A tragic blow to the archaeology community: Islamic State militants have beheaded one of Syria's most prominent antiquities scholars in a square in the seized city of Palmyra, where dozens of people gathered to watch, Syrian state media and a British activist group report, via the AP. The body of Khaled al-Asaad, 81 or 82—who spent half a century as head of antiquities in Palmyra—was then taken to the town's archaeological site and hung from a Roman column, sources say. "Just imagine that such a scholar who gave such memorable services to the place and to history would be beheaded ... and his corpse (is) still hanging from one of the ancient columns in the center of a square in Palmyra," says Syria's antiquities chief.
Asaad's family said the scholar, who once oversaw the archaeological site, had been held by militants for more than a month, reports Reuters. "Al-Asaad was a treasure for Syria and the world," his son-in-law tells the AP. "Why did they kill him?" He was "one of the most important pioneers in Syrian archaeology in the 20th century," Syria's antiquities chief adds, noting militants interrogated Asaad in an attempt to find out where some of the town's ancient relics were hidden. It isn't clear what they found out, though some on Twitter say Asaad refused to talk. In addition to writing several books on Palmyra, Asaad worked with international archaeologists to research the town's 2,000-year-old ruins and discovered ancient cemeteries and caves. (Read more archaeology stories.)