One of the casualties of the continuing conflict in Syria is the cultural heritage of the country. UNESCO has raised concern about the civil war’s threat to archaeological sites, ancient structures and monuments. These areas are being illegally excavated and looted of significant artefacts.

Head of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, says the most serious problem in Syria is the looting of culturally significant sites but acknowledges that it “is something that is not very high on the radar of the international community” at present. UNESCO has warned museums, art auction houses and collectors about the problem and issued a list of the types of artefacts that may find their way onto the market from Syria.

There is evidence that local people are being paid by international antiquities smugglers to strip archaeological sites of artefacts. Evidence also suggests that fighters are selling artefacts to purchase weapons. There are few available resources for protecting these unique antiquities because of the chaotic conditions in the country.

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Syria has been ruled successively by the empires of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome and Islam. All these powers left behind evidence of their occupation, including some of the world’s most beautiful and complete Roman cities, Apamea and Palmyra. Important archaeological sites like Ebla have yielded thousands of cuneiform tablets, which have greatly extended the understanding of the past and the historical setting of the Bible. Some of the richest of these sites have been ravaged by bombing and looting.

For example, Ebla has been extensively looted, while recent satellite images have revealed that the historic Roman city Apamea has been illegally excavated since the start of the civil war. Emma Cunliffe, an archaeology researcher at Durham University in England says, “It looks like the surface of the moon. In eight months, the looted area exceeded the total excavated area.” Thieves have even used bulldozers to tear up the magnificent Roman mosaics of Apamea removing them from the site.

Cunliffe has published a report documenting archaeological damage in Syria. She says that all six of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country have been damaged. There are still thousands of unexcavated archaeological sites in Syria, and where excavation and close study are in progress, archaeologists have barely scratched the surface, says Jesse Casana, an archaeologist at the University of Arkansas and the chairman of the American Schools of Oriental Research’s Damascus Committee. All these sites are in danger because of the civil war in Syria.

In the conflict zone, archaeological mounds created over thousands of years of human occupation are being used as platforms for military installations by both government and rebel forces. Historic castles are serving as military outposts, while bunkers for tanks and anti-aircraft guns are being bulldozed into ancient sites. Indeed, bombing has already destroyed some of the most beautiful landmarks in Syria.

So far as biblical archaeology is concerned, the most important discoveries in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and surrounding countries were made in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Artefacts from these excavations are preserved in the rich collections of antiquities in the British Museum and the Louvre in France. While the present destruction of Syria’s cultural heritage is indeed a human tragedy, the hand of divine providence ensured the early discovery and preservation of abundant evidence that today confirms the Bible record and testifies to the truth of God’s Word.

Sources:

Robert Fisk, “Syria’s ancient treasures pulverised”, The Independent, 5 August 2012 [Online] URL: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/ commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-syrias-ancienttreasures- pulverised-8007768.html Tia Ghose, “Syria’s rich archaeological treasures imperiled by civil war”, LiveScience, 3 September 2013. [Online] URL: http://www.livescience. com/39381-syria-archaeology-at-risk.html “UNESCO sounds alarm about illicit Syria archaeology digs”, Haaretz, 14 December 2013. [Online] URL: http://www.haaretz.com/news/ middle-east/1.563472