Helga Seeden

(scanned by Elie Wardini)

from: Berytus, volume 35, 1987, AUB, Beirut, pp.5-8.

The land of Lebanon is not much larger than the Mediterranean island of Crete. Geographically it is divided into mountain ranges, coastal plains and plateaus. Economically and socially it is fragmented by rival interests causing civil war which has lasted over a decade. As Lebanon approaches the seventieth year of its existence as a state, its future is very uncertain. In 1989 the historical and archaeological past of this land, created by a varied succession of cultures over the last million years, is being destroyed far faster than it can ever be retrieved. While the archaeological past of neighbouring states, like Syria and Jordan, is investigated by national and international scientific teams to construct a more coherent picture of their history, Lebanon lacks even a rudimentary map of its archaeological sites and remains. Building projects relentlessly remove surviving traces of the country's heritage, while man-made destruction has ruined entire communities, adding haunting dead towns and villages to the landscape. Lebanon's large cities are active models of site formation and transformation, where archaeological processes can be observed live and their causes and effects measured and recorded on the spot. 'Archaeological journalism' would not be a contradiction in terms here. In Beirut nature has reclaimed public squares and buildings; bomb rubble and subsequent delapidation have made burial and settlement mounds out of once bustling market centres and historical architecture. Everywhere stand the horrifying man-made monuments to destruction of human life and effort (figs. I-I4).

In this context illegal excavations thrive ! In a country where archaeological material is ubiquitous, and where antiquities and monuments have traditionally been attributed greater value than historical information, rampant inflation has spurred clandestine digging rivalling gold rushes of old. Buried archaeological material is being robbed in every corner of this land in broad daylight. At no other time of its brief history have there been so many 'excavations' in Lebanon. None of them is properly observed or recorded (Hakimian below). The majority of Lebanese, though ignorant about their past, have understood that remnant bits and pieces of a broken up history have market value. While the soil of Lebanon is being plundered frantically, no museums are being built to tell the story of its people for future generations.

Today's archaeological calamity has antecedents. The early excavations in Lebanon were rarely followed up by more modern scientific fieldwork and publications. To cite a dispairing Lebanese archaeologist: "Today there remains of Byblos only museum objects and their unintegrated catalogues; hardly anything has been published about Sidon; nothing is known of the Eshmun sanctuary; as for Baalbeck, the world is scientifically

still at the stage of knowledge reached by the German mission at the beginning of the century. 'Anjar, Shehim, Beit-Mery, Menjez, Afqa, Faqra and dozens of other sites of equal importance have no bibliographical record ... now even Tyre is on the verge of disappearing from human memory (Salame-Sarkis 1986: 205)."

Nevertheless, surveys and excavations in Lebanon undertaken in the last twenty-five years prior and up to the eighties indicated what important scientific results can be obtained. Thus prehistoric 'Modern Man's' culture in the Levant emerges from analysis of the site of Ksar 'Akíl (Bergman and Ohnuma below). "A greater variability in assemblage types exists within the Ksar 'Akíl sequence than has been allowed for by the definitions proposed in the south" (mostly by Israeli prehistorians). Positive practical steps are outlined below for future fieldwork in Lebanon to "help understand the nature of this variability as well as allow current cultural definitions to be expanded to incorporate the Lebanese Upper Palaeolithic ... and help to more firmly establish the pattern of cultural evolution during this important period in Lebanon and the northern Levant" (p. 21,23). Near the southern border of the country, a small controlled test excavation of "about 150 meters square, less than one percent of the whole island area," produced material (Bikai 1978) attesting island Tyre's early urban history of the third, second and first millennia BC, a vital period in the development of towns. When the results of these ten months' excavations are combined with a careful study of maps and pictorial records of the island produced by early western travellers to Tyre, fascinating new information on the remote past and growth of this legendary city emerges (Bikai and Bikai below). Island Tyre began in the third millennium BC as a very small settlement, a village. Although its infant history did not pass uninterrupted, a break in occupation did not occur at the traditionally held date of the late second millennium BC, or end of the 'Bronze Age'. This so-called 'Late Bronze Age' is a much debated period of Levantine early urban history. The University Museum of Pennsylvania excavations at the site of Sarepta/ Sarafand, between Tyre and Sidon, retrieved ample archaeological material for this very period.

While the research on Tyre has shed light on the beginning of Lebanon's 'Bronze Age', Sarafand has produced evidence for the period leading from the second to the first millennium (Pritchard 1978 and the Lebanese University publications Sarepta I-IV19851988). The excavations at Sarafand produced more than just object catalogues, but a unique eastern Mediterranean ceramic production center with a sequence of kilns and workshops, unchanged in their basic features throughout the period from 145011400 to 350 B.C. There were no signs of destruction or abandonment at the end of the 'Bronze Age' or turn of the second millennium. This is crucial eastern Mediterranean evidence for continuous pottery manufacture in an astonishing state of preservation (Anderson below). Here, close to the archaeologically unknown town of ancient Sidon and the living city of Saida, is a view into the daily life and work of people who participated in shaping the history of ancient Lebanon.

