Archaeology in Lebanon

Archaeology in Lebanon


Up until late Ottoman times there were no official institutions aimed at protecting archaeological sites in Lebanon. Western powers and the Ottoman officials acquired many archaeological artifacts which were shipped out of Lebanon and were exhibited in Turkish, European and American museums. In this context, scholars, architects, and amateur archaeologists became concerned with documenting and reconstituting the history Levant. From the beginning of the century, Lebanon's prehistoric past was thoroughly surveyed and excavated. Nearly five hundred prehistoric sites have been surveyed in Lebanon as a whole, and around fifty sites in Beirut itself; however many have since been totally obliterated. Prehistorians, foremost among them Father Henry Fleisch and Father Francis Hours of the St. Joseph University, collected and recorded material which permitted them to research the survival technologies of local hunter-gatherer societies. Much of the material retrieved is kept in a valuable prehistoric collection at the St. Joseph University. In 1929, during the French Mandate, Henry Seyrig, was appointed to head the newly-established Directorate of Antiquities of Syria and Lebanon. He had a modern vision of heritage protection, preservation, and restoration in situ, as well as of the necessity for documentation of all types of heritage, from monumental buildings to antiquities on the market. Seyrig also saw the need for the establishment of scientific research institutes dealing with heritage questions. At the end of World War II he created the "Institut Français d'Archéologie de Beyrouth", which he directed until 1967. Seyrig’s efforts resulted in the documentation, publication, and restoration of the vast architectural and Archaeological heritage of Syria and Lebanon. The institute's publications, the journal Syria and the monograph series "Bibliothèque Archéologique et Historique", are important documentary achievements. The institute acted as an open house for scholars from East and West, and is remembered by many of them as a center for productive and imaginative cultural interaction. Today, the institute's original premises, the Beyhum mansion on Beirut's Georges Picot Street.Henri Seyrig's conception of the protection of antiquities and sites went into the formulation of the Law of Antiquities issued by the French High Commission in Syria and Lebanon in 1933. This is the Law of Antiquities Lebanon has today. It does not allow the illicit export or import of antiquities, nor does it permit illegal excavations. Though it is perfectly adequate on paper and could, in fact, put a halt to clandestine digs and the illicit traffic of looted Archaeological materials, the law has not been adequately implemented, especially in recent years.In 1937, the National Museum of Beirut was built as the chief depository of archaeological material excavated in Lebanon, and Emir Maurice Chehab was appointed the country's first director of Antiquities. Since its foundation, the Department of Antiquities has been in charge of the Country's archaeological heritage and has undertaken a large number of excavation and restoration projects at major and minor sites throughout Lebanon. Results have been published or at least summarized in the Bulletin "du Musée de Beyoruth", the official journal of the department, which ceased appearing during the war.Two archaeologists at the national Museum and inspectors of the Department of Antiquities regularly prepared their excavations for scientific publication: the much regretted Roger Saidah (1930-1979), and Hassan Salamé-Sarkis. Saidah published the results of an excavated Phoenician cemetery he had rescued in the Khaldeh area near Beirut (1966), and an excavated Chalcolithic settlement and Bronze Age tombs at Sidon-Dakerman. The final publication of the rescue excavations at the important site of Khan Khaldeh was interrupted by the archaeologist's untimely death in 1979. His colleagues insured that the excavated and recorded information explaining this coastal settlement in its economic, commercial, industrial, artisanal, and religious context appeared in print.Emir Maurice Chehab's most difficult experience in his long career as caretaker of Lebanon's archaeological heritage was certainly the war years. The National Museum was located on the dividing line between East and West Beirut, and despite the emir's efforts, he could not protect the building from occupation by militia forces. Until 1982, however, he did attempt to salvage the museum's antiquities collections. Today, even though the war has ended, the restoration of the National Museum and the Department of Antiquities buildings is barely underway. At the same time, many of the settlement sites in Lebanon have not been adequately surveyed. The preparation of an archaeological atlas of Lebanon is one of the tasks awaiting future teams of heritage managers in a reconstituted Department of Antiquities. This will form the site data base for Lebanon which, together with a data base for all antiquities, has to be established once the information and the technological means become available to the Department of Antiquities or the relevant ministry.cite web |url= |title=Lebanon's Archeological Heritage |accessdate=2008-04-18 |author=Helga Seeden |work=Lebanese Center for Policy Studies]


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