A Phoenician statue for my coffee-table
Too many archaeological sites in
downtown Beirut to excavate all of them (The
Daily Star) presented by kind courtesy of Mr. Gebran
The biggest supermarket in Lebanon,
a journalist investigates the plundering of Lebanon's heritage
(The Independent) presented
by kind courtesy of Mr. Gebran Abboud
Port project angers Lebanese archeologists
Phoenician statue for my coffee-table
The Economist, April 3, 1999
DIG a hole in the ground almost anywhere in Arabia, it is
said, and oil will gush out. Dig a hole in practically any Lebanese
hillside, and a wealth of archaeological artifacts will tumble
forth. A few of these discoveries end up on display in museums,
many more in the salons of Lebanese grandees. Look around and
you may see a coffee-table resting on a Greek capital, a tiny
Roman mosaic sprucing up the foyer, a spread of Phoenician statuettes
and Byzantine coins strewn along the bookshelves or a discreet
Crusader cannon in the courtyard.
Lebanon, a country carpeted in historical bric-a-brac, is
still recovering from its 1975-91 civil war. Its budget is hobbled
by huge deficits. Archaeological preservation has not been a
priority-until now. Since mid-March, in a series of surprise
raids, the police have seized over 5,000 artifacts from private
homes and shops. In theory, when someone unearths anything over
300 years old, he is supposed to contact the Directorate-General
of Antiquities, which has three months to examine the object
or site before deciding whether to commandeer it. In practice,
the rules are flouted.
During the civil war, many ruins and museums were looted.
A director of the National Museum preserved his biggest and most
precious pieces from theft or damage by encasing them in concrete,
but other objects were treated less lovingly. The police recently
discovered, for instance, that every single movable item had
been stolen from the old Ottoman citadel at Sidon. Even now,
builders regularly pilfer, discard or pour cement over ancient
remains to avoid the delays and hassle of the historical commissars.
Until recently, the antiquities officials were themselves
part of the problem: indeed, the police raids arose from an investigation
into their department. A former director-general has been hauled
in for questioning. But even honest employees, with a budget
of just $5m, cannot keep track of the millions of artifacts in
The law, making it hard to buy or sell historical treasures,
encourages the black market. Many people caught with unregistered
antiquities claim they bought them in good faith or inherited
Some accuse the government of currying public favour with
the spectacular raids. They point out that those dealers who
have already smuggled their wares abroad will not be affected.
Moreover, the police do not seem to have gone after any senior
politicians. Few Lebanese imagine that more than a fraction of
the country's crooked deals have been exposed, or ever will be.
many archaeological sites in downtown Beirut to excavate all of them
by Reem Haddad
Daily Star staff
Dr Hareth Boustany sat back in
his chair at Solidere and released a sigh. The head of the archaeological
department of the company
entrusted with the reconstruction of downtown Beirut is weary
of accusations that he's destroying the city's heritage. "I
had been waiting for years for the chance to explore downtown,"
he said. "I was initially the one who lobbied hard to get
the go-ahead for archaeological excavations. So it especially
pains me when allegations of purposeful destruction are made
To archaeologists and historians, excavations provide a rare
opportunity to study and document the history of the city. But
to Solidere, reconstructing the city centre is the main priority.
So far, 124 sites have been excavated, covering 140,000 metres2
and making the city centre the biggest excavation site in the
world. Solidere has paid out more than $7m.
Solidere also found itself battling
against developers and contractors who charge exorbitant prices for every
well as the archaeologists who entered into a vicious tug-of-war
with the real estate company. With the city centre waiting to
be rebuilt, Solidere had no choice but to set deadlines for excavations. "We were rushed, and it's normal because any urban project
is, by definition, a rushed project," said American University
of Beirut archaeologist Dr Leila Badr.
But serious allegations against
the company include the willful destruction of archaeological discoveries
in an effort to speed
up reconstruction. "Solidere," said historian Dr Albert
Naccache, "has knowingly destroyed Lebanese heritage."
Naccache has been calling for
a full investigation into Solidere's handling of archaeological excavations
since the early 1990s
when he began writing in local and international newspapers of
the "massacre of heritage".
"The centre of Beirut is not a desert," he said.
"You have to take into consideration what's there. And what
was there was unique in the world. It was the largest Phoenician
site to be opened to archaeologists in the past few decades.
