Archaeology in Lebanon Today: Its Politics and Its Problems


Figure 1. Beirut National Museum was badly damaged during the Lebanese Civil War. Photo courtesy Suzy Hakimian

By: Hélène Sader

Lebanon has a long and very rich past, but in spite of the country’s wealth of ancient settlements, compared to neighboring countries archaeological research is far behind. While in the last decades archaeological research has greatly enhanced our understanding of Syria’s, Jordan’s, and Palestine’s past, Lebanon appears to be lagging behind and its ancient history, with the exception maybe of prehistory, is almost terra incognita.

One reason is Lebanon’s antiquities laws. Archaeology in Lebanon is governed by the 1933 law on antiquities, clauses of which have been suspended or changed by ministerial decisions. The law establishes the Lebanese Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA) as the sole authority in charge of the oversight and organization of archaeological activity, the protection of archaeological sites and historical monuments, and the creation and curatorship of archaeological museums. The law also stipulates that universities and specialized institutes—not individuals—can be granted excavation or survey permits. Continue reading

Sustainability at Any Price is not Sustainable: Open Access and Archaeology

By: Eric Kansa, UC Berkeley and

This blog post looks at the open access debate, and notes how sustainability is as much of an ideological and political question as it is a financial issue. It is intended to follow up on previous blog posts (first, second, third) that discuss how the Aaron Swartz prosecution and death highlighted tremendous injustices in the legal framework governing scholarly communications.

At this year’s Society for American Archaeology (SAA) conference in Honolulu, I took part in discussions about open access in various forums, including the Digital Data Interest Group and a forum sponsored by the SAA Committee on Ethics. Sarah Kansa, a member of the SAA Publications Committee has also been participating in open access debates. There’s very little to report just yet, except that the issue of open access is clearly on the agenda of archaeology’s professional societies. The Obama Administration’s (Feb 2013) move to require open access of federally funded research outputs has clearly raised the stakes and urgency of the open access issue. This policy move followed years of advocacy efforts, culminating with a petition signed by over 65,000 people.

In these debates, open access has little explicit opposition as an ideal. Rather, resistance to open access focuses on fears of financial “sustainability.” The leaders of professional societies tend to cling to the status quo because they do not see a way to underwrite the costs of open access publication.

So let’s look at the issue of sustainability more closely. Continue reading

The Ancient Near East in Brazil and Argentina From the Origins of Research to the Present

By: Josué Berlesi

Brazil and Argentina are not the first places you think of for ancient Near Eastern studies. But the story of ancient Near Eastern studies in these places is both interesting in its own right and says important things about education and culture in these countries.

There are similarities between the discipline in these two countries but their differences are tremendous and are related to the larger history of academic institutions. Argentina’s academic tradition is far longer and more solid than Brazil’s. The first Brazilian university (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) was created only in 1920, while the oldest in Argentina, the University of Cordoba, was founded in 1613.


Former Rectory, University of Cordoba (source:

Unfortunately, there are few sources to investigate the development of ancient Near Eastern studies in these two countries. But this also says something about the important differences between the two. In Brazil there are useful articles about the development and the present situation of the discipline of ancient history, but these are rarely found in Argentina. Why? In my opinion the abundance of sources in Brazil is an attempt to bring visibility to an area that has been given little space in most Brazilian universities. In contrast, ancient history has been more successful in Argentina, where it has been solidly represented since the second half of the twentieth century. The need for acknowledgement is therefore lower. Continue reading

Ten Years after Iraq: Archaeology, Archaeologists, and U.S. Foreign Relations


Thirty-foot tall bronze sculptures of former Iraqi Saddam Hussein, sit on the grounds of the Republican Palace, in the International Zone (IZ) located in Central Baghdad, Iraq. (DoD photo by Jim Gordon, CIV)

By: Morag M. Kersel and Christina Luke

Ten years ago, in April of 2003, a coalition led by the United States invaded Iraq. This quickly toppled the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein but also resulted in the loss of life, local unrest, displacement, and the ransacking of cultural institutions, archives, libraries, and the national museum in Baghdad. During that eventful month we both worked for the U.S. Department of State in the Cultural Heritage Center– Christina as a cultural property analyst and Morag as a contractor, administering the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation.

