Late March Palmyra, Syria, was recaptured from IS forces. Although it first seemed like the damage to historic artifacts was less than expected, experts are not so sure anymore now. This reports the Archaeological News Network. The first foreign experts who visited the museum in Palmyra after it was taken over from Islamic State militants offered grim new details about the extent of the destruction caused by the extremists during their 10-month stay in the ancient town.

Bartosz Markowski, from the Polish Archaeological Center at the University of Warsaw, told The Associated Press that most of the 200 objects which were exhibited on the ground floor of the Palmyra museum were destroyed, many of them apparently with hard tools like hammers. Many artifacts have been stolen, he added, thought it was not possible to know how many. In addition to the damage inflicted by IS, Markowski said the museum building has suffered structural damage due to bombs falling.

"There's broken ceilings, broken walls, roofs, a lot of garbage and fragments of bricks everywhere, and among that there are fragments of sculptures."
He and his colleagues were the first specialists to visit Palmyra after it was taken over by the Syrian army, and spent a week working and assessing the damage. They found the museum trashed and some of its best-known artifacts and statues smashed by the militants, who cut off the heads and hands of statues and demolished others before being driven out last month. Speaking to the AP in the garden of the National Museum in Damascus, he said:

"We collected everything we could. The fragments were spread around the whole museum among broken glass and furniture ... It is a catastrophe." 

During rule of Palmyra, the extremists demolished some of the most famous Roman-era monuments that stand just outside the town, including two large temples dating back more than 1,800 years and a Roman triumphal archway, filming the destruction themselves for the world to see. The sprawling outdoor site, a UNESCO world heritage site, as well as the museum were among Syria's main tourist attractions before the civil war.

Among the best-known statues destroyed was the famous Lion of Allat, a 2000-year-old statue which previously greeted visitors and tourists outside the Palmyra museum. The statue, which used to adorn the temple of Allat, a pre-Islamic goddess in Palmyra, was defaced by IS militants and knocked over by bulldozers. On a visit to Palmyra on Thursday, The Associated Press saw the statue lying outside the museum building with its face cut and some of its broken pieces lying next to it. Markowski, who in 2005 took part in a Polish archaeological mission that did renovation work on the statue, said:

"Fortunately we collected most of the fragments and I hope it can be reconstructed very soon." 

He said the restoration will require a massive international effort and years to accomplish. According to him, most of the objects can be restored, but they will never look as they did before. His colleague, Robert Zukowski, said the limestone lion statue should be the first thing restored and that it should stay in Palmyra as a sign of resistance.

The museum did not hve a large Hellenic collection--it was a Roman settlement, not Hellenistic--but it grieves me to see this kind of damage inflicted on all things ancient. At least ome of the museum's treasured pieces had been on loan to other museums around the world and can be collected in due time.