It's one huge site, not several small ones as Solidere claims,
so wherever you dig, you'll find treasures."
Many uncovered sites have disappeared,
a fact which Solidere does not deny. When Lebanese University archaeologist
Karam showed up at his site in Saifi on February 24, 1995, an
ancient wall he had discovered the day before was gone? despite
having agreed with the site engineer to stop all bulldozing. "I never even had a chance to study it," he
The uncovering of a Phoenician-Persian city in the souks by
Lebanese University archaeologist Dr Hussein Sayegh led UNESCO's
secretary-general Frederico Mayor, then visiting Lebanon, to
declare it worth preserving. According to archaeologists at the
site, Nasser Chamaa, the chairman of Solidere, promised that
the site would be preserved. But no sooner did Mayor leave, than
a large part of the Phoenician city was bulldozed. "They
gave infrastructure as an excuse," said Sayegh.
And the complaints go on.
In December, 1994, 40 metres of the Beirut city wall dating
back to 3000 B.C. were bulldozed, as were 60 metres of a
Phoenician wall, and a section of a Hellenistic wall.
In December 1995, sewage pipes were passed through a Phoenician
mound, going through the Phoenician wall and destroying many
A few months later, the corner of Bourj al-Kashaf was broken
off southeast of Martyrs square. In August, three sewage pipes
at Murr tower exploded through the burial ground from the Roman
and Byzantine era.
To build George Haddad bridge,
a part of a Bronze wall was destroyed. Among other treasures bulldozed
was a 50-metre, fully
preserved mosaic on Weygand Street and a Roman bath between Allenby
Street and Martyrs' Square. According to Catherine Auber, a member
of the Institut Français d'Archeologie du Proche Orient,
who was leading two excavation sites at Martyrs' Square, "Solidere
couldn't care less."
"We would be working and they would come and do something
they never told us about, like make trenches and send in their
machines," she said. On one occasion, former UNESCO archaeologist
Ibrahim Kowatli blocked the bulldozers with his car. Kowatli
was brought in from France as a UNESCO consultant but when he
arrived on the site he found that bulldozers had destroyed
it. "You take down a wall maybe," he said. "But
a whole site?"
By law, the directorate- general
of antiquities (DGA) is supposed to oversee every step of the excavations
and decide on their
fate. But according to Kowatli, the ministerial department had
little power. "At each find the DGA was supposed to have
been informed. But most sites have been dug up without their
control. It was obvious the directorate-general was pressured
to look the other way."
The DGA was having its own troubles. With their office at
the museum destroyed during the war, the department was and is
suffering from a severe lack of funds and personnel. It suddenly
found itself having to oversee the world's largest excavation
site. "We did our best with what we had," said
the sites' coordinator, Renata Ortali-Tarazi, an archaeologist
who has spent endless hours at the sites. While the DGA is present
at decision-making meetings, its power to enforce any agreements
appears to be non-existent.
In October 1994, parliament, the
DGA and UNESCO agreed to construct the new parliament office building incorporating
its underground floor the ancient Roman wall "Banco di Roma"
arches discovered at the site. The wall and other ruins found
at Nijmeh Square were the southern part of the heart of the Roman
city, called "the forum".
According to the agreement, the whole area, including the
Banco di Roma arches and Nijmeh Square would be preserved. But
last December, and without the knowledge or approval of the DGA
(who reportedly insisted on the preservation plan), Nijmeh Square
was filled in and the Roman ruins were buried. They were
replaced by a clock tower and a flower bed. Tarazi said: "We
were just as surprised that this happened. We were at parliament
a week before presenting to them these plans."
Since DGA approval seems to have
little weight, archaeologists want to know just who is making the decisions
as to which sites
are worthy of being preserved and which are not. "The future
of the city and whether to preserve it or not shouldn't be the
sole responsibility of one archaeologist, especially one who
is employed directly by Solidere," according to AUB's Leila
Badr. "They don't tell us anything. I don't even know what's
happening to the ancient tel. And why should the majority of
our scientific heritage go to a foreigner to excavate and publish?"
This "foreigner" is Dutch-born Dr Hans Curvers.
Employed by Solidere, Curvers has the heavy responsibility of
following the bulldozers around and "rescuing" artifacts.
When ruins are discovered, he calls a halt to the operations
and decides whether a full excavation is necessary. With every
discovery, Curvers sends a detailed report to the DGA. Through
a two-way radio, he is in constant contact with the head of Solidere's
archaeological department, Hareth Boustany.
Hearing about the list of bulldozed
sites, Boustany was visibly upset. "I won't deny that mistakes have occurred, as, for
example, when bulldozers ran into a Roman wall or a mosaic,"
he said. "But these are not intentional. In an area of 1.1m
square metres such mistakes are bound to happen." Boustany
stressed that all decisions were taken in co-ordination with
the DGA. "If what these archaeologists are saying is true,"
he added, "they wouldn't be giving lectures and publishing
scientific articles about their discoveries."
Curvers, for his part, readily
admitted that some sites were entirely bulldozed. "Some ruins have gone into the Normandy
dump and the DGA knows it. They were not thought of as representative
enough to be preserved," he said. "If the period was
represented better somewhere else, we let it go." Where
sewage pipes or other infrastructure has to be installed, Curvers
studies the area and asks the contractor if the construction
can be adjusted. "But if it's not possible, I have to take
a decision and build the sewage through it," he explained.
Both Boustany and Curvers insisted
that nothing was removed without first being documented. "We record them and put
them on a map for the future," explained Boustany. "For
example, we found a wall from Roman times and we were forced
to remove it to put in a sewage pipe but the wall continues left
and right under the construction." Other sites, said Boustany,
were filled in, allowing for construction to go on.
Some archaeologists have to work
under a strict time limit but in sites where no infrastructure is planned,
time is not
an issue. Dr Muntaha Saghiyeh's site between two Catholic churches
had already been designated as a park on the original master
plan for downtown Beirut. She feels Solidere acted correctly. "Whenever there was a problem, Solidere listened and we
discussed it," she said.
AUB archaeologist Helga Seedan
agreed. "Under the circumstances
of war, Solidere did its best," she said. "Not everything
is interesting or understandable. They have preserved good examples
of various periods." Seedan is currently coordinating with
Solidere on the rehabilitation of the archaeological ruins to
be preserved. "It's a good plan," she said. "People
can go about and look at the sites and everything will be explained."
But for the rest of the archaeologists, the future is uncertain.
"They are going to do some flashy things, I can assure you,"
said Badr. "There will be lights everywhere. It will be
beautiful. Fantastic. They will make you forget that a lot
has gone forever."
Biggest Supermarket in Lebanon
A Journalist Investigates
the Plundering of Lebanon's Heritage
After 15 years of war, Lebanon has fallen victim to the greatest
pillage of Graeco-Roman, Iron and Bronze Age treasures in the
Middle East since European explorers sacked the area more than
a century ago. Priceless statues, Byzantine mosaics, Roman glass
and Phoenician gold are being illegally exported to London, Paris,
New York and Bonn by Lebanese dealers and international middlemen
while some of the most important archaeological sites in what
was ancient Phoenicia have been destroyed by treasure-hunters.
Only now, with the prospect of peace at hand, have the Lebanese
authorities started to take stock of the extent of the looting
of their country's heritage during the years of anarchy in which
thousands of tons of artefacts have been secretly shipped
out of the country by militiamen and unscrupulous dealers. The
scale of theft is staggering. For example, it has been revealed
that several rooms full of excavated material from the Lebanese
Department of Antiquities were stolen by Christian militiamen
from a store-house at Byblos several years ago and shipped to
European art dealers. Only last year, two of the "Babies
of Eshmoun" statues - among the most valuable treasures
of the Sidon excavations of the 1960s, which were among the Byblos
thefts - were discovered on public sale in Zurich.
The AUB Museum was robbed in 1991. Thieves took a 23 cm Roman
head from Palmyra, two Egyptian figurines, a Roman limestone
statue, five sculptures, a funerary slab and 41 cylinder seals.
It was the second theft in 18 months, yet the university has
fared better than the National Museum. Roman period and Iron
Age Phoenician cemeteries east of Tyre are being dug up
by amateur treasure-hunters, their contents of gold jewellery
and pottery sold to Lebanese dealers and then shipped out of
the country via Cyprus to Europe and America. The results
of the diggers' work at Tyre looks like a series of massive
bomb-craters gouged into the earth.
