The Conservation Laboratory of the General Directorate of Antiquities is situated in the basement of the administrative building adjacent to the National Museum. It was refurbished in 1991 as a result of private funding and technical support from various National and International organizations such as the BLFNM, UNESCO, and the Fondation Nationale du Patrimoine, amongst others.
of the Laboratory within the perimeters of a working museum is often multifaceted.
Its main task however, is to preserve and or conserve the remains of the country’s
archaeological heritage and thus insure that it is safely maintained for future
Technical procedures and methods of work are adapted to each project according to its individual requirements within an appropriate budget and are guided by rigorous ethical practices which conform to the recommendations of international charters.
1 - The National Museum collections
National Museum, preventive conservation measures involves the improvement
of storage conditions as well monitoring and controlling climatic variations
in certain storage areas.
During the civil war, a large part of the movable collection was stored, in haste, in the museum basement. The high water table levels in some areas under the museum resulted in the flooding of some storage areas over several years causing relative humidity conditions to reach over 95%.
When the basement was eventually opened after several years, the priority was to manage the recovery operations adequately in view of the large amount of material to be moved. Climatic changes were introduced gradually and the drying and desalination of immersed objects took several months.
The laboratory has a minimum intervention policy. In general, conservation treatments are kept simple and often consist of examination, a condition report and mechanical cleaning of the surface under binocular microscope. More elaborate treatments are applied only when the object is very fragile (consolidation) or in preparation for display (limited reconstruction and gap-filling).
In the absence of advanced physical and chemical analytical methods, the technical capabilities of the laboratory remain limited.
of the opening of the exhibition galleries in 1997 and 1999, several non-
Lebanese archaeological conservators were brought in to work on some objects
and to help train various newly qualified? members of the Lebanese staff.The
laboratory oversees the mounting of objects for exhibition.
Specifically in the choice of materials used for mounting and their effect on the objects concerned, (corrosion, staining etc…)
A Few examples
the copper- alloy Byblos figurines are covered with gold leaf. They were cleaned
with a scalpel and cotton wool swabs under a binocular microscope and the
gold leaf was consolidated.
They were then stabilized with a corrosion inhibitor and lacquered with a reversible protective coating.
Some of the displayed stone objects (marble and limestone) on the ground floor of the museum were steam cleaned. Limited gap-filling was undertaken, not in an attempt to deceive by reconstructing missing areas but with the aim of improving the overall appearance of the piece and its legibility.
Glass objects recovered from the museum basement were the first to be treated because of their extreme fragility. Weathering of glass (loss of transparency and lamination) is linked to its composition and burial conditions. ‘Iridescence’ is a result of lamination of the surface. The glass objects recovered from the basement were dried slowly and the flaking surface consolidated to allow safe handling of the pieces.
The tomb from Tyre
tomb was discovered in 1938 in the Burj el Chemali area near Tyre. The frescoes
were detached and transferred to Beirut in 1940. The painted chamber was later
reconstructed in the basement of the National Museum. During the civil war
(1995- 1993) the frescoes suffered from microbiological decay and salt damage
due to high levels of humidity.
In 1997, a long term conservation program was established through ICCROM. Three missions by an Italian specialist were financed by the ‘Fondation Nationale du Patrimoine’ during which extensive graphic and photographic documentation of the paintings was undertaken as well as pigment identification and emergency consolidation treatment of the support.
were already published in 1940. Cleaning tests revealed very fine details
and a great diversity of colors.
The tomb is not open to the public because of ongoing waterproofing works in the basement. The completion of the conservation project is under study.
The Ahiram sarcophagus
the sarcophagus (10th century B.C) to Paris for the ‘Liban, l’autre
rive’ exhibition gave us the opportunity to undertake analysis of its
surface pigment as well as the type and provenance of its stone.
Some intervention was necessary to allow the sarcophagus to be moved safely. A French conservator traveled to Lebanon to consolidate the cracks and work on some areas which had previously been restored in 1923.
Handling, packing and transportation was done by a specialized company. A metal cage was built around and inside the sarcophagus to insure maximum stability during transportation. A special truck container was shipped by sea to Beirut for transport it.
Mosaics of ‘The birth of Alexander’ and ‘The rape of Europe’
After their discovery in Baalbek and Byblos the two mosaics had been mounted on reinforced concrete slabs and the surface extensively polished. In preparation for the ‘Liban, l’autre rive exhibition’in Paris, the mosaics underwent a conservation treatment at the ‘Aatelier de Rrestauration des Mmosaïques’ in St Romain- en- Gal. The treatment consisted of the removal of the old cement support and its replacement with a lightweight honeycomb fiberglass backing. ‘The rape of Europe’ which weighed 800 Kg at its departure from Beirut now weighs 150 Kg after treatment. The tesserae were also cleaned and consolidated.
of Alexander’ could not be completely treated and sections of its border
in need of re-backing.
Two Lebanese trainees (Badr Jabbour Gédéon and Dany Khalaf) actively participated, for over three months, in the conservation and mounting of the mosaics.
2 - Intervention on archaeological excavations
are often called upon to intervene on site.Objects are examined in the laboratory
and the required treatment is established in coordination with the archaeologist
in charge of studying the material.
Lifting of mosaics is also done only as a last resort when preservation in situ is impossible.
During the downtown Beirut excavations, one rescue operation took 5 months to lift 700 m2 of mosaic pavements from the Souk area.