The ancient city was one of the first archaeological sites to be occupied by Islamic State. Now new photos are revealing the fate of this important site as archaeologists continue to count the cultural cost of Isis
Three weeks ago, the Syrian antiquities directorate released new photos showing another devastated archaeological site. Outside Syria the news has received fairly limited press attention, except in France, where Mari, the site in question, is much better known. French archaeologists have been excavating at Mari since 1933, the most recent expedition running until 2010 when the Arab Spring and growing unrest made the site inaccessible. In light of the level of damage which is now evident, perhaps it’s worth sparing a moment to look at why Mari matters to archaeologists, historians and the cultural heritage of Syria.
When Islamic State emerged, the part of Deir ez-Zor province in which Mari lies was one of the first areas to fall under its control in early 2014. Under IS, the site suffered an immediate explosion of looting; satellite images revealed the change from archaeological site to lunar landscape in a matter of months. More than 1,500 new looting pits were recorded at Mari between 2013 and 2015, likely representing the removal of a huge quantity of ancient objects, sold into the illegal antiquities market to fund Isis and its war.