Dealers - and Lebanese officials who are powerless to stop
the illicit trade in antiquities - acknowledge that marble and
lead sarcophagi have been smuggled in their entirety out of Lebanon
by the ship-load from illegal ports to Cyprus, usually with the
connivance of Lebanese militias. In their desire to find gold
among the bones of the dead, thieves in Tyre destroyed a complete
Phoenician sarcophagus by setting off dynamite charges. Others
have been broken open with electric drills. One of Lebanon's
most important archaeological sites at Kamid el-Loz, in
the Biqa' valley - probably the Kumidi of antiquity - has been
destroyed by tomb-robbers who have used bulldozers and
mechanical shovels to search the Bronze Age remains for gold.
When I visited the site, all that remained were piles of rubble
and earth and pieces of broken pottery shovelled on to a local
Yet the international art market is doing little to save Lebanon's
heritage. The Independent has learned, for example, that
11 tons of artefacts of Greek, Roman and Byzantine date from
Lebanon - including mosaic floors, glass, gold and sculpted stones
from a Byzantine church - arrived at Ipswich in February 1991.
The vessel's papers showed that the treasures had left Beirut
via Cyprus in two shipments in late December of 1990 and early
January 1991. Each of the original shipments bore the name of
an east Beirut dealer who, according to the Lebanese Department
of Antiquities, had no right to export the artefacts. But the
police in Britain, after asking about the taxation which might
be due on the goods, allowed them to continue to a British dealer.
Several Beirut authorities blame what they say is Britain's
repeated refusal to ratify the International Council of Museums'
UNESCO Convention of 1970 - which is intended to prevent
the illegal export of artefacts - for the continuing flow of
Lebanese antiques to London.
A National Pastime
Tomb-robbers and dealers in Lebanon
tell of archaeological plunder on an unprecedented scale. In Tyre, for
involved in the antiques trade spoke of the discovery of "20,000" Phoenician
terra cotta figurines unearthed from graves at
Bourj al- Shemali, east of the city, almost all of which have
been secretly exported to America and Japan. The quantity
exported was so large that each figurine sold for little more
than $60 on the international art market.
A dealer near Baalbek told me of the unearthing of the "goddess
of water", a Graeco- Roman bronze statue of a woman
lying on a bed and holding a cup in her hand, 50 cm high. "It
was magnificent; in perfect condition. It had been found in a
temple. I was offered it for $100,000 (£60,000) but I couldn't
afford it. Later, they smuggled it out of Lebanon and I was
told it sold for half a million dollars in Germany." Lebanese Antiquities
Department officials later confirmed they had heard of the discovery and sale. "It's very simple."
Hussein said with the air of a man who was explaining the obvious
to a fool. "You go to where the Roman tombs are. You take
a big iron rod with a sharp end. You feel for the rock slabs
under the earth which cover the entrances to the tombs. When
you feel the edge of the rock, you work your way around it with
the iron rod, and then you will come to a 'cut' in the stone.
That's how the Romans made their graves. They didn't want us
to find them. You put the spike into the cut and lever it up."
Hussein is in his early twenties with sharp bright eyes and
rough hands. Behind him, the Mediterranean shimmered in the midday
sun. In front of us, the Roman period cemetery above Bourj el-Shemali
baked in the heat, a field of destruction, the tombs torn
open leaving holes as big as bomb craters in the brambles
and red earth. Hussein has been working the tombs and the buried
Phoenician settlements east of Tyre and in the Biqa' for eight
years, ever since he saw his school friends unearthing pottery
and Roman jewellery. At Bourj el- Shemali, you can see the obsessive
ant-like nature of the grave-diggers' work. They have cracked
open the tombs systematically, shovelling out the earth and rocks,
gouging their way into side tunnels and then hastily filling
in the graves with pieces of hewn rock. It can be a deadly business.
A year ago, a family called the Talebs decided to excavate an
ancient well not far from Bourj el-Shemali in a Roman settlement
which local people call Naba'a. First one of the Taleb brothers
and then another climbed deep into the well where they complained
of feeling dizzy. Two other brothers and two cousins jumped into
the well to rescue them and were immediately overcome by carbon-dioxide
poisoning. They all died.
Hussein says he has earned only
$61,000 in his eight years as a digger, employed by illegal antiques dealers,
in the Biqa' valley and even smallholders who want him to search
the foundations of their property for Roman treasure. He knows
he receives little of the ultimate profits - dealers believe
the diggers probably receive 10 per cent of the worth of their
finds - and that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of diggers
like him. "When I started at school, I wasn't interested
in the history of this place," he says. "It meant only
money to me. After about two years, I started to like the things
I found. But I couldn't keep them because I needed the money...
