Research into the damage inflicted on archaeological sites in the Middle East and Central Asia emerged in the 1990s, when international bodies began to understand the need to protect endangered heritage.
Unesco, ICOM, ICOMOS and ICCROM have worked to protect the heritage of the region since the start of the conflict in Iraq in 1991, and then in other conflict-affected countries, including Syria since 2011, and Afghanistan, primarily in response to the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001. These institutions have also worked with border authorities to recover looted objects. Lastly, the building of national capacities for the protection and preventive and interventive conservation of local heritage is another major priority for international organisations.
The main actors involved in scientific research on sites damaged by armed conflict remain the United States and Italy. This field research has been made possible by the integration of archaeologists into their military units and even the creation of heritage corps, such as the Carabinieri.
The setting up of the Shirin and Rashid committees for Syria and Iraq respectively underlines the efforts made by researchers in response to the damage caused to archaeological sites. Both committees endeavour to monitor conflict-affected sites and produce situational analyses on a case-by-case basis.
Routes de l’Orient published the conference proceedings of Archaeology in Conflict/Documenting Destruction of Cultural Heritage in the Middle East and Central Asia in 2019.
The destruction of Mari
The Mari site is currently the focus of attention. It is the ancient site worst affected by looting. Although the pillaging of ancient sites is not unusual, Tell Hariri - Mari, which dates mainly from the Bronze Age, is one of the few sites from this period to be targeted.