On Tuesday, the Islamic State released video footage reportedly showing the destruction of the treasured Baal Shamin Temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. The temple, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was considered one of the Middle East's most archaeologically precious buildings.
Now, the U.N. satellite program UNOSAT has confirmed the temple's destruction by comparing satellite images taken June 26 and Aug. 27. "We confirm the destruction of the main building, while surrounding columns seem to be less affected," the agency said in a news release. The earlier image shows the site, which attracted visitors from all over the world for centuries:
The temple was a popular tourist attraction before the Syrian civil war.
On Aug. 23, however, the Islamic State indicated that it had blown up Baal Shamin.
"Daesh placed a large quantity of explosives in the temple of Baal Shamin today and then blew it up causing much damage to the temple," Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria's antiquities chief, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, using another name for the Islamic State.
The satellite image taken Aug. 27 shows that nearly all of the columns had been destroyed.
High-resolution satellite images have allowed UNOSAT to document the destruction in Syria, despite the absence of impartial observers on the ground. Earlier this spring, the agency released a report that concluded that it had found evidence of "indiscriminate attacks on civilian population, including barrel bombing, destruction of schools, hospitals, residential areas, markets, power plants and the vast cultural heritage of Syria." A compilation of the images published in March can be found here.
Meanwhile, scientists from Oxford and Harvard have announced plans to install about 5,000 3-D cameras in war zones so that artifacts and historic buildings can be re-created if they are destroyed. The idea, which is being pursued under the name "The Million Image Database Project," was born out of the destruction of the Baal Shamin temple.
"Palmyra is rapidly becoming the symbol of Isis's cultural iconoclasm. ... But there is hope. By placing the record of our past in the digital realm, it will lie forever beyond the reach of vandals and terrorists," Roger Michel, who works for the Institute for Digital Archaeology and is involved in the project, told the British paper The Times.