I had to buy clothes, to live." "Once I found a woman's
skirt made of gold leaf. Among some bones, I found a gold
ring with an emerald set in it. You could see the head of a Roman
emperor in the emerald. It was one of the best finds I had.
I sold it for $4,800 (£3,000) but afterwards I learnt it
was worth much more. I was told it went to New York where it
was sold for more than $20,000 (L12,300)."
Hussein's employers are equally
business-like about their role in the looting of their country's history. "People
here are poor," Abu Abdullah said. "Why shouldn't they
have food? These things should stay in Lebanon, sure, but we've
been at war and people are in need. Besides, they find things
in such quantities that Lebanon can't use them all. They found 20,000 Phoenician terra cotta figurines in the graves near
Tyre. Most went abroad for sale. Why not? What is the Lebanese
government going to do with 20,000 Phoenician figurines?... People
get cheated, of course. They are given $1,000 for something that
may be worth $100,000."
"The diggers have to work very hard," Abu Abdullah
said. "You don't know what's in the tomb when you break
into it. But they find secret places... where they come across
the belongings of a dead person. Some of the things are very
beautiful. We came across Roman glass tear bottles - did you
know the Romans used to collect their own tears? These bottles
were very small, to be held below the eyes. They had four tiny
handles with naked women on them." Like most Lebanese, he
has little access to information about the national heritage.
But many of the diggers and dealers are trying to construct a
mental picture of the past, based on legends and scraps of hearsay.
In fact, bottles like these held fragrant oils.
The looted material from Tyre
goes to Japan, Britain, and the United States, using a series of international "contacts"
in Tokyo and Britain but a single dealer in America for sales
to New York. "We almost always use Cyprus," a dealer
said. "We send almost everything by sea. You can't take
a marble tomb through Beirut airport. Once the stuff reaches
Cyprus, the Lebanese government can't touch it." Yet with
the Lebanese army deployed in Tyre for the first time in 16 years,
both diggers and dealers are wondering if the Lebanese government
might at last attempt to crush their smuggling racket. Already, grave-robbers are smashing their way into Phoenician sarcophagi
with iron rods or blowing them apart with dynamite in their haste
to find antiquities before the Lebanese authorities are alerted.
Mahmoud is a dealer of antiquities
from the Biqa'. He fears the Lebanese government may be watching his activities
resist continuing a profitable trade with German collectors. "The Germans are rich people, businessmen, they know the
value of things," he says. "In Europe, they understand
our history. They know all about the Phoenician people who lived
here... The Phoenicians were very intelligent. They created the
alphabet which we use today. They created business throughout
the Middle East - without telephones or fax machines."
So how do the grave-robbers feel about disturbing their dead
ancestors? Mahmoud says that the contents of the tombs are more
important to him than the bones of those who lie there. Hussein,
who is trying to purchase a French porcelain digging machine
- he complains that bulldozers crack the tomb lids and break
the glass and jewellery inside - is equally complacent: "The
bones I find belong to people who lived maybe 4,000 years ago,
while I know I may find something that will make me money. In
eight years, I've seen no ghosts in the tombs. Inside it is very
dark but when I find bones I think, 'Yes, these are the people
who helped to start civilisation and now their bones are in Hussein's
The Destruction of Kamid el-Loz
You can see the ancient tell of Kamid el-Loz from the Lebanese
army checkpoint on the Rachaya road. It rises in a steep, almost
eerie way above the humid plain of the Biqa' valley, a man-made
hill going back to the Bronze Age, a dark shadow against the
miles of fertility that stretch towards Mount Lebanon. Any archaeologist
will tell you that it is one of the most important sites in Lebanon.
Or rather it was. For only when you turn right off the dusty
village road do you realise that the entire hillside with its
repository of ancient civilisation - the fruits of 19 years'
work by German archaeologists - has been destroyed. The earth
is still there, but it has been cut away with bulldozers and
earth-diggers, the surviving low walls of its 3,500-year-old
houses ground to pieces by treasure-hunters. Chunks of pottery
have been thrown into a huge rubbish tip at one end of the tell,
as if hurled away in frustration by the diggers - because the
antiquities they were looking for were indeed largely elusive.
