Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Preserving an Archaeological Site in Northern Syria Threatened by War

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Preserving an Archaeological Site in Northern Syria Threatened by War

Article excerpt

University of California, Los Angeles Prof. Emeritus Giorgio Buccellati told an audience at the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles, CA on Jan. 27 that the protection of ancient archaeological sites can present daunting challenges during times of warfare. Buccellati dedicated his talk, "In the Eye of the Storm: Resilience of the Urkesh Project in the Time of War," to his colleague Khaled Asaad, director of archaeology in Palmyra, who was killed Aug. 18, 2015 by ISIS (see October 2015 Washington Report, p. 64).

Buccellati's most vital method of protecting an archaeological site is educating and hiring the people who live there to make them stakeholders in the maintenance and success of the site. Buccellati described his excavation of Tell Mozan (Urkesh) in northern Syria, a third millennium archaeological site consisting mainly of holes with very few monumental structures on the surface.

In order to protect the site, Buccellati continued, the team had to devise protective equipment that was inexpensive and locally available. Even though there has been no dig for the past five years, the Urkesh site has been successfully maintained and protected because the local staffhas an intense loyalty to the site and scientists. They keep in touch through a website, Dropbox and e-mails.

Such work is costly, of course, and without a continuing excavation program, raising funds is difficult. "Everyone wants preservation, but it's hard to get funds to do so." said Buccellati. The UCLA Cotsen Institute specifically, along with a number of other institutes, have been helpful.

The local workers have managed to preserve the site by developing a series of metal frames that are then covered with locally available burlap. They initially used tightly fitted canvas, but that deteriorated quickly and was difficult to remove, especially if a documentary team was trying to film the site.

The team eventually developed a system that uses curtains on the sides, and the tops are protected with mud and straw, much like the roofs of the local homes.

The local Kurdish militia has become involved in protecting the site. Fortunately, ISIS-controlled territory is 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Urkesh.

Thanks to the training of six local staffand establishing the means to maintain contact, archaelogists have been able to analyze 50,000 sherds during the past five years. …

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