In our daily work lives at State we knew that we were carrying out foreign policy initiatives under the guise of archaeology, but until April of 2003 and the unfolding events in Iraq we did not realize that all of the programming and initiatives we carried out at State, and much of our previous lives as archaeologists, was in the service of the state, under a paradigm of national bridge building and fence mending. While we do not wish to diminish the myriad devastating effects of war on humanity, as archaeologists we are also concerned with the consequences of war on cultural heritage. Continue reading

Hand in Hand with Politics: The Challenges of Egyptian Studies in Serbia

By: Branislav Anđelković

There is a saying that Balkans, sometimes rightly compared to a “powder keg”, is a place where the East offered a hand to the West but the West refused to shake it. The Balkan Peninsula is a land bridge between Europe and Asia, through which pass major cultural boundaries. The Balkans are a border, and an arena, between two different cultural spheres with contrasting world views, value systems, aesthetics, and artistic tendencies: Rome and Byzantium, the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire, West and East, Modern and Oriental. And we cannot forget that there are deep divisions within the Balkans, particularly between north and south. These divisions have unfortunately manifested themselves as open warfare but have also been expressed in the politics of Yugoslavian Egyptology.


Figure 1: Scarab excavated in Serbia. Photo courtesy of B. Anđelković.

Archaeological objects from the Near East appeared sporadically in Serbia and can be classified in four chronological and contextual settings. The first – represented by a glazed composition scarab found in a local Iron Age ruler’s grave mound (dated 550-520 B.C.) in Southwestern Serbia – corresponds to prehistory (Figure 1). The second, the era of Roman domination, includes a number of artifacts, chiefly figurines, lamps, and inscribed altars, connected to Egyptian or syncretistic deities, chiefly Isis, Isis-Fortune, Harpocrates, Anubis, Hermes-Thoth, and others. These are mostly of Roman rather than Egyptian manufacture, though during the construction of Roman emperor Galerius’ palace in Eastern Serbia (ca. 300 A.D.) a number of architectural elements including some columns and statuary were made of Aswan red granite and other Egyptian stone (Figure 2). Continue reading

Archaeology and Cultural Heritage in Egypt after Mubarak

ANET1_WILLIAMSFig1By: Greg Williams

Egypt’s January 25th revolution was originally seen as part of the larger “Arab Spring” across the Middle East where old political regimes were overthrown by popular protests and replaced by representative democracies. But on January 28th 2011, as chaos reigned in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, reports began circulating around the globe claiming that antiquities on display in the Egyptian Museum had been stolen. Zahi Hawass, the famous face of Egyptian archaeology, Mubarak regime insider, and then head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), was immediately embroiled in the situation. Many outside of Egypt believed that the political volatility and economic crisis engulfing the capital and the rest of the country had claimed some of the most precious artifacts of Egypt’s over 5,000 year history which would be lost forever. Egyptians of all social classes converged on the museum to protect it, sparking hopes that a new era in the relationship between Egyptians and their past had begun.  Continue reading

The Cultural Afterlife of Mosaics in Turkey

By: Laurent Dissard, University of Pennsylvania

Sensational discoveries of mosaics periodically make the headlines of newspapers in Turkey. After being discovered, unearthed, cleaned, and removed, these ancient floors slowly make their way to museums or private collections. For this month’s ASOR Blog on the Archaeology of Anatolia, I wish to examine the curious afterlife of mosaics in, out of, and more recently, back to Turkey. I want to analyze their transformation from buried and forgotten things in the ground, to sanitized artifacts, aesthetic masterpieces, and contested objects of desire.

Unearthed in the late 1990s at Zeugma in Southeastern Turkey during rescue excavations before the construction of the Birecik Dam, the 2nd century AD mosaic below is now displayed in the newly built Mosaic Museum of Gaziantep. It shows Achilles on the island of Skyros leaving for the Trojan War. Thetis, Achilles’ mother, knowing that her son would die by joining the Greek army, dresses him as a girl and sends him to live with a king and his beautiful daughters on the island of Skyros, far away from the war.

Odysseus (R) takes Achilles (C) away from Deidameia (L)

Continue reading

Contested Heritage and the New Museum(s) in Diyarbakır

By: Laurent Dissard

The southeastern provinces of Turkey will soon be home to a series of new, state-of-the-art, archaeology museums. Such buildings are being (or have already been) planned, constructed, remodeled, or expanded. The Gaziantep Museum, for instance, houses many of the Roman mosaics of Zeugma unearthed before the construction of the Birecik Dam. Other mosaics, discovered during the expansion of Şanlıurfa’s sewage system, will be displayed in an Arkeopark near the city center.

