A mission to save what’s left of Palmyra’s artefacts after its destruction by ISIS troops

During a recent conference on “The Presence of Polish Archaeologists in Near East” Syrian officials of the Department of Antiquity invited archaeologists from Institute of Archaeology at University of Warsaw to come to the ancient city of Palmyra which has been recently freed from occupation of the Islamic State troops. Polish archaeologists worked in Palmyra between April 7th-17th. They were the first foreign specialists in field of archaeology and conservation present on the site after it was re-captured by Syrian Army.

Polish archaeologists during their work aimed at restoring damaged artefacts (by Robert Żukowski)

Russian and Syrian troops remain in the nearby modern city of Tadmor, but the area is still the site of clashes between fighting sides. Palmyra, before ISIS attacks in 2015 was famous of its stone architecture, including long colonnades and numerous temples of various ancient deities. It entered the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1980. Archaeologists of the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw were working on the site since 1959 to 2011.

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Bartosz Markowski during conservation of the remaining sculptures (by Robert Żukowski)

Most of the objects in the museum in Palmyra was destroyed. Out of 200 sculptures and reliefs fragments of around 130 have been found. Out of those 200 monuments only 4 remained intact. Most of the artefacts were found lying on the floor mixed with rubble, broken glass and shattered furniture as the building itself was bombed few times. The work of the archaeologists concentrated on finding the fragments of ancient artwork and securing it for future restoration and transportation out of the zone endangered by warfare. They were aided by a Syrian team of specialists saving mosaics and cataloguing antiquities remaining in warehouses.

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Polish archaeologist Robert Żukowski on the ground floor of the ruined museum building (by Bartosz Markowski)

Most of the damage to stone artwork that made Palmyra famous originated by hammering off details such as faces or hands, that bothered the islamic fundamentalists out of ideological reasons. The biggest damage took place in the ancient temples of Baal and Balshamin and the triumphal arch, yet the archaeologists stated during a press conference that there is much left to save if intimidate actions will be undertaken. Also the famous statue of the lion found in the temple of Allat by Polish archaeologists, which became the symbol of Palmyra is in better state than expected.

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Sculpture of a lion from the temple of Allat (by Bartosz Markowski)

(after Nauka w Polsce, Bartosz Markowski & Robert Żukowski)

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