The New Mexico History Museum exhibit Syria: Cultural Patrimony Under Threat features amazing photographs of ancient buildings, many of which have been destroyed by ISIS in the past few years. The show, which opens on Friday, June 23, draws from the collections of the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, highlighting images of Syrian people and grand historic buildings with carved stonework that were photographed more than a century ago. “This collection is seven albums containing 642 photographs from three surveys of archaeological sites in the Middle East that were carried out by Princeton University between 1899 and 1909,” said curator Daniel Kosharek. “They were part of the Edgar Lee Hewett Collection at the Museum of New Mexico, and they were transferred here from the Laboratory of Anthropology in 1976.”
Kosharek said part of the impetus for the exhibit was a November 2015 Pasatiempo story by Khristaan D. Villela (“Viajes pintorescos y arqueológicos: Requiem for Palmyra”). “The way that came about is that I knew we had these seven albums, including images of Palmyra. Khristaan was down here doing research, and I said it would be interesting to do a story about these photos, many showing buildings that have been destroyed by ISIS.” Just since 2015, many of Syria’s most important archaeological sites — among them the temples of Bel and Baalshamin and the Roman ruins of Palmyra — have been dynamited by members of the radical ISIS faction. “When they started blowing those places up and taking stonecutters to the statues, it was heartbreaking, and I thought we could do a small exhibit.
“We will have a big wall case that will have six of the seven albums opened, and every two or three weeks we will open them to new pages to avoid too much exposure of light on individual photos. Then we’re taking three photos and blowing them up 33 by 34 inches. One will be Temple of Bel, another of archaeologists working on a site, and the third a portrait of a Syrian woman.” Kosharek said the photographs are all original albumen prints — made on glass-plate negatives in large-format cameras — that date to expeditions led by Princeton professor Howard Crosby Butler.