In 2014, the militant group calling themselves the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria began destroying cultural heritage sites and artifacts—mosques and shrines, churches, and ancient and medieval monuments—in Libya, Syria, and Iraq, using bulldozers and explosives. Pre-Islamic, Islamic, early Christian, and Yazidi sites have all been annihilated, as ISIS claims they all represent “an erroneous form of creativity, contradicting the basics of sharia.” Yet, there has been evidence of looting. The Huffington Post reported this week that ISIS has been making millions on the black market, trading artifacts. In the most high-profile example to date, the FBI recently launched an investigation into the owners of Hobby Lobby for the alleged illegal possession of cuneiform tablets.
Since July 2015, ISIS has controlled a region of land in the Middle East comparable to the size of England, including 20 percent of Iraq’s 10,000 cultural heritage sites as determined by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre. In total, 41 major cultural heritage sites and monuments have been lost to history thus far. The rate of destruction has doubled in the last year, with 34 percent of the sites destroyed in 2014 compared to 66 percent demolished in 2015, and there have been no signs of slowing. The graphic above maps out exactly what has been lost to history, and which areas are in danger of losing more. A report on recent developments related to ISIS’s wave of destruction will follow next week.