Archeological Resource Management in the Beirut Central District1

with appendix

Hans H. Curvers
IPP, University of Amsterdam
April 21, 1997

The perception and views on archeology in the Beirut Central District (BCD) vary from the biggest crime of the century (dr. Nacache), through `..., l'archéologie par la vide' (Lefèvre 1995) and `Beyrouth veut saufgardé son histoire' (Marquis 1994), to `Beyrouth devoile sa trésors' (DGA, UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture and Higher Education) to even `Beirut the ancient city of the Future' (SOLIDERE).

As an archeologist working in the BCD the complexity of the issue is evident. For those who can look at the BCD context from a distance an echo from within may add to a more comprehensive view on the matter. Within the context of the BCD the Minister of Culture, the Department of Antiquities, UNESCO, the developers, the contractors, the architects, the site-engineers, the journalists, the drivers of the bulldozers, and the archeologists, all have different agendas and obligations depending on the institutions they represent. The decision-making process in all matters ranging from urban planning to archeological excavations varies from location to location. Accordingly it is not legitimate to suppose that the eventual information on which judgments are formed will be of any particular variety. Different individuals will probably form different views of the relative merits of alternative courses of action.

It is my aim to contribute some archeological perspectives based on one year of Infrastructure Archeology. These perspectives originate from working with the general concepts that we follow to create a report on the archeological value and its consequences for the future place of it in the city (or cityscape).

Since the sixties there has been a shift in archeology from destructive effects on archeological sites to an ethic aiming at more preservation took place in the sixties. The conservation ethic (Lipe 1974) is highly related to the concept that insofar as it is possible, the resource should be preserved for future use rather than be impacted now by any disturbance i.e. archaeological excavation as well as disturbance by land management activity (Green 1984: 265).

As a consequence of this principle sites should only be excavated if there are no other options left for preservation. The idea that future research will only be better prepared to investigate an archeological site and finally will result in a better knowledge, guides us whenever our investigations within the boundaries of the infrastructure works cannot be continued to a deeper elevation or a lateral extension of our trenches. The acceptance of the political decision to initiate the development and reconstruction of the BCD is the starting point of our investigations.

When working in the controversial environment of the BCD, I consider that I have the obligation to recognize and attempt to identify the value premises and the concomitant biases within the management of our project. If we collect information about human societies in the past, we have to look for recurring or unfolding patterns. Of course, this approach to obtain more insight into human history and social structure does have its hazards. Similarly the evaluation of the exposed remains provides ample temptation to make selective use of the collected information and its context in order to support a personal or politically accepted view (cf. Trigger 1989: 134-138, 143-144).

After evaluating these risks at the beginning of the project in 1995 we have chosen a perspective which is based on the interplay of cultural and managerial processes which shape and are shaped by the societies in which archeological remains are exposed. This means that every historical period defines its own priorities and values.

Du Mesnil du Buisson, a great archeologist of the past, described the city of Beirut as `complètement transformé; c'est une grande ville aux toits roses, pleine de jardins et de verdure.' (du Mesnil du Buisson 1924-25:239). This damage may not be comparable to the damage scheduled for the reconstruction and development of the BCD at the end of the twentieth century. But here and now, the archeologists have to accept a political decision and work within the boundaries defined by the implementation of this policy structure. Fortunately, the principles adhered to by the developer and the coordination provided by UNESCO to the Direction Générale des Antiquités, warrant the recording of the vestiges scheduled to give way for the city of the future. The recording and the analysis of this material allow future generations of scholars to study the ancient societies that occupied the BCD.

The integration of the findings in the future cityscape is yet another issue that depends highly on the dialog between urbanists and archeologists. Therefore, the archeological program in Beirut presents an interesting case for the management of archeological and built cultural heritage.

In this dialog between the urbanists and the archeologists exists a certain tension and a mutual distrust. The main reason for this predicament seems to be the fear of limiting the creative range of the urbanist by a conservative perspective of the archeologist and the blatant ignorance of the problems involved in urban reconstruction works. The archeologists feel offended by the decision-making of the developers and the ruthless excavation techniques of the contractors. However, in an atmosphere defined by such determined reductionist views the cityscape will be dominated by haphazardly located monuments of high-tech and ruins of the past.

Both parties should be aware of the rapid change in our cultural environments, both built and mental. The question of how the tools, structures, cityscapes of the past are used in the present and the future represents the self-conscious emergence of consideration for a process as old as humankind. For the archeologists, urbanists and politicians in the BCD this is at stake. Finally it has to be recognized that plans are not isolated islands in an open sea; they are anchored in other value systems of our society. Their impact goes beyond their -- sometimes artificially defined -- system boundaries. It is important to undertake an economic appraisal of an urban cultural movement, but it has to be recognized at the same time that such an appraisal cannot be isolated from the presence of other historico-cultural monuments in the area concerned (Lebanon in our case). This means that decisions must take into consideration technological constraints, environmental impact studies, spatial impact analysis and last but not least an assessment of economic viability and social benefits (cf. Becker and Porter 1986).

Looking at the Lebanese national context of historico-cultural monuments three sites stand out by their historical value, their preservation, and the existing infrastructure for tourism: Baalbeck, Byblos and Tyre. This does not mean that other important monuments such as the center of Tripoli, Saida and Beirut should be neglected or overlooked.

From the perspective of financial, touristic and cultural management is seems likely that the three main monuments, spatially covering three major regions of Lebanon, can attract visitors from all over the world, because they belong to the long list of internationally valued monuments. The sites in between will be inserted into the traveling schedule. This spatial distribution of three major sites allows the archeologists to define the priorities for sites in lower ranks. Beirut with a long tradition of underdeveloped cultural heritage through the ages, from the Bronze Age to the present day, therefore should present itself within this historical framework.

