As It Happens

Archaeologist laments ongoing destruction to Syria's culturally-rich Tell Qarqur

American archaeologist Jesse Casana says Tell Qarqur, a hill in Syria chock-full of historic treasure, remains at risk of being destroyed in the conflict there.
Tell Qarqur is a rich archaeological site in western Syria, damaged by the ongoing conflict in the region. (Jesse Casana)

To the untrained eye, it looks like a nondescript hill. But it's a lot more than that.

Tell Qarqur is an rich archaeological site in western Syria. Like many other more striking sites in the country — temples, sculptures, monasteries — it's been badly damaged by the ongoing conflict in the region.

Jesse Casana is an archaeologist at Dartmouth University specializing in the Middle East. (

"[It's] actually composed of superimposed layers of collapsed cultural debris," Jesse Casana tells As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. "If you were to dig a hole into one of these mounds, what you would see were layer-upon-layer of remains of buildings and other occupational elements — things like trash pits and hearths and all kinds of artifacts."

Casana is an archaeologist who has spent years excavating and studying at the hill.

Casana dug a trench along one side Tell Qarqur to get a cross-section of the various occupational histories buried in the mound. (Jesse Casana)

According to Casana, Tell Qarqur is particularly important because of its longevity as a culturally-significant area.

"At a place like Tell Qarqur, what we have is an occupational history that dates back all the way to the very beginning of the human experiment with agriculture," Casana explains. "This one site was occupied by basically a superimposed series of towns and villages and cities over that entire 10,000 year history."

Ancient sheep teeth found at Tell Qarqur may help track the pastoral patterns of the region. (Jesse Casana)

Casana is now limited to monitoring the site using satellite imaging, part of a larger project to survey the archaeological damage throughout Syria and northern Iraq.

"It's in pretty bad shape, as are many archaeological sites in Syria," Casana laments. "Very early in the war, it was right on the front line of what became a very heavily-contested part of Syria."​

A horse and gazelle pictured in part of a mosaic found at Tell Qarqur. (Jesse Casana)

Casana says the extent of the destruction at the archaeological site is disheartening, but says seeing the damage done to the village at the base of Tell Qarqur is particularly hard.

"We invariably develop close relationships with many of the people who live there," Casana explains. "They've been having a very difficult time. They were forced out of their village in 2012, after the military had occupied the site, and today they're living as refugees on the Syrian border. So I guess when I look at these sites, I think a lot about what it means for the people who live in Syria."


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