Sacred, historic, ancient and breathtaking. These are some of the first words that come to mind when you see the priceless antiques and archaeological sites in Lebanon.
A country so rich in history, it has some of the most inhabited cities in the world and archaeological sites from Roman times. The anthropological heritage of the country tells the story of its rich history in the Levant, a history which today faces many challenges.
The country experiences problems of sectarianism, corruption, embezzlement and a very turbulent region which threatens the status of archeology in Lebanon.
A brief history, the French mandate in the civil war
The conservation of archeology and ancient establishments was ratified in 1933 under the French Mandate. This is called the Antiquities Law issued by the French High Commission in Syria and Lebanon.
The organization known as DGA (Lebanese General Directorate of Antiquities) was the cabinet in charge of conservation, archaeological recovery, anthropological data and museum conservation. Only specialized institutions and universities can have permits for excavation and site surveys, such as the American University of Beirut, also known as AUB (Asor 2013).
Although field work has been carried out, permits have rarely been registered for foreigners and experts outside of Lebanon. This led to problems of internal corruption and lack of accountability of heritage sites during the urbanization and industrialization of Lebanon after independence.
During the civil war, Lebanon became stateless with political factions and local militias controlling their areas and ultimately the rich history in their areas of control. The ancient city of Sidon and the Phoenician port of Byblos remained relatively unscathed, while the Phoenician and Roman sites of Baalbek and Tire were badly affected and ruined from fighting and neglect.
Tire’s wartime status in the 1980s became cataclysmic to the point where UNESCO stepped in to classify the ancient Phoenician city as a World Heritage Site in order to prevent further damage to the city’s settlements (UNESCO ). Many artifacts were looted during the Civil War as black market profiteers sought to line their pockets with the rich Lebanese history as well as warlords who used the illicit trade to fund their militias.
After the civil war, reconstruction and the 2006 war
After the civil war, Lebanon experienced urbanization across the country as extensive infrastructure was left in a desolate state. Archaeological projects preserved in the field were periodically stored in museums founded in modern times.
One of the main priorities of the DGA after the civil war was to rebuild offices across the country, to continue lobbying for internal and internal donors for national museums and the recovery of stolen and hidden objects.
New excavations have slowed down and stakes with very few permits given during this period. As the Lebanese government focused on urban development, the DGA found itself a free hand.
Archaeological projects in Beirut had very little political support, minimal funds, and a shortage of trained personnel, leaving many sites unfinished to date. Only the excavations of Tell Arqa and Tell Kamid el-Loz continued after the civil war because they had pre-war permits which do not expire.
Foreign organizations like the French Solidere have received contracts for the reconstruction of Beirut, to reinvigorate the city with the aim of erasing the traces of the civil war. The results were disastrous as the reconstruction was built on monumental sites and older houses from antiquity.
The DGA has maintained a more closed approach to the world. He only granted authorizations and permits to the Lebanese and alienated himself from international academics and foreign institutions.
Such policies can backfire when it comes to promoting tourism or Lebanese cultural heritage, as non-Lebanese are discouraged from state archaeological research instead of being encouraged to visit the country and visit the country. obtain research permits.
Rescue operations are fully independent due to the economic situation, which ultimately only local people (a lot of experience) conduct the operations instead of more professional experts inside and outside the Lebanon.
During the Hezbollah-Israel War of 2006, also known as the July War, there were concerns about the potential destruction of priceless antiques during the conflict. While Baalbek and Tire have become strongholds of Hezbollah since the Civil War, these ancient towns have also become targets of rocket and artillery fire.
The Roman temple of Baalbek suffered cracks from ricochet blasts and the ancient city of Jbeil in Byblos suffered extensive damage (according to a 2006 Guardian report). Fears of an even wider destruction of cultural heritage between Hezbollah’s militia and Israel remain high as the war progresses and weapons become more powerful.
Today’s challenges in an economic collapse
Today, Lebanon has become a turbulent Middle Eastern country and faces one of the greatest economic collapses in modern human history since the formation of various post-colonialist nations in the 20th century.
As the Lebanese pound plunges and living conditions become unbearable, academics, intellectuals and educators have left the country for other opportunities abroad. This has led to a shortage of curators, archaeologists and museum curators in a country where many archaeological finds and recoveries have yet to be made.
With lira inflation and accusations of internal corruption (which include hundreds of millions, if not billions of lost public funds), archaeological programs at universities as well as the DGA are now underfunded. An unstable nation with few economic opportunities has raised fears that archaeological sites are slowly eroding or degrading without funds for conservation.
This also includes fears of a new black market antiques trade, as locals or sectarian militias facing hardship could pledge part of the rich history of the illicit trade that has intensified in the Middle East. East since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
As the book has lost almost 90% of its value and quickly stood out since Michael Aoun’s presidency, the Ministry of Culture received only 1% of the government budget for anthropological purposes (Agenda Cultural, 2020). It is clear throughout the modern history of Lebanon that the ancient and outdated laws do not conform to the modern reality of the country to protect the extremely rich heritage.
With fears of complete collapse, corruption, allegations of embezzlement and the lack of confidence from many governments that have formed and failed, leading organizations like UNESCO and the International Council of Museums ( ICOM) must mobilize to make their voice heard in this battered country. .
Funding for local and trustworthy organizations not affiliated with the failed government is expected to increase from international donors and foreign institutions. Other potential solutions include a more active focus on preparing the younger generations of Lebanese against corruption and mismanagement, so that they can begin to take on leadership roles in conservation, as ultimately the fate of many antiques will be under their watch.
As we see today, threats to cultural heritage have become widespread and not exclusively in Lebanon. Countries like France, Mali, Ethiopia, Brazil, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and many more have suffered loss of heritage in one way or another in the last decade. History is doomed to repeat itself if Lebanon’s extremely rich history is not protected and cared for.
Written by Julian McBride
Julian McBride is a New York-born forensic anthropologist and freelance journalist. He is the founder and director of Reflections of War Initiative (ROW), an anthropological NGO. It reports and documents the plight of people around the world who are affected by conflict, rogue geopolitics and war, and also tells the stories of war victims who never make themselves heard. Find out more
Header image credit: Anton Ivanov – Shutterstock