The world has stood appalled by the destruction of Muslim extremists in ISIS of ancient Syrian architecture and Christian tombs, including continuing demolitions revealed this week with the destruction of the famed tower tombs. A construction company in Israel however shows that you do not have to be a religious fanatic to show the same ignorance and destruction. In this case it was allegedly a case of blind greed rather than blind hate. The unnamed company was told that it could build in the sensitive area of Ashkelon where antiquities are often found (like this earlier sarcophagus) so long as they proceed carefully and report any findings (and stop work when any findings are made). The company allegedly found the beautiful 1,800 year old sarcophagus but decided to hide it rather than stop work. In the process of yanking it out of the ground with a tractor and hiding it under sheet metal, the invaluable piece was irreparably damaged. (Since the photographer for the Israel Antiquities Authority has copyrighted the photos, a curious claim for a government agency, we cannot post the pictures which can be seen here It is an ironic twist, the IAA is objecting to the damage to a historic piece that belongs to all humanity but then claims copyright to the images to ostensibly require anyone who wants to use the image to get its permission)
The IAA says that it will take legal action against the company but it remains unclear whether company employees will face serious punishment for damaging and hiding the stone coffin weighing 2 tons and 8.2 feet in length. Sculpted on all sides, a life-size figure of a person is sculpted on the sarcophagus’ lid. The figure of a leaning man shows a short-sleeved shirt decorated with embroidery on the front and a tunic is wrapped around his waist. His eyes were once inlaid with precious stones and his hair is “arranged in curls, in a typical Roman hairstyle.” This is a relief of a metal amphora on the other side like the ones used to ship wine as well as wreaths and images of bulls’ heads, naked Cupids, and the head of the mythical creature Medusa.
The company came across this magnificent item and decided to pull it out of the ground with a tractor and then allegedly poured a concrete floor down to hide the site. The sarcophagus was hidden beneath a pile of sheet metal. Such an act should warrant a length prison term but I somehow doubt that such punishment will occur. We have seen in other countries how contractors destroy ancient sites with the expectation that they will never be caught or, if caught, will face fines or relatively light punishment. It then becomes a cost of doing business with history as the loser.
Amir Ganor, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Inspection Department, is quoted as saying “This is an extremely serious case of damage to a rare antiquity of unprecedented artistic, historical and cultural importance.” (By the way, Mr. Ganor, you might want to show that recognition of “artistic, historical, and cultural importance” of this item for humanity by not having your agency or its photographers claim copyright ownership to pictures placed on government websites.)