Sunday, 14 May 2017

Some Artefacts Smashed in Deir Ezzor province

It is being reported (Ivan Castro, 'ISIS militants crush antiquities discovered in Deir Ezzor province (VIDEO)'  Al Masdar News 14th May 2017):
Amaq agency, which is one of the media wings affiliated with [...] ISIL/ISIS), has published a new video that shows designated terror group’s jihadists destroying ancient statues and artifacts found west of Abu Kamal city in southeastern part of Deir Ezzor province.
 Abu Kamal is just inside the Syrian-Iraq border. The caption to the film, however, actually states that the site concerned is الصالحية  As-Salihiyah, the main town eight kilometres to the west of Dura Europos.  Note the film is dated in the European calendar. A shorter version is presented by EAMENA here. This is the original:

Deir Al-Zour Department - Destruction of statues found by the Antiquities Authority in Salhia, west of Albuqamal

Initially I was wondering whether the narrator here was the same as we saw in the Nimrud video a while ago (wearing the same waistcoat now faded) but these are clearly different men.
The Nimrud-smasher (left) and the Al-Salihiyah (right) compared
The video however seems not to be as objective a record as some commentators have been suggesting. It is clearly a pastiche, first of all showing several scenes which do not seem to me to be As-Salihiyah (27 and 30-1 secs). It opens with a few shots of small items looking like antiquities, but those shown at 9 seconds and 10 seconds include objects which have every appearance of being fakes. These objects are shown standing on a floor of cement-grouted concrete slabs (a museum storeroom floor maybe?). Note that there seems to be the suggestion of a black dado out of focus in the background (see below). 

Then at 51-58 seconds, the camera scans down a series of large classical style sculptures. They are standing in a room on the same (?) concrete slab floor which has a black dado and there are grey walls behind. I've made a photomontage of this sequence, there is a large Roman funerary stele, and three heads. The one in the centre I suspect is a fake. 

But then look at the 'haram figure smashing scene' ...(1m 07 secs). This is set in a space (courtyard?) surrounded by lime-green walls and with a beaten earth floor. We see a scatter of elongated, presumably stone, objects which we are invited to identify as the items we saw in the opening sequences. In fact,  few of the items shown scattered on the earth look like figurines or fragments of figures (there are some that might be animals). There is the large funerary fragment at the back, but it now looks much more battered than in the previous sequence. There are heads too, the brownish one to the right might be that shown in the earlier piled sequence, but I think the large white on to its right is not the same as the (fake?) one we saw in the foreground of the earlier sequence. Among the sculptures are also other stone fragments, none of them obviously sculpted and thus probably added for effect to bulk out a smaller scatter of artefacts. 

In the 18 seconds where we see them smashing things (1.08-1.26), the brownish head breaks pretty easily, showing the colouration to be superficial only (is this a painted plaster cast? The sound it makes when splitting however suggests that this is not the case). We see two people involved, and I am unsure whether the hammer wielder shown in the scene at the end (1.19-1.26) focussing on the destruction of (ceramic?) figures has the same sandals as the narrator who began the hammering. 

Although in the beginning of the sequence we see a number of heads go under the hammer and at the end a close-up view of figurine smashing (1.19-1.26) there are a number of  reasons not to accept at face value what the film purports to show. For example in that last scene, the rubble shown in the background looks nothing like that produced by the hammering in the preceding shotsWe nowhere see the large stela being smashed (or bits from it).

It is unclear where this film was made. Perhaps we are invited to believe that the first shots of the items themselves were filmed in a museum, but then, that would not explain why there are fakes mixed in with what do seem to be genuine artefacts. Perhaps this is material accumulated by a middleman for selling - and thus including material perhaps taken from Dura Europos eight kilometres away and Mari or other sites a bit more distant. It is unclear if the green-walled courtyard is in the same building as that with the concrete slab floor. Perhaps they were transported there from the first filming site - which may explain why there are fewer shown than in the general shots (they had not bothered to bring all the fragments from the one place to where the filming was to be done). 

The reader will guess that after looking carefully at this film, I think it is largely staged. I suspect that the amount of damage done was far less than the film is intended to make the viewer believe. Why would this be? The reason might be prosaic, smashing rocks is hard work in the warmer months, like May, and propagandists were more interested in the overall appearance of the film than actually breaking lots of large stones. The reason might be that the film makers wanted to make people (ISIL-followers, or is this aimed at western collectors?) believe that they are smashing more stuff than they are. It seems to me that the objects got rid of were not all genuine antiquities, and there is reason to believe that some of the things shown in the general shots in fact were not smashed. So where are they now? Were they left in the courtyard in As- Salihiyah to be found when ISIL is pushed out, or are they making their clandestine way to foreign markets as this is being written?

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