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History withering away? Syrian conflict impeding preservation of ancient site, says expert

April 17, 13:50 UTC+3 MOSCOW

After the Russian archaeologists wrapped up their excavations at the Tell Khaznah monument and the fighting broke out in Syria, the monument has undeniably been damaged, the expert said

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© Russian Academy of Sciences Archeology Institute

MOSCOW, April 17. /TASS/. Syria’s Tell Khaznah archeological monument in the northeastern section of the war-torn country is facing destruction if the conservation works, which were carried out by Russian archeologists until 2010, are not completed, warned Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) Senior Research Scientist Shakhmardan Amirov. For two decades (1989-2010), the expert had worked in Syria as part of an expedition headed by RAS Corresponding Fellow Rauf Munchaev told TASS.

"After the Russian archaeologists wrapped up their excavations at the Tell Khaznah monument and the fighting broke out in Syria, the monument has undeniably been damaged. However, the damage is not anthropogenic, but of natural origin, as rains and winds contribute to its further attrition," Amirov said. "Realizing that the Tell Khaznah works are coming to a close, over the last few years we had spent a lot of time trying to cover the old excavation sites and, therefore, preserve the monumental structures we had discovered. This includes a prayer tower (ziggurat), which is, according to our hypotheses, one of the earliest types of religious structures built in the world. However, the conservation works weren’t finished, since we simply didn’t have enough time to cover all the structures of the temple complex because the height of the Tell Khaznah ancient sun-dried earth brick buildings reach eight meters. <…> If we can’t cover the remaining excavations, then in the next few years the entire Tell Khaznah temple complex will crumble."

What’s more, Amirov pointed out that there’s understanding now that the conservation process can’t be finished since the Syrian civil war continues to rage on. "We fully realize that for now we cannot do it. Our foreign colleagues say that this will be left for the coming generations, but I would like to believe that Russian archeologists will return to Syria in our lifetime," he told TASS.

April 2019 marks 50 years since Russian archeologists had started excavations in Iraq and Syria. A Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) Archeology Institute expedition headed by RAS Corresponding Fellow Rauf Munchaev was working in Mesopotamia (in modern-day Syria and Iraq) from 1969 to 2010. The collection of findings unearthed by this expedition enriched the museums of Baghdad and Mosul, while its results are acknowledged throughout the world. However, due to the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) the Soviet scientists were forced to leave Iraq and continue their studies solely in Syria until the Syrian conflict broke out.

Tell Khazhan is a uniquely preserved religious and administrative settlement in present-day northeastern Syria, which had existed in late 4000 BC - early 3000 BC. The settlement is situated 25 km to the northeast from the town of Al-Hasakah, the capital city of the Al-Hasakah Governorate. It is suggested that the temple complex in the Khabur River valley was built in the end of the Uruk period and existed from late 4000 BC to 2700 BC. Archeology uses the word "Tell" to describe hills that formed on sites of the ancient cities and towns. The monument was researched by Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) Archeology Institute experts headed by RAS Corresponding Fellow Rauf Munchaev in 1989-2010. Damascus is not exercising control over the territory where the Tell Khaznah monument is situated.

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