The treasure which Kamid el-Loz represented was historical rather
None of this was evident to the robbers. Nor to the two modern-day
armies which briefly fought for Kamid el-Loz in 1982. When the
Syrians eventually halted the Israeli army, the Israelis held
Kamid el-Loz and the Syrians the neighbouring hilltop of Sultan
Yacoub. Their front lines - great earth embankments running across
the floor of the valley - and their tank revetments are now overgrown
with weeds and bushes, an unscheduled addition to the earthworks
of antiquity. Archaeologists in Beirut believe the Israelis
stole several artefacts they found on the tell, but say that
the site was largely unharmed. The wholesale destruction came
later. Historians still argue whether Kamid el-Loz is the ancient
settlement of Kumidi, mentioned in clay tablets written at the
time of the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep III (see Hachmann 1991:
89-94). It is certain that humans lived here, in a town, as long
ago as the third millennium B.C. and that the settlement lay
at a crossroads on the ancient highways linking Egypt, Syria
and Persia. This was why, between 1963 and 1981, German archaeologists
spent 19 years here, finding few 'treasures' - the ivory figurine
of a lyre player, a bronze sickle sword, gold necklaces and pots
- but discovering the unique evidence of one of the oldest
settlements in this part of the Middle East (1991).
Dr Gunther Krause, director of
the Kultur und Stadthistorisches Museum at Duisburg University, took part
in the excavations and
continued to visit until just before the Israeli invasion. He
has been back since and was appalled by what he discovered. "The
tell is finished," he said. "The people there have
destroyed their own heritage. Everything has gone, the walls,
the stone tombs, the ancient roadways. They have bulldozed until
they have got down to virgin soil. It's not only at Kamid - it's
everywhere in the Biqa'. Bulldozers and dynamite and metal
detectors have been used on all the major heights in the valley,
even around Baalbek which was always protected before now. They
were quite successful in finding metal coins but they destroyed
almost all the Persian and Byzantine sites."
According to Dr Krause, looters
have made off with bronze figurines from a temple, sacrificial daggers,
tablets and highly decorated pottery, all of it now in the hands
of the international art market. "Kamid el-Loz was a Chalcolithic
and Bronze Age tell," he says. "There had been some
looting already, but after the Israelis left, in 1985, up to
50 people came and 'worked' the tell. In one area, there were
late Bronze Age temples, one on top of another down to the Middle
Bronze Age. They cut through every one and they no longer exist." Dr.
Krause is not exaggerating. A visitor who did not know the history of the hill
would assume that much of it was a building
site, piled with fresh earth and rocks. For the diggers are still
at work, organised - according to villagers - by five families
in Kamid el-Loz who sell the artefacts from their homes. A
new mosque is being erected on one side of the hill, destroying
and covering part of the site although many of the local villagers
did try - so Dr Krause remembers - to preserve the tell. "They
twice refused to employ a guard who was sent down from Baalbek
because they knew he was one of the robbers. The village mukhtar told
him to go away, and, during some of the early excavations, the local people
were not treated well by the Germans. They were
badly paid and not even told why the tell was important. When
it rained, they were told to go home and were not paid. You have
to treat your workmen correctly. I recall one of them saying
to me: 'We won't get anything if we don't take things'. That
is when it started."
Dr Krause's record of the tell's
looting is a sombre one. From the early days of the civil war in 1975,
local people stole
some antiquities. In 1978, during the excavation of the treasures
in the palace, a thief made off with a 17-piece gold necklace
which, however, was soon retrieved (see Hachmann et al. 1983
and 1991; Weinzierl & Schier in 1983: 63-65). As the war continued
after 1985, so did the pillaging. Roman, Byzantine and Hellenistic
rock tombs around Kamid el-Loz were all plundered. A heavily
- decorated cross from an early Byzantine church disappeared
into the Beirut antiquities market - "the biggest supermarket
in Lebanon", according to Dr Krause - while jewellery and
pottery were taken from tombs.
By all accounts - and it is the
extent of research that provided the village with its greatest treasure
- the ancient people of
Kamid el-Loz were a gentle community who over centuries created
plantations out of the hostile swamp land of the lower Biqa'
valley. When their offspring died young, they buried them beneath
their houses so that their dead children remained in their homes,
close to their parents. German archaeologists discovered the
bones of a little girl, her gold jewellery still with her. The
Bronze Age inhabitants made delicate pendants of pressed gold
and ivory figures of animals and people (Hachmann et al. 1983
and 1991). "When the war came to modern Lebanon, a lot of
people's lives were no longer worth anything," Dr Krause
says. "The past was even less important to them."
