UPDATE: Ain Dara

Ain Dara (Michael Danti; June 2010)

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.

 

Ain Dara prior to recent damage (DigitalGlobe NextView License; November 9, 2017)

Visible damage to the site as indicated by red rectangle (DigitalGlobe NextView License; January 29, 2018)

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.

The area most heavily affected by the attack (Plan from Assaf, The Temple of ‘Ain Dara, fig. 12)

The Ain Dara Temple in 2010, seen from the south (Michael Danti; June 2010)

Video still of the current condition of the temple, seen from the south (Hawar News; January 27, 2018)

The cella and northern wall of the building, seen from the south (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights; January 28, 2018)

The stone thresholds with carved footprints in the entrance to the building, seen from the southeast (Michael Danti; June 2010)

Video still of the entrance to the temple, seen from the east (Hawar News; January 27, 2018)

Stone steps with a guilloche pattern that lead up to the entrance to the temple, seen from the southeast (Hawar News; January 27, 2018)

The entrance and southern facade of the building, seen from the east (Hawar News; January 27, 2018)

The entrance and orthostats in the southern facade, seen from the east (Hawar News; January 27, 2018)

A series of basalt orthostats located to the west of the entrance, seen from the east (Hawar News; January 27, 2018)

The entrance to the building, seen from the northeast (Hawar News; January 27, 2018)

The northeastern corner of the antecella in 2010, seen from the southwest (Michael Danti; June 2010)

Video still of the current condition of the antecella, seen from the southwest (Hawar News; January 27, 2018)

The northernmost interior wall of building, seen from the southeast (Michael Danti; June 2010)

Video still of the current condition of the northernmost interior wall, seen from the southeast (Hawar News; January 27, 2018)

The western facade of the building in 2010 (Michael Danti; June 2010)

Metal fragment that could be a stabilizing fin fragment from a bomb or missile used in the attack (ANHA; January 27, 2018)

Video still of the current condition of the western facade (Hawar News; January 27, 2018)

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