UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova addressed today’s public briefing of the United Nations Security Council on “Maintenance of international peace and security: destruction and trafficking of cultural heritage by terrorist groups and in situations of armed conflict,” where the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2347 for the protection of heritage.
“The deliberate destruction of heritage is a war crime, it has become a tactic of war to tear societies over the long term, in a strategy of cultural cleansing. This is why defending cultural heritage is more than a cultural issue, it is a security imperative, inseparable from that of defending human lives.”
You can read the the details on the UNESCO website, where you can view the video as well.
My ARCHAEO-Crush for the month of April is a wonderful site in Syria that has suffered tremendously in the last year and has been in the media a lot recently.
Type: site (ancient city with various monuments) Civilisation: Ancient Syria (part of/controlled by various empires during its long history) Date: Bronze Age to Middle Ages, 2nd millennium BCE to 1st millennium CE
ARCHAEO-Crush: Palmyra is a ancient city in an oasis in the middle of the Syrian Desert. The Romans were the ones to give the city its name in the 1st century BCE, but the site is also known as Tadmor and it predates the Roman period. In the 19th century BCE, the city is mentioned in tablets from Mari (another Syrian city) as a stop for trade caravans and nomads. Indeed, due to its location (between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates), Palmyra connected the Roman world and Mesopotamia and became a wealthy city on the route between the East and West.
There are fantastic ruins in Palmyra: the Grand Colonnade, Triumphal Arch, various temples (to Bel and Baal-Shamin, for example), an agora, a senate house, a theatre, tower tombs and even Christian churches. There are also baths, which date to the rule of Diocletian but are labelled “bathes of Zenobia” on the signposts. Actually, Zenobia is one of the famous personalities of Palmyra. She was the second wife of Odaenathus, Rome’s client ruler of Palmyra. When her husband and his son from a previous marriage were assassinated, she became the regent of her very young son and declared herself queen of Palmyra (some say she was behind the murder). However, Zenobia had no desire to remain a client of Rome: in 269 CE she seized Egypt, then conquered much of Asia Minor and declared her independence from Rome. Emperor Aurelian defeated her armies in Antioch (Turkey) and Zenobia was captured. Palmyra’s prosperity declined after her death (sources differ about the rebellious queen’s actual fate). The city was taken in the name of the first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr, in 634 and was ruined by an earthquake in 1089.
Bucket list status: I was tremendously fortunate to vacation in Syria after the dig at Madaba, Jordan, back in 1999. Syria is spectacularly beautiful… and I had a fabulous time at Palmyra. Additional information: Palmyra has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage since 1980 (no. 23) and was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2013. Unfortunately, several monuments in my pictures were destroyed by ISIL in 2015. You can find heartbreaking before and after photos of the monuments here. You can also read ASOR’s Cultural Initiative Special Report on Palmyra.
There’s a reason I don’t like reading the news: it’s depressing, truly depressing. How can I not be devastated when I read that the ancient city of Nimrud has been bulldozed? Amidst the numerous online articles focusing on the perpetrators and the situation the Middle East, BBC News offers a great write-up of the site’s historical and archaeological importance. (It’s refreshing but once you understand how amazing Nimrud is/was, the destruction is heartbreaking.) You can read Unrivalled riches of Nimrud, capital of world’s first empire and discover more.
I dedicate this post to all my friends who are specialists of the ancient Near East. I feel your pain.
In AD 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted and destroyed the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabia and Oplontis. Did you know that August 24th is generally thought to be the date of the eruption, but we don’t know for certain? It could be a little later in September or perhaps even in October—based on different kinds of evidence such as seasonal food recovered from the archaeological sites or calculating the changes in calendars. Despite the uncertainty regarding the date, what I find most remarkable about this catastrophic event (which occurred 1935 years ago) is that we have a written eye witness account of the eruption!
Pliny the Younger describes the eruption in letters to Tacitus, who had written to enquire about the death of young man’s uncle—Pliny the Elder, a famous Roman author and naturalist—on that fateful day. Pliny the Elder was also a navy fleet commander and, after receiving a missive from a friend at Stabia pleading for help, he launched galleys across the bay to rescue survivors. The young Pliny could only repeat what other members of the rescue party had told him about his uncle’s demise, for he was safe at Misenum. (Apparently, the older Pliny had asked his nephew if he wanted to join him on his expedition, but he had declined saying he had homework to do! You should think twice about procrastinating and not doing your homework—it might save your life!) You’ll find translations online.
For archaeologists, these rare catastrophic burials are an incredible time capsule that transport you back to a very precise moment in time. It’s the closest thing there is to time travel…
A photo of Pompei with a view of the Vesuvius in the background. (Taken during my recent trip to Italy.)