The Art Mafia
Around Lebanon's historic cities - especially in Tyre - unplanned
building has destroyed the glory of ancient ruins. Triumphal
archways and colonnaded streets are dwarfed by cheaply-constructed
apartment blocks and garages.
Experts also blame the publicity afforded the 'Sevso treasure'
for the obsessive plundering. This multimillion dollar hoard
of Roman period silver plate of alleged Lebanese provenance made
headlines in 1990 when it turned up in New York. The court
case which followed had not been settled by mid-1992 (Seeden
1991). Helga Seeden, Professor of Archaeology at the American
University of Beirut, believes, like most of her colleagues,
that the Sevso silver hoard did not originate in Lebanon, but
was sold on the international market with illegally obtained
Lebanese export papers. The 'Sevso treasure' story gave people
the idea that they could become millionnaires by digging up the
land. It was a contagion. Bulldozers are at work all over
the Biqa' ploughing through tells in the hope of finding treasures.
They are destroying the archaeology of this land. It is another
To understand the plight of Lebanon's heritage, you should
visit Beirut's National Museum. Bullet-scarred Roman pillars
and pulverised sarcophagi litter the ground. The heads of 2,000-year-old
stone lions peer mournfully out among the bullet holes. To find
Dr Camille Asmar and his staff, you must walk behind the museum,
through a metal door and into an ill-lit corridor. In 1991 they
worked only on Wednesday mornings; the Lebanese government can
afford only five hours' work each week. Indeed, the annual budget
for Beirut's Department of Antiquities - the money to buy
antiquities, guard Lebanon's treasures at Baalbek, Tyre, Byblos
and elsewhere, and pay the staff of the museum - comes to less
than £7,000 a year. While over the past 16 years, shiploads
of antiquities have been taken out of Lebanon. Nor has the trade
ended with the apparent arrival of peace. As late as 1991, suspicious
Lebanese troops in Tyre followed a container lorry all the way
to the port of Jounié and then demanded to see the contents.
Inside the container they found three sarcophagi, one in lead,
another made of Greek marble, all exquisitely cut and newly dug
from Roman period cemeteries in southern Lebanon. The driver
was imprisoned yet the dealer has not been found.
There is now a formidable international
mafia engaged in the pillage of Lebanon's treasures. "There
are diggers everywhere," one dealer told me. "They are boys
who will break into ancient cemeteries for a few dollars. They are
poor and they need the money. They come to us with what they
find. We know who wants these things abroad. A dealer will go
to Switzerland, for example, and meet people there, usually from
Britain, Germany, Switzerland, France, or America. These are
educated people, buying for collectors."
Dealers say they often export small artefacts - Roman glass
or gold jewellery - through Beirut airport, sending them as checked
baggage which is not subject to the same scrutiny as hand-baggage.
Anything larger goes by ship. Up to 20 small trading vessels
have been used to take antiquities by night from Lebanese ports
to Cyprus whence they are sent on to Europe and America. Beirut
has also become a dealer's centre for antiques from other Middle
East countries. But Lebanon has suffered most.
Ancient Phoenicia was influenced, invaded or occupied by the
Pharaohs of Egypt, by the Hittites, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks,
Romans, the forces of Islam and the Crusaders. Remnants of
all their civilisations lie beneath the soil of Lebanon - an
irresistible prey for the international 'art mafia'. How
can the power of this mafia' be broken? Professor Seeden has
few illusions. "The illicit trade in antiquities is in many
ways similar to drug trafficking," she says.- "The
majority of clandestine diggers of antiquities - like cocaine
planters - earn little and would easily shift to regular jobs
with an income, if these were available. The big money is made
by the dealers, particularly those with international connections".
Only by teaching the Lebanese to understand the importance
of their history can the trade in antiquities be stemmed. Several Lebanese
antiquities officials take a more pragmatic view. "The only way to prevent this illegal export is for
the Lebanese Department of Antiquities itself to become the sole
dealer in Lebanon," one of them said. "The government
in Beirut wants to treat the Lebanese dealers as crooks. Legally,
that's what they are. But we have to be practical. We are not
allowed to buy these things from dealers but if we don't, they
will sell them outside the country."