Diyarbakır, a third city in southeastern Turkey, is not lagging behind. Work is underway to transform its citadel (içkale) into an archaeology museum. Recent finds at sites threatened by the Ilısu Dam will make up a large part of its collection. Hence, the displaced antiquities will slowly find their ways to a new home. A win-win situation for Turkey, it would seem. As the country develops its infrastructure, investing in dams, roads, and sewage systems, it is simultaneously seen as protecting its past. A paradox, nevertheless, since it is these attempts to modernize that are threatening the country’s cultural heritage in the first place.

A view of Diyarbakır’s içkale

A view from Diyarbakır’s içkale

Continue reading

Ossified Territory and Theaters of the Absurd: Personal Reflections on Taking Students beyond the River

By:  Elena D. Corbett, Penn State Erie, The Behrend College
The views expressed here are those of the author. Please see the full disclaimer at the end of this essay.

Mural on the Cardo, Jerusalem.

Quite by accident at what is still a fairly early point in my career, I have been at the helm of several study abroad opportunities for American students in Jordan.  Within recent days I returned to Amman from Jerusalem having accomplished a personal first:  as part of an institutional collaboration, a colleague and I had led a group of students forth and back across the river.  What follows is my attempt to grapple with a truly inarticulate mess of thought and feeling about the experience.

I don’t get to Jerusalem as often as I should.  The reasons are many, but revolve mainly around an overwhelming sense of absurdity that grows more cynical as years pass.  Continue reading

WAC Ramallah Conference

Posted by Morag Kersel on behalf of the World Archaeological Conference

True to its foundational principles, the World Archaeological Congress will hold its first “Middle East” meeting to focus on the powerful relationship between archaeology, heritage and politics. The archaeology of the West Bank and its surrounding region is enormously significant as the location where the three monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam — all trace their origins. Yet the archaeological and cultural heritage of this region suffers constant and extensive damage from political and ideological struggles to control the region.

Today as Palestine moves closer to official statehood, WAC decries the often destructive politics that define Israeli-Palestinian relationships. WAC notes the on-going damage to the archaeological record but also the potential of a shared cultural heritage to build towards peace. WAC calls for participation in this strategic InterCongress to demonstrate how archaeology can serve political ends for the greater good.

The focus of this InterCongress is on structural violence: the insidious structures and the stark inequalities that perpetuate conflicts. Structural violence is built into western countries’ relations with much of the rest of the world, preventing most non-western countries from becoming economically and culturally ‘equal’ to the West. Often structural violence is hidden and works without overt physical infringement, making it all the more effective.

As anthropologists, archaeologists, cultural heritage professionals, and concerned local community members, WAC asks what role archaeological and cultural heritage research has in overcoming these ‘in-built’ obstacles? Must we engage against structural violence outside of archaeological practice, or can archaeological practice confront and impact the ravages of structural violence?

Sessions and panels will be held on August 9th and 10th. August 11th and 12th are reserved for workshops, “hands on” experiences and tours of the region by regional cultural heritage non-government organizations. Closing sessions and consideration of InterCongress resolutions will take place on August 13th.

Participants are encouraged to propose creative formats to facilitate critical consideration and discussion of the topics at hand. Proposals for sessions of various forms: read papers, panels, poster sessions, roundtable discussions, or other formats, should be sent to the Program Committee ( by the deadlines indicated below. Sessions may be proposed by individuals or by groups. All sessions, regardless of format, will be provided a 2-hour block of time to meet. Session abstracts of 400 words should include the contact information for the organizer(s). Paper abstracts of 200 words may be sent to either the session organizers or to the Program Committee (

A Selection of Sessions:

- Marginalia and Structural Violence in Past Societies
- Looting, Landscape and Law
- Structures of Dominance in the Levantine Late Iron Age
- The Bones of Our Ancestors: The Treatment of Human Remains as a Mechanism for Tolerance or for Intolerance
- Beyond Causality: Tensions of Time and the Relationships between Instances of Violence and Institutionalized Violence
- The Future of Palestinian Cultural Heritage

Sessions & Panels - Friday, May 15th 2009
Papers - Friday, June 12th 2009

Early Bird registration deadline: May 30, 2009

For further information see: