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Conserving mosaics in Middle East March 30, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece.

Greek archaeologists help in project

mosaics1.jpg  mosaics2.jpg  A mosaic floor from Maryamin in the Hama Museum in Syria (right). Left, members of a delegation of experts with one of the most significant discovery of mosaics. Scholars will create a database of all the mosaics that can be used in future research.

Greek technicians and scholars are quietly helping to restore and highlight Greco-Roman and Byzantine-era monuments in Jordan and Syria. The European Center of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Monuments (EKBBM), is involved in restoring the mosaics at the St Lot Basilica in Jordan near the Dead Sea, and numerous mosaic floors in Syria with Greek inscriptions. There are thousands of square meters of Greco-Roman and Byzantine mosaics in Syrian public buildings, churches, mosques and private residences, Professor Haralambos Bakirtzis, EKBBM head in Greece, said.

The Syrian authorities initiated the effort to study, document and conserve all the surviving mosaics on its territory. The plan is to update old archives, take new photographs, create a database and conduct a comparative study. Students and conservators do research and conservation, and jointly publish the results.

The center also funded the conservation of the St Lot mosaics. The excavation, conducted by the British Museum and the Jordanian Archaeological Service, under the supervision of archaeologist and EKBBM member Constantinos Politis, unearthed seven mosaic floors bearing Greek inscriptions and dating to the 6th and 7th centuries. Other mosaic tiles scattered around the site date back further, to the 4th and 5th centuries.

The mosaics will go into a new museum funded by Jordan that is to be built on a raised site next to the digs. It was Politis, who divides his time between Syria, Jordan, London and Greece, who had the idea for the museum. The museum study is already under way.

The finds offer new insight into Greco-Roman civilization in the Middle East. “You can’t look at those mosaics separately from Greco-Roman civilization,” Bakirtzis said. “It is a major chapter in the history of the Middle East.”

He explained what a wealth of religious and worldly information the images in the mosaics provide, as do the many Greek inscriptions, which reveal details about technology, workshops, how the mosaics were made, and the economy in general.

“The existence of so many mosaics indicates the growth of Christian communities in the area. They contain the names of church and secular leaders, owners, and the names of churches,” he said. And the mosaics bear witness to widespread use of the Greek language.

The collaboration of EKBBM with Damascus University’s Archaeological Research Center began in 2004, at the invitation of the rector of Damascus University. The project has the support of the Syrian Directorate of Antiquities and Museums and is under the general direction of Bakirtzis, Politis and Amr Al-Azm from the Syrian Culture Ministry. Also working on the project are Mamoun Abdel Kareem, professor of ancient history at Damascus University; Vicken Abajian from the Syrian Culture Ministry; Dimitris Karadimas, a professor of Ancient Greek and vice president of the Greek Society of Middle Eastern Studies; conservator Stefania Hlouveraki; and eight postgraduate students from Damascus University. The two main aims of the project, Politis explained, are to create a database of all the mosaics in Syria and publish a catalog for use by scholars.

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