* Correspondent of The Independent (London), living in Beirut since 1978. The above
reports first appeared in The Independent between July
30 and August 2, 1991. They were adapted for Berytus.
The photographs are reproduced by courtesy of Robert Fisk and
- HACHMANN, R. 1991. Kamid el-Loz 1963-1981.
Berytus 37, 1989.- 1983. Frühe Phöniker im Libanon.
Mainz: Philip von Zabern.
- MIRON, A. 1990. Kamid el-Loz 10. Das Schatzhaus
im Palastbereich. Die Funde. SBZA 46.
- WEINZIERL, P. & Schier,
W. 1983. Eine
Sternstunde der Archäologie. In Hachmann 1983. Frühe
Phöniker im Libanon (Zabern): 59-65.
- SEEDEN, H. (in press). Archaeology and the
public in Lebanon: developments since 1986. Second World Archaeological
Congress, Venezuela 1990, publication on Education and Archaeology.
From: The Digital
Documentation Center at AUB
in collaboration with Al
Mashriq of Høgskolen
i Østfold, Norway.
project angers Lebanese archeologists
Tue, 27 Feb 1996, Reuter / Zeina Soufan
ENFE, Lebanon (Reuter) - Archeologists are up in arms over
a construction project they say threatens a unique site in Lebanon
dating back thousands of years to Phoenician times.
They say a modern fishing port being built at Enfe, 43 miles
north of Beirut, is endangering the remains of a Crusader castle,
a Phoenician defensive moat and Roman wine and olive oil vats
that stand on a finger of land jutting into the Mediterranean.
The project involves building a dock next to the site and
a concrete bank along the opposite shore.
"A concrete bank facing an historic citadel? It's awful!
Can you imagine concrete under the columns of the temple of Jupiter
in Baalbek?'' said archeologist Ibrahim Quoatly, UNESCO delegate
at Lebanon's Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA). "Enfe
is a unique natural archeological hill on which civilizations
follow in succession. We have Phoenician, Roman and Crusader
remains in the same area,'' Quoatly said.
A 1977 presidential decree classified Enfe as a site of archeological
value, making the formal approval of the DGA necessary before
any alteration of the site is permitted.
Construction of the port began in September 1995 after the
transportation ministry awarded a Lebanese company a $220,000
contract, Director-General of the Ministry of Transportation
Imad Nawwam said.
On Sept. 28, the DGA made an official
request to the chief prosecutor of north Lebanon for "the immediate
freeze of work at Enfe'' but it was never answered.
"Instead, a gentlemen's agreement
was struck between the minister of transportation and the minister of culture
works shall not endanger the archeological remains,'' a DGA official
But archeologists say the site has already been defaced and
its natural beauty distorted.
"It's a fait accompli. We
are trying to minimize the damage now,'' the DGA official said.
Enfe has four ancient churches, including the Chapel of Sayidet
el Rih -- Our Lady of the Wind -- which has fragments of Byzantine
The church was built by the Lords of Nephin (Enfe) when it
was a fief of the Crusader County of Tripoli in the 12th century.
The town apparently served thousands of years earlier as a
Phoenician port, as evidenced by a number of Phoenician slipways
A few yards from the shore, Roman vats for olive oil and wine
production are carved in the rock, linked by underground channels.
A 325-foot long moat separates the peninsula and the remains
of the 800-years-old, three-story castle from the shore and the
present-day village of Enfe.
Memoirs of 12th century travelers recorded that the castle
had 11 towers. Today, only one tower can be identified. Some
20 construction trucks thunder through the moat about 100 times
a day beside the castle walls to dump loads of rock into the
sea to build the quay.
Quoatly said vibrations from the trucks could affect some
large rocks beside the moat believed to have been part of a Roman
castle or watchtower.
On Feb. 7, the Lebanese government approved the establishment
of an industrial zone in the village of Enfe which stands hundreds
of yards from the site.
"This is a positive step
which will keep all factories away from the archeological site. Now we
know for sure we won't
end up with a canned seafood factory next to the fishing port
on the site,'' the DGA official said.
© Copyright Reuters Limited1996
Reproduced on this Web site by permission from Reuters
(or Reuters) dated June 14,