The Idlib Museum Project

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November 2019
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Background

The Idlib museum is one of Syria’s most important museums that hosted a large collection of cuneiform tablets from the site of Ebla and valuable artifacts from all periods of the region’s history. In 2012, the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums undertook security measures to safeguard the Idlib museum. All artifacts were moved to secured storerooms in the basement, and walls were built to hide the doors and all openings leading to storage.

In 2015, Idlib became under the control of the opposition, and hence, the city has been repeatedly bombarded by the government. The bombardment had at least damaged the museum twice in 2015 and 2016, which affected the museum and exposed it to organized looting by armed groups.

Preparation of the project

Over the course of 2017, prolonged negotiations were held with the powers controlling Idlib in order to provide protection for the Idlib Museum and to allow a civil organization, the Idlib Antiquities Center, to monitor the museum and conduct needed maintenance. Unfortunately, these efforts did not succeed.

A new opportunity has presented itself when a civilian authority took charge of all civil and administrative matters in the city of Idlib. The Idlib Antiquities Center successfully took advantage of this development and hence, the Idlib Museum was handed over to the Idlib Antiquities Center in February 2018.

Immediately after becoming in charge of the Idlib Museum, SIMAT collaborated with the Idlib Antiquities Center and took necessary steps to protect and reorganize the museum, starting with setting up a museum inventory committee. The committee consists of a number of civil and legal personnel from the city of Idlib, in addition to members of SIMAT. A preliminary report prepared by the committee on the condition of the museum revealed that the building of the museum has been heavily damaged due to the bombardment, and that the museum storage is in a deteriorating condition due to moisture and water leakage. The report showed also that most of the cabinets and drawers in storage where the artifacts were kept were opened or lying on the floor, and that unfortunately, a considerable number of artifacts is missing. In general, the committee noted the following:

  • The storage area where tablets and ceramic and stone objects were kept, has been vandalized
  • The storage area of the tablets is not securely closed
  • A considerable number of other artifacts is missing
  • The environmental conditions of the museum storage are not suitable for

storing archaeological artifacts, especially in terms of humidity levels.

  • There is a water leakage in the museum storage.

Objectives of the project

 

The work at the Idlib Museum began in April 2018 and it will continue until October 2018. The objectives of this project are to protect and preserve the remaining artifacts, and to rehabilitate the museum storage.

The initial step was to restore the damaged parts of the museum and to reinforce its outer wall, which secured the building and stopped the water leakage in storage. The following step was to reverse the security measures implemented by the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums in 2012 with aim to protect the collections from looting. All openings except for windows have been reopened to ventilate the building and to reduce the drastically raised humidity levels in storage that had escalated the deterioration cycles of objects.

Three months later, a documentation process of all objects has been launched to identify missing objects and to assess the condition of exiting objects. The start was from the Ebla storage that includes the cuneiform collection. All tablets and artifacts have been secured in cabinets and documented. In the documentation process, new serial numbers have been assigned to all objects, and identification card was placed with every object in the cabinets containing its details and picture. The cabinets have also been numbered and resupplied with new protective materials. Currently, the inventory is being translated to English. Also, a list of missing/looted objects is being developed containing detailed information and pictures that will be shared with relevant parties.

The second stage of the documentation focused on the icons, which were heavily damaged by elevated humidity level. The icons have been securely placed horizontally in drawers until an urgent intervention is implemented to preserve them. The same documentation method conducted in the Ebla storage have been applied to the icons.

The third phase of the project included documenting the rest of the artifacts, most of which were discovered in the site of Ebla. These artifacts include ceramics, decorative stone pieces and other objects. Again, the same documentation method conducted in other storage areas have been applied to these objects.