony that the richness of the cultural history of the region, and the relative ease with which material evidence of that past can be recovered, makes the Middle East a fertile land for antiquities looting.”