Syria: Ancient History – Modern Conflict 

Andrew Jamieson, 8 March 2017

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming this evening to hear this talk. The series is a subject, a topic, an area that's very close to my heart. And Lindy, thank you very, very much for inviting me to give this presentation.

As the title of tonight's paper indicates, "Syria, Ancient History, Modern Conflict," is also the title of a forthcoming exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. And this exhibition seeks to highlight the archaeological findings from the University of Melbourne's research projects in Syria, and also to draw attention to the current conflict.

But before we talk about the exhibition, we need to go back. We really need to go back to the beginning. And I want to cover four points in this presentation. I want to tell you a little bit about the Australian archaeological activity in Syria. I then want to say something briefly about the Syrian conflict. I want to talk about the responses from the international archaeological community, particularly highlighting the work of Shirin, and then I will tell you about the forthcoming Syrian exhibition.

How does that sound? Excellent. All right. Can you hear me OK? Brilliant. OK. Hang onto your hats.

So for three decades, archaeologists from Melbourne University conducted archaeological field work in the middle and upper Euphrates River Valley. The first was excavating at the Bronze Age fortress of El-Qitar in the 1980s. Following this, Melbourne undertook salvage excavations at Tell Ahmar. And then, since 1986, the University of Melbourne, in collaboration with the Australian National University, undertook field work at the Hellenistic city of Jebel Khalid.

Now all these three sites, Jebel Khalid, Tell Ahmar, and El-Qitar, were all involved, to varying degrees, in the control and the protection of activity and movement along the Euphrates River during the Hellenistic, the Neo-Assyrian and the Middle and Late Bronze ages. And it was this strategic function that influenced and determined the type of settlements, and the systems of fortification, that developed in this area.

And I should mention, at the very outset, the invitation to work at these sites, El-Qitar, Tell Ahmar, and Jebel Khalid, were all related to salvage projects. The construction of the Tabqa and the Tishrin hydroelectric dams necessitated the excavation of these sites before they were inundated. And so we were very much working under the pump, to do as much as we possibly could in limited time.

So let's just drill down and have a closer look at some of these sites. El-Qitar, situated on a small mountain overlooking a narrow passage of the Euphrates River, about 60 kilometres downstream from the historically important site of Karkemish. El-Qitar is located on the west bank of the Euphrates River, and it dates to the Middle and Late Bronze ages, that is from about 1800 to about 1200 BC.

And from 1984, three seasons of excavations and survey were conducted, first directed jointly by Thomas McClelland and William Culican, from the former departments of Middle Eastern Studies and History at the University of Melbourne.

And the excavations at El-Qitar yielded some amazing discoveries. Particularly significant were the defensive walls and towers. It was clearly a very important strategic place on this west bank of the Euphrates River. The archaeologists also identified a possible palace and a temple, and in the lower city, they discovered something like 30 residential structures divided into residential blocks by a planned system of streets.

Discoveries within these structures included a very interesting silver hoard weighing over two kilogrammes, carved cylinder seals, a very interesting cuneiform clay tablet inscribed in Syro-Hittite style, dealing with regulations of an inheritance.

And based on this evidence, the ceramics, carbon-14, it was clear that El-Qitar was a very important site during this Middle and Late Bronze age period, quite likely becoming part of a defensive line in the 18th century, between the kingdom of Yamhad, in Aleppo, and the kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia.

Then in 1988, the University of Melbourne went back to the Euphrates Valley, under the direction of Guy Bunnens, to undertake the salvage excavations at Tell Ahmar. The red mound-- the site had been formally excavated by a French mission in the late 1920s and early 1930s, when they discovered there a well-preserved provincial Neo-Assyrian palace. Francois Thureau-Dangin, the French Assyriologist who led those excavations, the early excavations, under the auspices of the Louvre, was specifically looking for tablets, the archive.

They took seven metres off the top of the tell, the acropolis, exposing the palace, but, however, found very little epigraphic tablet evidence. So when the University of Melbourne went back in 1988, we decided to focus our attention not on the acropolis, but rather in the middle and lower city areas.

And there, just below the surface in the middle city, we found incredibly well-preserved Neo-Assyrian buildings, in fact up to five well-preserved Neo-Assyrian buildings, with mud brick walls preserved up to a height of approximately two metres. And within those structures, we found the typical diagnostic hallmarks of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, carved ivories, tablets, cuneiform tablets, an abundance of pottery, alluvian inscriptions, subterranean tombs.

This was really paydirt in terms of the archaeological discoveries, a great wealth of material reflecting the importance of Tel Ahmar during this Neo-Assyrian period.

And then the final site, of course, Jebel Khalid. Since 1986, Jebel Khalid has been excavated by a joint team of archaeologists from the ANU and the University of Melbourne, the project directed by Professor Graeme Clark and Dr. Heather Jackson.

