By Michael D. Danti, Darren P. Ashby, Marina Gabriel, and Susan Penacho
Satellite imagery analysis by ASOR CHI confirms that between January 20 and January 22, 2018 large-scale damage occurred at the Early Iron Age temple at Tell Ain Dara, an archaeological site located ca. 5.8km south of Afrin in Aleppo Governorate. Several news agencies attributed the damage to a Turkish Air Force strike. The temple is an important example of Syro-Hittite religious architecture and the most extensively excavated structure of its kind in Syria. The temple is elaborately decorated with a series of basalt orthostats with geometric and representational motifs that line its exterior and interior walls. Additionally, the thresholds of the doorways into the antecella and cella contain a unique decoration that consists of two footprints carved into the exterior threshold and a single footprint on each of the two interior thresholds.
According to the news agencies, Turkey and allied militias began to carry out military activities in Afrin Canton on January 20, 2018 under the codename Operation Olive Branch. The reports indicated that the stated purpose of the operation was to extend a “buffer zone” that would sever YPG access to the Turkish border. Turkey considers the YPG to be directly linked to the PKK—a Turkish and US-designated terrorist organization that operates inside Turkey. Turkey has long voiced its concerns regarding increased Kurdish YPG presence along the border it shares with Syria.
The Results of the Attack
Based on video and photographs provided by Hawar News and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, as well as DigitalGlobe satellite imagery from January 22 and January 29, 2018, that was analyzed by ASOR CHI, it is likely that an attack took place in the area of the doorway between the antecella and cella, causing heavy damage to the central and southeastern portions of the building. Many of the orthostats, which were already fragile due to decades of exposure to weathering, are now in fragments. The limestone pavings of the antecella and cella have also been badly damaged. Metal fragments, including a piece that may be a stabilizing fin from the bomb or missile used in the attack, were recovered in the area. Satellite imagery reveals that the rest of the mound was unharmed.
Geospatial analysis played a critical role in establishing the timeline of the incident. Initial reports suggested that an "airstrike" had occurred on January 26, 2018. However, a news article from January 23, 2018 mentioned an attack on the temple but did not indicate the scale of the damage. ASOR CHI’s analysis confirms that the damage occurred on or prior to January 22, and that no additional damage to the site occurred in the following days.