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Study shows Daesh is not the only group stealing Syria’s ancient artifacts

Published October 22nd, 2015 - 05:00 GMT
Al Bawaba
Al Bawaba

The war-related looting of Syrian antiquities is typically blamed on the Islamic State [Daesh], but other regional players are equally guilty, a scholarly study indicates.

An analysis by Dartmouth University scholars, published in the academic journal Near Eastern Archeology, reveals the Kurdish militant group YPG, the Syrian regime and other rebel organizations share responsibility for the pillaging of antiquities.

Using research satellite imagery of nearly 1,300 archeological sites in Syria, the study, led by Dartmouth anthropology professor Jesse Casana, says over 26 percent have experienced damage and looting since the civil war began in 2011.

"Most media attention has focused on the spectacles of destruction that ISIS (Islamic State) has orchestrated and posted online, and this has led to a widespread misunderstanding that ISIS is the main culprit when it comes to looting of archaeological sites and damage to monuments. Using satellite imagery, our research is able to demonstrate that looting is actually very common across all parts of Syria, and that instances of severe, state-sanctioned looting are occurring in both ISIS-held and Syrian regime areas," Casana said.

The study suggests the plundering of antiquities, whose value leads to their overseas sale and to funding for political and military causes, is most prevalent where centralized authority is weakest, particularly in regions of Syria held by the YPG or other rebel groups. A higher percentage of sites have been plundered in those locations than in areas held by IS, it says.

The removal of antiquities has been illegal in Syria since prior to the civil war, but current methods involve the use of bulldozers and other heavy machinery. The study noted the most extreme phase of plundering at Apamea, a massive Roman-era city in western Syria looted beginning in early 2012, came after the area was secured by Syrian military forces.

By Ed Adamczyk

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