Lebanon Archaeology

(Guest post by A.D. Riddle)

Unlike its neighbor to the south, Lebanon has only a handful of excavations currently in progress and there is no systematic archaeological survey of the entire country presently available. Sadly, archaeological work is only being carried out at a total of five (or so) sites: Sidon, Tell Arqa, Tell el-Burak (link 2, link 3), Baalbek, and Kamid el-Loz.

Tell Arqa in northern Lebanon.

Naturally, one would think that the paucity of archaeological work (and tourism, for that matter) is due to present security conditions. But that is only part of the story. Hélène Sader, a historian and archaeologist at the American University in Beirut, has written a piece for the ASOR blog entitled, “Archaeology in Lebanon Today: Its Politics and Its Problems,” in which she paints a fairly bleak portrait of the current situation.

The outdated antiquities law which established the Lebanese Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA) “as the sole authority” limits the DGA’s staff “to five archaeologists, five trainee archaeologists, and five architects in charge of regular and salvage excavations, restoration and conservation of historical and archaeological monuments, and the curatorship of the national and regional museums collections!” Following the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), the Lebanese government set out to rebuild Beirut’s Central District. The DGA was then faced with the task of not only rebuilding the National Museum, but also “supervising the largest urban excavation site in the world with practically no qualified personnel, no funds, and no political support.” Since 2000, “the DGA has become extremely restrictive regarding long term excavation projects” and is “reluctant to issue permits to foreign institutions.” Numerous salvage excavations go unpublished and the excavated remains are “regularly bulldozed or disfigured by irresponsible urban planning without any objections.”
Sader concludes:

The DGA has been without leadership for the last four years. The last Director General resigned three years ago and the appointment of a new one is still blocked by political rivalries. The failure to build a new generation of professional and well-trained archaeologists is so dramatic that it is very hard today to find even a small pool of competent candidates for the position of Director General from within or outside the department of antiquities. Several DGA archaeologists and architects have lately resigned out of frustration and it seems that the institution is back to square one: no director general, insufficient numbers of qualified professionals, no reforms of the laws regulating archaeological work, no funds, and first and foremost, no vision and no direction for the future of archaeology in Lebanon.

We keep our fingers crossed that the future leadership of the DGA will have the political and financial support of the Lebanese government to build a modern institution and to promote archaeological research. Maybe then, like a phoenix, Lebanese Archaeology will rise from its ashes.


One thought on “Lebanon Archaeology

  1. As one interested in Biblical archaeology myself, I think more excavation in places like Lebanon and Syria would potentially shed more light on biblically related subjects, given their contiguity to Canaan/Israel, their interactions with it, their literacy, etc. Who knows what amazing inscriptions could yet lie waiting to be discovered?

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