Saving the Ancient Glass Artifacts Shattered in the Beirut

On August 4, 2020, about a month before Nadine Panayot was set to take over as the curator of the Archeological Museum at the American University of Beirut (AUB), the cash city of Lebanon was rocked by a devastating explosion of ammonium nitrate at the Port of Beirut. The catastrophic event caused an estimated 218 fatalities, 7,000 injuries, and billions of dollars in assets damages.

The blast was so impressive that it was felt as significantly as Cyprus, and the streets of Beirut had been lined in glass from shattered home windows. At the AUB museum, 17 large windows and 5 massive glass doors had been ruined, and 72 of the historic glass vessels on screen lay shattered on its gallery flooring. Only two of the fragile artifacts built it out intact.

Owning survived several earthquakes thanks to Lebanon’s location on the Levant fault line, and two entire world wars, these objects symbolizing 2,000 decades of historical past, from the early Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad periods, experienced appeared invincible. “For them to be gone in a fraction of a second was unbelievable,” claims Panayot.

The display case at the Archeological Museum at the American University of Beirut before the explosion. Only two of the artifacts in the case survived the blast.
The show scenario at the Archeological Museum at the American University of Beirut right before the explosion. Only two of the artifacts in the case survived the blast. © The Trustees of the British Museum and The Archaeological Museum at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon

The shock of seeing these smashed objects did not prevent Panayot, even so. She understood that they could be saved using primary conservation techniques. With the assist of much more than a dozen global establishments and a group of volunteers, Panayot set out to restore the country’s shattered historical past, one glass fragment at a time.

The museum had the important funding for its restoration mission, but because of the monetary disaster that has plagued the country since 2019, it was unable to use its fiscal methods to get the simple material essential to cope with archeological artifacts. When Panayot took more than at the museum on September 1, she attained out to the Institut Countrywide du Patrimoine in Paris with whom she was previously operating on another undertaking. “I desired at least some style of gloves, some kind of masks, and specifically acid cost-free paper,” she says.

Just a number of days afterwards, Claire Cuyaubère, a French specialist in glass and ceramics, landed in Lebanon with 100 cubic toes of recovery and restoration elements. “We were being functioning with Claire close to the clock on our hands and knees, making an attempt to sift via the thousands and 1000’s of shards,” Panayot says.

After the explosion, a team sifted through the shattered glass on the gallery floor of the AUB museum separating fragments of ancient glass from shards of modern glass from the display cases.
After the explosion, a crew sifted via the shattered glass on the gallery flooring of the AUB museum separating fragments of historical glass from shards of present day glass from the exhibit instances. © The Trustees of the British Museum and The Archaeological Museum at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon

It took a week for the group, below Cuyaubère’s steering, to collect all the glass fragments on the museum’s floor. With the teaching that they gained from Cuyaubère, the group obtained a know-how that they previously lacked: staying capable to see the distinction involving the ancient glass and the modern day glass of the gallery’s cabinets and display conditions. Ancient glass is considerably a lot more opaque, but for the reason that the artifacts shattered into pieces of numerous designs and dimensions, occasionally telling the distinction was not so straightforward.

For the upcoming nine months, a crew from the AUB and the Institut Countrywide du Patrimoine in Paris worked for various several hours a day sorting via the fragments and trying to reassemble the pieces that seemed like they went collectively working with conservation adhesive and Paraloid B72, an acrylic resin. This is what Cuyaubère known as “the puzzling stage.” In the beginning, sorting through the glass proved intricate. “But eventually your eyes bought skilled for this workout and we managed to do it,” states Panayot.

Claire Cuyaubère, a French expert in glass and ceramic conservation, worked to repair a Roman ribbed bowl from the first century.
Claire Cuyaubère, a French qualified in glass and ceramic conservation, labored to repair a Roman ribbed bowl from the 1st century. © The Trustees of the British Museum and The Archaeological Museum at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon

So much, 24 historical objects have been restored: 16 pieces at the AUB museum and eight extra at the conservation lab at the British Museum in London, which provided a helping hand correct following the explosion.

The finished vessels never look like they did hundreds of decades back, or even as they did a handful of several years in the past. Not each and every small shard of glass was recovered these puzzles are still lacking parts. Conservators, like Duygu Çamurcuoğlu, senior objects conservator at the London institution, painstakingly loaded gaps with adhesive to make the vessels structurally seem. But holes remain—intentionally. “We resolved not to hide anything at all. We only built ‘gap fills’ for assistance,” suggests Çamurcuoğlu. These objects now have new stories of the devastating hurt they experienced, remnants of a tragedy that influenced and displaced so numerous life. “The scars are there,” she clarifies.

In the aftermath of the explosion, protests erupted across Lebanon against the authorities for its failure to relocate the dangerous chemicals, joining the civil protests that experienced by now been ongoing throughout the region considering the fact that 2019. The damaged and restored vessels have with them that story, way too.

The eight ancient vessels at the British Museum in London before they were reassembled.
The 8 ancient vessels at the British Museum in London before they were being reassembled. © The Trustees of the British Museum and The Archaeological Museum at the American College of Beirut, Lebanon

The eight vessels restored at the British Museum are presently featured in an exhibit called “The Shattered Glass of Beirut.” The exhibit, on show right until October 23, is only momentary the objects will then be returned to the AUB museum in Beirut.

For Panayot, restoring these objects is “a way of connecting the past to the existing and supplying them a new mission, of telling the story of what is going on to Lebanon these days.” The shattered glass of Beirut not only signifies the cultural heritage of larger Lebanon but also what it suggests to maintain on to hope in the system of reconstruction. “I want site visitors to have with them the resilience of the Lebanese folks,” Panayot claims.

About the author: AKDSEO

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