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We need to understand this often overlooked damage before we can think about repairing heritage damaged during conflict

Ongoing conflict in the Middle East has given heritage an unexpected and tragic spotlight; the targeted destruction of heritage sites across the region has given rise to widespread condemnation and increased legislation to protect these sites which represent our common history of humanity. In addition to increased incidents of looting – often for the sake of funding further hostile activities - numerous sites have been deliberately damaged and destroyed on religious grounds or purely out of malice. Recent examples of these are the destruction of Palmyra, Mosul and the Great Mosque of al-Nuri.

 

However, this destruction is not limited to the ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq; widespread damage to heritage in Yemen and Mali has been largely unreported, yet is creating untold damage to cultural heritage. While the efforts of the international legislative community are commendable and represent a large step forward in the safeguarding of heritage it unfortunately does not stop built heritage in particular from getting caught in cross fire.

What happens to the stone structure when a bullet impacts? How does this impact vary between stone types? Does the previous deterioration of a surface (e.g. weathering) play a role in its response to an impact? Ballistic impacts, such as bullets, can leave scars that not only aesthetically affect the heritage site but could be the surface manifestation of a much larger fracture network within the stone work which can threaten long-term conversation of the heritage site. 

Stemming from a diverse range of backgrounds, including geomorphology, archaeology and even zoology, the project team deployes a suite of methods to understand how modern bullet damage differs from more natural weathering processes. We identify several key factors that predict the extent of damage caused by gunfire, including the prior condition of the rock and the weaponry itself. We hope this research will inform both the conservation strategies of rock art sites specifically, and those of other Middle Eastern heritage sites caught within conflict zones.