ISIS, Syria and the Eradication of Culture: As the Ancient World Falls, Efforts Mount to Save World Heritage

AN Forum

ISIS has reportedly bulldozed the ancient city of Nimrud.

ISIS has reportedly bulldozed the ancient city of Nimrud.

You’ve probably seen the reports of destruction coming out of the Middle East. You’ve certainly heard of ISIS and its reign of terror. The loss of life and the horrifying atrocities being committed against innocent people are splashed across every news network. But ISIS is doing more than taking individual lives. The group is bent on annihilating ancient culture and what it represents. This part of the news story may not have caught everyone’s eye, but it is a desperately important part of that story.

As Deborah Lehr of the Antiquities Coalition and The Capitol Archaeological Institute put it in a recent Newsweek article about Isis and its wave of terror, “It’s an eradication of culture…It’s a part of striking at those beliefs that differ from [ISIS’s] extremist view: views of tolerance, views of religious freedom, views of expression.”[1]

ISIS has already destroyed several ancient sites including the 2,700 year old city of Khorsabad, a 2,000 year old site in Hatra and the 3,000 year old city of Nimrud (also once known as Kalhu). In both Iraq and Syria extremists have cavalierly bulldozed, desecrated and robbed such sites of their identity and ability to impart to us their secrets and knowledge. The loss is immeasurable.

It’s proved complicated at times to explain why the destruction and looting of ancient sites should provoke outrage and calls for intervention. When so many people are dying, it seems callous to many to think about what are essentially “things.” Even UNESCO was criticized for its efforts to encourage countries to set up measures protecting their antiquities. However, as Deborah Lehr says about the destruction in Iraq and Syria, “This isn’t a choice between people or stone. Culture is part of who these people are, and this, ironically, is the cradle of civilization.”[2] Thankfully, the message seems to be reaching a wider audience now and more people are understanding the gravity of the situation.

We aren’t even going to attempt to tell the whole story in this one blog post. Instead, we’ve compiled a list of articles either written by or quoting experts in the field. These writings address general details about the destruction by Isis and measures being taken to combat the attacks.

This is happening right now. Every day we are losing a bit more of our shared past. Take a moment to read these articles and learn what you can do.

Details about the destruction:

Attempts to stem the destruction:

[1] Westcott, L. (2015, March 13). Why ISIS Is Plundering the Ancient World. Retrieved March 16, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

One response to “ISIS, Syria and the Eradication of Culture: As the Ancient World Falls, Efforts Mount to Save World Heritage

  1. Pingback: Summer Reading Recap: Mesopotamia and the Middle East | AntiquityNOW

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