In the Mist of the Aftermath

Illegal excavations, antique trade and Islamic Art: trade practices of pre-modern Syrian art

IWA Magazine, volume 5, Winter 2019

It is now a certified fact that the terrorist organisation ISIS took advantage of the lucrative trade of antiquities to fund their activities, by stealing from archaeological sites and museums to resell in Europe and the US 

In this article, I question the current state of the Pre-modern Islamic Art market, in regard to the illegal looting in Syria and Iraq and the numerous destructions of archaeological sites.


Islamic sites have suffered the same fate, as demonstrated by the less mediasized destruction of Muhammad ibn ‘Ali and Nizar Abu Bahaeddine mausoleums in Palmyra in June 2015. More than 50 other tombs and shrines were reported destroyed since the beginning of the war, not only in Syria but also in Iraq where the 14th century mausoleum of the prophet Yunus (Jonas) was for instance bombed in July 2014

The destruction of Muslim shrines falls under the Salafist interpretation of Quranic laws and the self-imposed severity regarding devotion to past prophets, saints and rulers. However, there is no reason to think that the above-mentioned mausoleums were not pillaged before being reduced to gravel. We have just no idea what was taken and inserted on the Western art market with false provenience.

Click on the image to get to IWA