The work at Kamid el-Loz in the Biqa' valley has also made a major contribution to the study of Lebanon's past. Excavated from 1963-1981 by the University of Saarbrücken (Hachmann et al. 1983 and in subsequent vol. of Berytus, with complete bibliography), the volumes on Kamid el-Loz certainly are archaeological publications of scientific merit. The 'treasures' from the excavations are on a loan exhibition in Germany. The amount of information gained by the excavators from this one site is vast. However, very few Lebanese know of its existence or significance. Although students in this country are often bi- and even trilingually educated, few can read German. Moreover, most western publications, like those of Kamid el-Loz, are too expensive for Lebanese

university library budgets. The people of Kamid el-Loz had asked that a museum be built for them in their village, but they were not heard. A rigorous excavation schedule and limited funds ear-marked for maximum excavation results prevented the villagers' modest request from being answered. Today Kamid el-Loz is being looted by people who 'learnt how to excavate well' from the archaeologists who first uncovered the buried history of this ancient site. Meanwhile, as witnessed at a public lecture in 1987, members of the audience have no scruples to animate the presentation of Kamid's archaeological material with clandestinely excavated gold treasures from the site. As a result, the general public, more thrilled with the ancient gold than archaeological information, has no difficulty relapsing into comfortable historical cliches !

In a recent spectacular exhibition entitled 'I Fenici', luxuriously furnished, publicized and financed with Italian know-how and industry? the legendary land of the Phoenicians, Lebanon, was represented by a large contribution in archaeological objects emanating entirely from the Antiquities' Market ! The few objects from museum collections, such as the American University of Beirut Museum pieces, did not originate from archaeological excavations either. In spite of its popular success, judgment of the exhibition was sadly divided. A portion of Italy's and Europe's scientific community engaged in investigating near eastern archaeology was absent from the exhibition in silent protest. To what avail ? The circle seems closed and Lebanon remains one of the capitals of international antiquities' traffic.

What hope is there to break the cycle of ignorance which encourages the marketing of Lebanon's past? Only the careful creation of a common historical consciousness in present generations can encourage unity over opportunism in the future. Hence the importance of teaching a more comprehensive history for all Lebanese in the schools (cf. Wehbe and El-Amine 1980). Crediting the past is not simply collecting and selling precious artifacts made by our so-called ancestors. The past cannot survive in dismantled objects of art and trade, an endlessly broken record, a raped heritage. Lebanon's past can live only if it makes a contribution to the present, as a continuity of experience connected with life today. A people without a coherent past can only have an uncertain future.

In spite of this dismal description of the endangered state of Lebanon's archaeological and historical heritage, there are many who maintain responsible interest in the country's past. While the media present more news on archaeological 'treasure hunting', their work is often unrewarded and passes unnoticed. This series of Berytus Archaeological Studies is dedicated to them and to work currently being done by Lebanese and foreign scholars concerning the country's archaeological history. Their research has to be conducted without extensive fieldwork and with difficulties in procuring the necessary scientific literature and communication. However, as an expression of hope in the long-term future of archaeological research in the country, it is important that their positive labour to retrieve and preserve information be presented at this point in time. Their contributions include an investigation of neglected areas of Lebanon's coast (Batrun) in preparation for future ethnoarchaeological fieldwork, and salvage reports on some results of clandestine excavations in the country (Salame-Sarkis, Hakimian below). Settled since neolithic times, the centre of Beirut has recently suffered almost total destruction (figs. I-14). The results of sporadic rescue excavations there remain unpublished. A look at Beirut's early physiognomy through an examination of 19th century maps (Davie below), and an investigation of 19th century documents and houses (Davie and Nordiguian below), give new insights into the city's development. The scarcity of written sources on the architecture of common people demands a rigorous archaeological methodology.

Hence, a 19th century house of Beirut is an artifact bringing us to the archaeology of the recent past, in order to retrieve the unwritten history of Lebanon's people. With a more regional and popular approach to their history we hope that archaeological research can contribute to a common future for the Lebanese.


Anderson, W.P. 1988. SAREPTA I. The Late Bronze and Iron Age strata of Area II, Y. Beirut: Lebanese University publ.

Bikai, P. Maynor 1978. The Pottery of Tyre. Warminster: Aris and Phillips Ltd.

Hachmann, R. et al. 1983. Frühe Phöniker i~n Libanon. 20 Jahre deutsche Ausgrabungen in Kamid el-Loz. Mainz: Philipp von Zabern.

forthcoming. Kamid el-Loz 1963-1981 (with full bibliography). Berytus.

Khalifeh, I.A. 1988. SAREPTA II. The Late Bronze and Iron Age periods of Area II, X Beirut: Lebanese University publ.

Koehl, R.B. 1985. SAREPTA In. The imported Bronze and Iron Age wares form Area II, X Beirut: Lebanese University publ.

Wehbe, N. and El-Amine, A. 1980. Système d'enseigne~nent et division sociale au Liban. Paris.

Pritchard, J.B. 1978. Recovering Sarepta, a Phoenician city: Excavations at Sarafand, Lebanon, I969. Princeton University Press.

1988. SAREPTA IV. The objects from Area II, X Beirut: Lebanese University publ.

Salame-Sarkis, H. 1988. La nécropole de Tyre: a propos de publications récentes. Berytus 34, 1986: 193-205.