The lands of Syria and Iraq gave rise to some the oldest societies we know: the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Parthians, the Romans and many others. Traces of all of these peoples remain in archeological sites of the utmost significance.
And now they’re being destroyed.
A fortnight ago, satellite imagery revealed the cultural effects of Syria’s civil war. “The buildings of Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, has suffered extensive damage,” explained Archaeology magazine. “The ancient city of Bosra, the ancient site of Palmyra, the ancient villages of Northern Syria, and the castles Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din have all been damaged by mortar impacts and military activity.”
So too in Iraq.
Sometimes, the destruction is accidental (if that term means anything in wartime). Sometimes it’s deliberate, with the Islamic State systematically leveling ancient religious sites.
After looters rampaged through Baghdad’s National Museum in 2003, Francis Deblauwe established the (now defunct) Iraq and Archaeology site, which eloquently expresses what’s now once again happening. He wrote:
War in this cradle of civilization beyond the horrendous, almost invisible casualties – always somebody’s husband, always somebody’s son – and downplayed ‘collateral damage’ – always somebody’s wife, always somebody’s child – inevitably takes its toll on the archaeological heritage as well. After all, this fertile flood plain and surrounding mountains gave birth to agriculture, to writing, to cities, to laws, to the 24 hours in a day, and many more things we take for granted.