Scientists are beginning to research the hidden effects modern warfare has on important World Heritage Sites and how we might be able to reverse them.
In a new study published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, researchers have done studies using .22-caliber rifles to examine the damage done to World Heritage Sites caught in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq.
The researchers set up blocks of sandstone quarried in the Huesca region of northeast Spain at a rifle range in Oxfordshire, England. This sandstone closely mimics the materials the original builders of many World Heritage Sites in the Middle East used. They fired four .22-caliber lead bullets at each, then took the blocks back to a lab and subjected them to similar conditions that create erosion on ancient structures in the Middle East.
Using x-rays, microscopes, and tomographic scanners, the researchers discovered a world of damage to the sandstone that can’t be seen with the naked eye. The bullets had caused microscopic fractures throughout the whole of the sandstone block – fractures which only got worse the more the sandstone was exposed to stressful elements – exacerbating erosion.
Over time, if exposed to more and more stressful conditions, the sandstone blocks would eventually fall apart entirely and crumble. That’s exactly what’s starting to happen to historical sites in the Middle East at an alarming rate.
The study proves that the destruction done by modern warfare goes beyond the artifacts ISIL has defaced, detonated, and destroyed. The unseen damage is more extensive than anyone ever imagined.
“These tests are based on relatively small .22-caliber bullet impacts with minimal surface material loss, yet the effects were far greater than appreciated from a visual inspection. The results from this study, therefore, beg the question,” the writers of the study mused, “if such small impacts can alter the stone to this extent, what are the long-term consequences of larger impacts such as AK-47s?”
Now that they know the true extent of how the Middle East’s history is being affected by modern warfare, scientists are currently researching ways to preserve ancient monuments and heritage sites locked in war-torn regions. This history is important to all of us, and essential to the identity of people living in these areas. It’s vital that these heritage sites are not lost in the conflict but instead preserved for future generations to come.