Archaeologists Train "Monuments Men" to Save Syria's Past

04 Sep 2014 8:17 AM | Anonymous

Archaeologists Train "Monuments Men" to Save Syria's Past

Amid the devastation and danger of civil war, Syrian archaeologists and activists are risking their lives in the battle against looting.

Photo of Free Syrian Army fighters walking with their weapons in the Umayyad mosque of Old Aleppo.

Free Syrian Army fighters walk through rubble at Aleppo's Umayyad Mosque in December 2013.

Photograph by Molhem Barakat, Reuters/Corbis

Andrew Curry

for National Geographic

Published September 3, 2014

The ancient city of Dura-Europos sits on a bluff above the Tigris River a few miles from Syria's border with Iraq, its mud-brick walls facing a bleak expanse of desert. Just a year ago the city's precise grid of streetsundefinedlaid down by Greek and Roman residents 2,000 years agoundefinedwas largely intact. Temples, houses, and a substantial Roman outpost were preserved for centuries by the desert sands.


"It stood out for its remarkable preservation," says Simon James, an archaeologist at the U.K.'s University of Leicester who spent years studying the site's Roman garrison. "Until now." (See before and after pictures of archaeological site looting.)

Satellite images of the site released by the U.S. State Department in June show a shocking picture of devastation. In the past year, as fighting continued to rage between the government of President Bashar al Assad's troops and rebelsundefinedincluding the Islamic State in Iraq and Syriaundefinedthe site has been ravaged by industrial-scale looting.