Syrian archaeologists begin restoring Palmyra artefacts destroyed by Isil

Syrian archaeologists have begun work restoring artefacts damaged by Isil during the time the jihadist group controlled the ancient city of Palmyra.

A group of eight experts is attempting to reconstruct statues and sculptures recovered from the Unesco heritage site, with the help of specialists from the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

The Syrian government lost Palmyra, one of the Middle East’s most spectacular archaeological sites, when it was overrun by Isil militants who took sledgehammers and explosives to the 2nd century BC Temple of Baalshamin and the famous limestone lions guarding Al-lāt.

The army recaptured it in March 2016 with the help of allied Russian forces, but lost it again briefly a few months later before reclaiming it finally in March 2017.

Isil exploding part of the ancient site of Palmyra

Unesco sent assessors to Palmyra, where they discovered the city’s museum had suffered considerable damage: statues and sarcophagi too large to be removed for safekeeping had been smashed and defaced, busts had been beheaded and were lying on the ground in ruin.

Russia archaeologists have since made 3D models of the destroyed temple complexes for Syrian scientists to work from.

The restoration is currently being carried out in museum laboratories in Damascus.

A photo taken on March 31, 2016, of the amphitheatre in the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria, and a photo (bottom) taken on March 3, 2017, of the amphitheatre displaying damage.Credit:
AFP

"The work is very complicated, the terrorists have broken the sculptures into many pieces,” said Maher al-Jubari, the director of the laboratory of national museums in Syria. “We collected everything in one box and marked the parts. Now my task is to glue them together with a special solution.”

Maamoun Abdulkarim, the former antiquities chief, told the Telegraph in 2016 that members of his team had managed to transport parts of the Palmyra site to the relative safety of Damascus as Isil militants looked set to capture the area.

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Violence has destroyed not only the country’s heritage, but its infrastructure, including electricity and water systems, schools and hospitals, and other institutions needed for daily civilian life.

President Bashar al-Assad said on Monday that his top priority now was the reconstruction of his country.

The World Bank estimates the cost of war-related losses in Syria at £170 billion, the equivalent of four times the country’s pre-war gross domestic product.

However, officials in the West insist their countries will provide no reconstruction funds without a credible political transition away from Assad.

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