AMMAN, Jordan — Images of Islamic State militants dynamiting irreplaceable Roman ruins in Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra sparked anguish and outrage among scholars and archaeologists around the world.But the danger of an ISIS counterattack remains real.
But optimism is cautiously rising about the ability to restore the damaged sites despite the destruction of several World Heritage monuments in the complex, say some of the first outside specialists to reach Palmyra after Islamic State forces were wrested from the city.
“We still don’t know about the underground damage and the looting because of the mines planted by the Islamic State, but we can say that 80 percent of the archaeological architecture is undamaged,” Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of Syria’s Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums, said in an interview.
Despite the devastation, specialists say it could have been much worse.
“The photos of the archaeological site shows that we’ve been lucky,” said Amr al-Azm, an opposition-affiliated archaeologist and professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio. Mr. al-Azm also founded the The Day After Heritage Protection Initiative, a Syrian nongovernmental organization.
He pointed to the landmark Arch of Triumph — which was restored once before in the 1930s — as one monument that can be rebuilt using many of the original stones.
Mr. Abdulkarim, head of the state antiquities office, said he also believes damage to the castle and even the wrecked Temple of Bel can be restored without resorting to extensive rebuilding using modern materials that might destroy the character of the ancient ruins.
“We need to assess the status of the stones, how much could be restored and how much could be rebuilt,” he said. “We are not going to build a new temple. We will restore it.”
Background on Palmyra is here with many, many links.