Damage assessement

It is useful to emphasize the intrinsic ambiguity of the concept of ‘damage’ and the need to measure it appropriately (Cunliffe 2014a).

Most damage assessments in the fertile crescent or elsewhere have been characterized by the study of large landscapes (usually state or states up to even larger regions, as for instance in the EAMENA project, Rayne et al. 2017), using a consolidated procedure based on the presence and absence of anthropogenic traces.

As regards anthropogenic elements various scholars have developed differing methods of damage analysis (Cunlife 2014b; Casana & Laugier 2017; Danti et al. 2017; Rayne et al. 2017; Marchetti et al. 2019; Zaina 2019).

The city of Hatra, however, takes the form of a single large and ‘seamless’ archaeological site within almost any location could be considered as an context of potential archaeological interest – inevitably any intrusive activity might damage the as-yet unknown archaeological stratigraphy in terms of its function, depth, extent and intrinsic character. From the outset the current team’s assessment of the damage was conceived not as an absolute measure but as an assessment of what actually happened during the ISIS occupation.

The working method was therefore based initially on the systematic horizontal mapping of any damage already detectable on the 2013 satellite imagery, defining the situation as it existed at that time. The relatively limited resolution of the satellite imagery, and the intentionally rapid strategy of analysis, did not permit the mapping of ‘vertical’ damage but a few carefully chosen instances later in the process showed that drone-based low-level photogrammetry, combined with observation in the field, would have allowed this to be done in a systematic way had time permitted. 

Nevertheless, the project team tried to record the scale of the damage according to a deductive procedure based on the principles of airphoto interpretation, though reducing the observed range of the damage to the simple categories of ‘minor’, ‘moderate’, ‘severe’ and ‘not identifiable’. Each subsequent set of images (from 2015, 2016 and from drone-based survey in 2020 and 2021) was then compared with all of the previous data in order to create a layer of mapping recording only that damage which clearly took place during the ISIS occupation.


Casana, J. & E.J. Laugier 2017. Satellite imagery-based monitoring of archaeological site damage in the Syrian civil war. PLoS ONE 12(11): 1-31.

Cunlife, E. 2014a. Remote Assessments of Site Damage: A New Ontology. International Journal of Heritage in the Digital Era 3: 454-473.

Cunlife, E. 2014b. Archaeological Site Damage in the Cycle of War and Peace: A Syrian Case Study. Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology & Heritage Studies 2(3): 229-247.

Danti, M., S. Branting & S. Penacho 2017. The American Schools of Oriental Research Cultural Heritage Initiatives: Monitoring Cultural Heritage in Syria and Northern Iraq by Geospatial Imagery. Geosciences 7 (95): 1-21.

Marchetti, N., A. Curcia, M. C. Gatto, S. Nicolini, S. Mühlc & F. Zaina 2019. A multi-scalar approach for assessing the impact of dams on the cultural heritage in the Middle East and North Africa.

Rayne, L., J. Bradbury, D. Mattingly, G. Philip, R. Bewley & A. Wilson 2017. From Above and on the Ground: Geospatial Methods for Recording Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa. Geosciences 7 (100): doi:10.3390/geosciences7040100.

Zaina, F. 2019. A Risk Assessment for Cultural Heritage in Southern Iraq: Framing Drivers, Threats and Actions Affecting Archaeological Sites. Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites 21(3): 184-206.