The Fight Against Terrorism: Protecting Cultural Heritage Sites for Syrians and the Future

Archaeology has been thought of a discipline filled with old men who dig bones, observe soil, and freak out when they find the smallest fragment of anything; however, archaeology is becoming a  into a branch that now attempts to extend itself to the public, by giving back information and artifacts to groups and by using archaeology to combat current issues. Today, artifacts are being destroyed by ISIS in Syria, and archaeologists are attempting to protect antiquities for future generations to come.

To achieve their political goals, ISIS is destroying culturally significant objects to, in a sense, change the history of the region. Syria is an extremely archaeological rich area, containing artifacts from the earliest known civilization, Mesopotamia. Syria has some of the oldest Sumerian writing tablets, as well as sex UNESCO World Heritage sites. Entire museums are left in rubble as objects are destroyed. Artifacts are, too, taken and sold on the black market to finance this militant group’s political agendas. The Islamic State has destroyed other culturally significant pieces, such as burning thousands of rare documents and books.

ISIS militant destroying a 3000 year old Assyrian Winged Bull

ISIS militant destroying a 3000 year old Assyrian Winged Bull

Activist archaeologists are attempting to right the wrongs done in Syria, and there are similar but different approaches. One group of activists are secretly documenting the destroyed artifacts, taking photographs to show the true damages as well as writing descriptions of the lost relics. These activists send their information to Al-Azm, a former researcher for the Syrian government, who sends this information to international law enforcement agencies to help stop the black market sales of Syrian cultural items.  Similarly to Al-Azm, European archaeologists have created the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology, which attempts to create a record of the losses in Syria. This movement is based on the internet, utilizing social media such as Twitter and YouTube to educate the international community on the significant losses. Some researchers, like Ms. Hanna of the American University in Cairo, has begun to focus on activism instead of academic publication. She has testified to the United States’ Congress, attempting to put more restrictions on imports of artifacts to America. One of the most interesting way of preserving Syrian archaeological treasures is through 3D modeling. Bassel Kartabil, using photographs as a basis, created 3D Models of Palmyra, an ancient Semitic city that has been controlled by ISIS since March of 2015. The project attempts to recreate destroyed buildings and monuments through 3D reconstruction. Bassel Kartabil has since been imprisoned for his work on the project.

3D Structure created by the  New Palmyra Project

3D Structure created by the New Palmyra Project

The efforts and work to preserve the history of region is noteworthy. Through proper cataloging and reconstruction, the archaeological community hopes that these relics will not be lost to humanity forever.




Animal Domestication: How Our Ancestors Became Sedentary

Transportation, agriculture, and companionship—Humans are significantly affected by interactions with animals. Our modern lifestyles would not be possible without the domestication of animals. When did humans start to have pets? Why did pets and other domestic animals begin to matter? How were they used? These are questions that archaeologists ask themselves and have done their best to answer.

Pets of our ancestors are significantly different than ones we keep today. Using a dog jaw found in Switzerland as evidence, archaeologists have estimated that dogs were first domesticated around 14000 to 14600 years ago, but humans have selectively breaded for

Dog jaw found in Swiss cave (c. 14000 years ago)

Dog jaw found in Swiss cave (c. 14000 years ago)

desired traits, causing dramatic changes in the physical structure of animals. Different societies selected for different characteristics, including  fur color, ability, and shape. The same qualities are found in cat remains, though cats are estimated to be domesticated around 7500 B.C. While most would like to hear more about the exciting shift of our furry friends from wild hunter to companion, the most striking information regarding the domestication of animals is looking at farm domestication and how groups of people shifted from nomadic bands to pastoral, sedentary groups.

The first animals thought to be domesticated for agricultural endeavors were sheep between 11000 and 9000 B.C., and goats were domesticated shortly after. These animals were used for meat, milk, and fur. Bands of people at this time were still primarily nomadic. Remains for sheep were first found in the Middle East, where there are high proportions of bones of one year old sheep. Dating for the domestication of these animals is possible by looking at the remains of those who lived in the area and finding when human beings were able to process lactose. There was an incredible advantage for those who could digest lactose because of high amounts of calories available from milk. Evidence is also available about milk use through 7000 year old perforated pottery that was used for cheese production. Use of this type of potter was proven by experimental archaeology and chemical analysis of the clay, which found milk fats inside the pottery.

Pottery that was used for cheese straining, found in  Poland

Pottery that was used for cheese straining, found in Poland

Pigs and cattle were domesticated slightly later, around 7000 B.C., but these remains are usually found with societies that were more sedentary.

One of the main reasons to domesticate animals is because there is always a constant, readily available, and reliable source of food. If one goes hunting, there are no chances that he or she will return with meat for his or her community. If one hunts too many animals, the food will spoil, and the food will be wasted. Domesticating animals also provided for suitable manure for farming, hides and wool for coats, and bones for tools. Through the domestication of animals, the concept of staying in one place was a viable option for people. The need to constantly move for a steady supply of food was outdated, and we see the rise of civilizations and larger social organizations as animals domestication begins.



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