With some examples I will concentrate here on the spatial effects that the preservation of archeological remains in the BCD can have. As with buildings, the archeological heritage is located on public or private property. In this sense the owners (institutions public or private) are represented in the process of decision-making about excavation, preservation, clearance, removal and reconstruction or integration in future structures. Therefore we cannot consider the archeological remains exposed as inherited by the present generation in general. The general public, sometimes represented by the media, should respect this. However, this respect has to be deserved by all institutions and managers of Cultural Heritage in keeping or developing legal and institutional procedures for the purpose of controlling what owners and occupiers might do with their property, to the detriment of archeological heritage. The latter is one of the main tasks of non-government organizations such as UNESCO and ICOMOS (= International Council on Monuments and Sites). Through international co-operations between governments these organizations try to coordinate the protection of internationally valued monuments. The situation in the BCD is first of all a national issue, but UNESCO tries to install and reinforce the Lebanese legal and institutional conditions.

At the end of our investigations in BEY 022 it was decided to lift all elements of funerary building 1. The stones and cover slabs are stored waiting to be restored in an archeological park (see below).

At the conclusion of our investigations in BEY 018 we prepared a report to the Conseil National de Coordination (CNC) in which we agreed on the removal of the recorded remains at the site including the rock-cut tombs (see Appendix 1). Within this council representatives of the DGA, UNESCO and SOLIDERE are responsible for the coordination of archeology in the BCD. They consult and advise the minister of Culture and Higher Education in Lebanon about the project. The representatives in the CNC suggested that the graves in this zone were unique and that possible preservation in situ should be considered.

In this case the archeological value, the socio-economic needs and legal conditions had to be evaluated by all people and institutions involved in the are of the excavations of BEY 018. The BCD Infrastructure Archeology team considered the archeological value of the graves high; the need for preservation, however, was low from an academic point of view. As far as cultural (archeological) resource management was concerned the following criteria were used to reach a negative recommendation for preservation in situ: (1) the scientific value, (2) the importance for the public (national and international), (3) the symbolic value, (4) the importance of the future use of the area. The discovery of the graves Beirut puts Beirut on the list with cemeteries throughout the Mediterranean (Moscati and Amiet 1988:578). The publication in both scientific and popular reports without preservation in situ would not violate the criteria 1-2. Since the archeological heritage at the site is fused with the real property that is scheduled to be constructed, the developer and the archeologists compared the plans for the electrical power sub station with the excavated results. It appeared that without changing the plans two shaft graves would survive future development and reconstruction.

The Minister of Culture and Higher Education aware of the fact that the legal/institutional protection of the cultural elements in the BCD is far from clear, postponed a final decision till the International Scientific Committee would give its opinion on the partial preservation in situ of the graves described above.

Within this special case there can be envisaged different levels of decision-making and evaluation: (1) the archeologist, (2) the institutional authorities of the General Directorate of Antiquities and (3) an international committee. Within this framework, the Minister of Culture, the International non-governmental institution take the initiative to ask more details from the archeologists, owners or developers of the property, and internationally respected experts. In such a management exercise the owner or developer will be constrained by the legal/protection that has been created for the exposed elements of the archeological heritage.

The concept of a park in which the archeological remains of major importance are on display for the general public is a useful instrument in the decision-making of in situ preservation, preservation ex situ (= excavation = destruction), or removal and reconstruction. The central management of archeological cultural heritage in the BCD provides a future goal for tourists to visit the National Museum and in combination with this, visit and enjoy the park near the harbor. The central management of this park will allow for a low-cost maintenance budget, whereas the infrastructure provides a carpark. Archeologically speaking this park should become part of the waterfront of the future city. The park could be situated in the area of the ancient tell. This location will not only make the preservation of the glacis' and ramps of the Bronze Age and Iron Age more feasible, but it will also give Beirut back its old character of one of the major ports on the Levantine coast. The latter effect can be obtained by moving all exposed remains of significance (e.g. the Iron Age settlement of BEY 010) to the park.

The location of an archeological park near the modern harbor and with a view on the future financial center of Beirut, will allow the citizens of Lebanon and the future tourists to appreciate the past, present and future potential of the city. In this perspective the new city has inherited its past for the future.

As already mentioned before the archeological investigations in Beirut present an interesting case for archeological cultural heritage management in a complex situation. The dialog between all persons and institutions involved touches issues that may contribute to a better understanding of the processes involved in the decision-making and procedures in other places.

1 This article was prepared in the summer of 1995 and was meant to be published in the magazine published by The Direction generale des Antiquites in cooperation with UNESCO and the partcipation of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Although never informed about it, I assume that due to an apparent change in the editorial policy the article was never published. Considering the issue of importance not only to those with a genuine interest in Lebanese Cultural Heritage but also to those aware of the changing calenders of archeology, I am grateful to Børre Ludwigsen to publish it on his site.


1986 Impact Assessment Today. Utrecht: Jan van Arkel.

1984 Concluding Remarks, in: Green 1984: 264-273.


1984 Ethics and Values in Archaeology. London. Pp. 264-273.

1995 Beyrouth, l'archéologie par le vide, Archéologia 317 (Nov.): 4 - 9.

1974 A conversation Model for American Archaeology, The Kiva 39: 213-245.

1994 Beyrouth veut sauvegarder son histoire, Archéologia **: 38 - 43.

1988 Les Pheniciens, Milan: Bompiani.



Created 970421