Conservation Heritage Disasters Syrian Arab Republic

US museums provide emergency support for Syria

Syrian curators, heritage experts and civilians are being trained to secure high-risk collections

Experts are still working to determine the extent of looting that has taken place in Syria

US museums are teaming up with the Syrian Interim Government’s Heritage Task Force to help protect Syrian museum collections and stem the loss of cultural heritage amid the country’s ongoing civil war.

Late last month, experts from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and the Pennsylvania Museum’s Penn Cultural Heritage Center quietly organised a three-day training session for curators, heritage experts and civilians in an undisclosed location outside of Syria. Around 20 people from several Syrian provinces attended the event, which focused on securing high-risk collections.

“Local communities are best equipped to identify heritage in need of preservation and protection, and this is precisely what is happening in Syria,” says Richard Leventhal, the executive director of the Penn Cultural Heritage Center, in a statement.

Experts are still working to determine the extent of looting that has taken place in Syria over the past several years and continues to ravage the country’s ancient sites. As reported in the July/August issue of The Art Newspaper, recently published satellite images of Dura-Europos reveal the dramatic scale of looting at the Hellenistic site, near the Iraqi border, between June 2012 and April 2014. The images show hundreds of holes made by looters searching for artifacts.

Organised gangs, antiquities traders and militants from the Islamic State (IS), an Al-Qaeda splinter group, are behind the looting, according to Maamoun Abdulkarim, the director of Syria’s antiquities and museums department.

Among the most threatened cultural heritage objects today are the Ma’arra Museum’s famous collection of Byzantine mosaics. The museum, located in Idlib province, has come under direct attack. Last month’s workshop provided participants with emergency packing and conservation supplies designed to mitigate the damage to its collections.

“While it is very difficult for international heritage organizations to travel into Syria today, there are a number of Syrians who regularly risk their lives to protect their cultural heritage,” said Brian Daniels, the director of research and programmes at the Penn Cultural Heritage Center.

The event’s organisers described the emergency training programme as “a critical first step” in what they hope will be an “extensive new project” to collaborate with locals, document current conditions and address future preservation needs in Syria.

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30 Jul 14
22:24 CET


The Task Force of the Interim GOV. was designed by the NGO Heritage for Peace this summer with the financial support of the Dutch Government. It was the result of extensive discussions with the interim minister of culture and the deputy minister. Our mission is to support ALL Syrians in their efforts to protect and safeguard Syria’s cultural heritage DURING the armed conflict. We believe that through the protection of cultural heritage a process of dialogue can be started off and thus a modest start of peacebuilding can be made. Since spring 2013 our NGO has been working continuously with both the state heritage institution and the opposition and several projects have been realized. At our April conference in Santander, Spain Heritage for Peace succeeded to bring high representatives of both heritage parties at the same table for the first time since the conflict started. For more information see our website

30 Jul 14
22:25 CET


Concerning your sentence "Among the most threatened cultural heritage objects today are the Ma’arra Museum’s famous collection of Byzantine mosaics", I point to how most of the treasure of the Louvre museum in Paris during World War II were saved. The curators and many volunteers transported all movable CH remains to many private homes, vaults and cellars where they were preserved until Hitler diappeared from the face of the earth. I suggest that also in Syria, there are many private caves, cellars and vaults even in churches and convents which can be used temporarily to harbour movable CH in Syria.

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