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Why ISIS hates archaeology

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An online video purports to show Islamic State militants bombing ruins at the ancient Iraqi city of Nimrud. In the video, militants use sledgehammers, a bulldozer and explosives to level the site, located near the militant-held city of Mosul. (April 12)

By Kristin Romey, National Geographic

April 14, 2015

On April 11th, a brief video appeared on social media and quickly became the subject of international news headlines and the target of global condemnation.

It was exactly what the Islamic State (ISIS) wanted.

The roughly seven-minute video shows the destruction of what experts confirm is the Northwest Palace at Nimrud, built in the ninth century B.C. by the Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II. (Learn more about the Northwest Palace at Nimrud.)

An online video shows ISIS militants using sledgehammers, a bulldozer, and explosives to destroy ruins at the ancient Iraqi city of Nimrud.

While reports from early March that the site was destroyed by bulldozers proved to be incorrect, experts tell National Geographic that the events recorded in the video most likely occurred some time between mid-March and early April.

“Whenever we take control of a piece of land, we remove the symbols of polytheism and spread monotheism in it,” a jihadi tells the camera before the structure is destroyed with explosives. (Read about ISIS’s destruction of cultural heritage.)

By invoking the sins of shirk, or idolatry, the Islamic State is trying to establish their legitimacy as the proper heirs to the legacy of earlier “destroyers of idols,” including the prophets Abraham and Muhammed, says Christopher Jones, a PhD student at Columbia University who has been documenting damage to ancient sites in Iraq at the Gates of Nineveh blog.

The Islamic State’s notion of shirk not only applies to pre-Islamic sites like Nimrud, but also any Islamic heritage that does not follow their strict Sunni interpretation of Islam, as well as sites belonging to the region’s religious minorities, including Yazidis, Kurds, and Christians. (Who are the Yazidis?)



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