The National Museum of Aleppo contains some of Syria’s most important archaeological collections and artefacts, such as the finds from the multi-national expeditions conducted as part of the salvage excavations for the Tabqa Dam reservoir. In addition, the Museum stores the finds from the major coastal Bronze Age site of Ugarit, (a Tentative World Heritage Site) where some of the earliest writing in the world was discovered. Many of these collections are of international importance – not only to understanding the history of Syria, but to understanding the rise of early civilisations. However, according to reports by the DGAM, the Museum has been particularly badly affected in the conflict, given its location in the conflict zone. Whilst the collections have been packed and moved into storage, they remain at high risk.
The grant from the Honor Frost Foundation will enable a project to assist the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums in conserving and preserving their collections in the Aleppo Museum in the face of the conflict. The project is a partnership between the NGO Heritage for Peace, and the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums. There are three interconnected objectives:
- To offer training to the museum staff via Skype on emergency storage solutions for the objects, particularly in the event of flooding or an increasing security threat;
- To provide equipment and offer training in documenting their collection in order to preserve the excavation archives;
- To provide an emergency support fund for the staff to protect the collection in the event of an unforeseen emergency.
This work will provide invaluable support to the Museum. Experience from Iraq and Mali has shown that when objects are moved during times of conflict, suitable storage is rarely available. Many objects experience damage in their new locations caused by poor environmental conditions: for example, we understand the current storage for the objects is at risk from flooding. Furthermore, there is an ongoing risk that the conflict will reach the objects, and the finds will be looted before they can be secured or damaged in the fighting. Nearby bomb blasts have already damaged the windows and part of the roof of the building. In addition, due to the volume of finds placed in the museum from earlier rescue excavations, not all of them have been adequately catalogued. As a result, moving the finds poses a serious risk to understanding the excavation archives. It must also be acknowledged that the situation is constantly changing, and not all the effects of the conflict can be foreseen. However, staff lack the resources to adapt and respond. This grant will enable training for the staff which can address these issues. In addition, money will enable the provision of documentation equipment, and an emergency fund will assist the staff of the Aleppo museum in adapting to the conflict.
The training will be conducted with the kind permission and assistance of the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums in Damascus, and in consultation with the Aleppo Museum in order to best support their needs in this difficult time.
Additional support for the project was kindly provided by the Council for British Research in the Levant.
See the current state of the museum as reported in the Wall Street Journal in April 2014