Ancient heritage sites caught in the crossfire of war are, in many ways, little different from civilian populations trapped in the midst of armed conflict: Even when they continue to stand, they are crumbling inside.
A new study set out to re-create the impact of small arms fire on stone columns and structures that have endured thousands of years of sun, wind and rain. When struck by small arms fire, it found, these ancient artifacts show little sign of outward damage.
But the impact of a .22-caliber bullet creates a network of tiny capillaries that spreads beneath the stony surface of, say, a column or its capital. As water or environmental toxins seep into those newly opened vessels, the result is likely to be the rapid degradation of irreplaceable antiquities.
The new study was published last month in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
Compared with the firearms wielded by armies, militias and insurrectionists across the world’s hot spots, the .22-caliber rifle used by the researchers is practically a spitball to a structure that has baked in the sun and been pelted by rain, wind and snow for millenniums.
But the researchers had to start somewhere, they wrote. Despite reports that world heritage sites have been caught up in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Yemen, the effect that flying bullets have on the integrity of structures built thousands of years ago has scarcely been studied.