Hero of Archaeology

10 Nov 2015
Hero of Archaeology
Photo Credit: URS FLUEELER—123R

As  I write, the UN has confirmed from satellite images that ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) has destroyed the 2000-year-old Temple of Baalshamin at Palmyra in Syria. In 1996, with my family, I had the privilege of visiting this amazing oasis city. At the time, the head of antiquities for the ancient city of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was Khaled Mohamad al-Asaad, a Syrian archaeologist. Tragically, just days before the destruction of the temple, this literal hero of archaeology was brutally murdered by ISIS. But why do I call him a hero of archaeology?

ISIS allegedly killed him because he refused to reveal the whereabouts of archaeological treasures of the site hidden by him and others in anticipation of an ISIS takeover, whose policy is to destroy them if they consider them idolatrous, or to sell them to fund their regime of hate and terror.

What an example! A man willing to die for the cause he believed in and loved—the ancient city of Palmyra and its artefacts. As I thought of Khaled, it made me ponder a haunting question: Would we—would I—be willing to give my life for that which I believe in? Most of us will probably never have to physically give our life for what we believe in, but in all probability we will be called on to stand up or speak up for what we believe sometime. However, we also, and too often, yield to peer or public pressure.

Which reminds me of another hero of archaeology, Sir William Ramsay, who, in the face of the evidence he had discovered, was willing to lay aside his prior world view and that of his peers and the scholars of his time. You’ll want to read about him (see “The Archaeologist,") and the discoveries that changed him.

Also in this issue, we’ll take a leisurely journey down the river of time with Suzette Hartwell, looking at the place of the revered Nile River in ancient times. This article is a milestone for Suzette, as it is her 25th in DIGGINGS. You’ll enjoy it. And while in Egypt, let Titus Kennedy enlighten you on the identity of Pharaoh Shoshenq I. Finally, Daryn Graham’s article on the Roman emperor Domitian gives an insight on yet another of the rulers of mighty Rome.