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An aerial image from ISIS’s video (all YouTube screenshots by the author for Hyperallergic)

A video uploaded to YouTube on Friday, purportedly by ISIS, shows men using sledgehammers, pickaxes, and rifles to destroy sculptures at the Hatra archaeological site. The footage seems to confirm fears raised last month by reports that the terrorist organization had used bulldozers to demolish part of the fortified city, which was built between the third and second centuries BCE and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.

A member of ISIS destroying a sculpture at Hatra (gif by the author for Hyperallergic)

ISIS fighters had allegedly targeted the ancient city following their attacks on the Mosul Museum and Nineveh archaeological site in late February. But unlike the shoddy, shaky, and low-resolution video that documented the earlier attack, the video that surfaced on Friday is a crisp and sleek production. In its Hatra video, ISIS uses a drone, animated logos, montage-style editing, and sophisticated camera angles to create a cohesive aesthetic that is light years ahead of the Mosul Museum footage — maybe the group has started spending some of the $1.5–3.6 million it makes every day from oil sales on video production.

An animated title screen in ISIS’s Hatra video

The seven-and-a-half-minute clip opens with a tacky underwater logo, followed by footage taken by a drone high above Hatra, with animated infographics indicating the two buildings where the ensuing destruction occurred. After a fighter addresses the camera while footage shows sculptures about to be destroyed, an animated logo swoops onscreen and then crumbles to the sound of shattering stone, prompting a fast-paced montage of terrorists destroying artworks. In a later sequence, a fighter is shown shooting an out-of-reach sculpture from an angle that is eerily reminiscent of a first-person shooter video game. The high production values of the latest ISIS clip is in keeping with its previous video endeavors, which have incorporated the use of green screens and other special effects.

Using a rifle to destroy a sculpture

The extent of the destruction wrought on Hatra by ISIS is difficult to measure from the video. While it shows no evidence of the rumored bulldozing of the site, it does document the destruction of many sculptural details of buildings at the site. Hatra is about 70 miles south of Mosul, in northern Iraq.

The video has been removed from YouTube, but this low-quality version is available (for now) on Vimeo:

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...