Jebel Khalid is situated two kilometres south of El-Qitar on the west bank of the Euphrates, and its ancient name is uncertain, although possibly Amphipolis. It's situated on a 50-hectare limestone plateau, again strongly defended by a very well-marked city wall and towers.

It was clearly a very important Hellenistic city that was established in this part of the Euphrates Valley, in the early 3rd century BC, by Seleucus I Nikator, one of Alexander's generals. Amazingly well-preserved architecture, a one-period site that was abandoned in the '70s BC and not re-inhabited by the Romans-- only much, much later.

But we find here at Jebel Khalid, through those excavations, amazing well-preserved artefacts from this Hellenistic city. You see the reconstructed painting based on the fresco fragments that were found, a wonderful Bronze Age intact lamp, beautifully restored, inscribed gems, precious material. This was a Greek city, but had a mixed Syrian-Greek population.

This work of the Australian archaeologists really provided a training ground for many students, Australian students, in the study of near-eastern archaeology. And I should just acknowledge the significant contribution of these Australian archaeologists.

Starting at this end, of course, that's Bill Culican, from the History Department, who was the joint director with Thomas McClellan, an American archaeologist who came to Melbourne, who headed up the excavations at El-Qitar, and, of course, Tony Sagona, Professor Sagona, who's just recently retired from the University of Melbourne, was a student himself at the El-Qitar excavations. In the centre, we've got Guy Bunnens, the Belgian Assyriologist who replaced Tom McClellan at Melbourne, who directed the excavations at Tell Ahmar.

And then, next to Guy, we have Peter Connor, Heather Jackson, and Graeme Clark, those scholars who have really dedicated a lifetime to the archaeological excavations at Jebel Khalid. And we must acknowledge the contribution of our Syrian colleagues. Whilst these projects, these three decades of work, provided opportunities, employment opportunities, much welcomed employment opportunities, for many of the local community, and we formed close friendships, relationships with these, and that work, those discoveries, would not have been possible without those workers who played such an important role.

These excavations yielded material that provided the subject matter for many master's and PhDs. I have to say that my master's and my PhD both came out of these research projects. And I'm always amazed that, when I'm overseas, how well known and how well recognised is the Australian contribution to north Syrian archaeology, perhaps much better known overseas than it is recognised here.

So when I returned to Syria in 2008, in my position now at the University of Melbourne, it was not surprising that I headed to north Syria. And of course, the first stop was the Aleppo Museum. And when I arrived at the Aleppo Museum in 2008, they said, Andrew, where have you been? We've been waiting for you to return. You need to go back. You need to go back to the Euphrates Valley. You need to go to Tell Qumluq, and you need to go to Qal'at Najim.

And hence, beginning a whole new era of the University of Melbourne and Australian involvement in this Euphrates River Valley, and I just want to quickly mention these two sites, Tell Qumluq and Qal'at Najim.

Tell Qumluq is one of the few sites that really didn't get excavated when the Tishrin Dam reservoir was created. And you can see now that it's actually cut off from the main road. It's an island within the reservoir, and I think the people at the Aleppo Museum, Dr. Youssef Kanjou, the director of the museum, said go to Qumluq. Australians can swim, to get to this site.

In fact, so we went there, and in 2009, and in 2010, we conducted a surface survey. The base of the tell is just littered with archaeological debris. Because Tell Qumluq-- it's between Tell Ahmar and Karkemish. It's very close to the Turkish frontier-- is now an island, with the fluctuating water levels of the Euphrates and the Tishrin, it's exposing and eroding a lot of the remains around the ancient tell, abundant evidence, as you can see here, documented.

And it is a classic Near Eastern tell. And you can see the step trench that was made by Dr. Hamido Hammade, who made the original investigations, exploratory investigations. And from the exploratory step trench and the surface survey, we can see that Qumluq is really the Sara Lee of archaeological sites, layer upon layer upon layer that go from the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic and Ottoman.

Because we haven't had the opportunity to really undertake systematic excavation, we can't be sure how well represented all those periods might be. But nevertheless, it indicates something of its significance in terms of its historical place in this area.

When we were there, we were conscious of the damage that was being done to Tell Qumluq, particularly around the base on the eastern side. And it was somewhat distressing to see the archaeological remains, literally before us, falling into the Euphrates River. We can see here exposed burials of the third millennium, the Early Bronze Age, the EBIII-EBIV period, around 2500 to 2000, literally collapsing into the reservoir.

And in fact, when we were there, it was devastating to see this happening before our very eyes. We were literally plucking artefacts out of the river. And in fact, there was need to undertake some emergency salvage excavations at Qumluq to recover some important cist burials from the EBIII-EBIV Early Bronze Age period.

And of course, these burials contained amazing intact objects, bronzers, heavily corroded because of the severity of the water damage, similarly, the skeletal remains, but the pottery, so diagnostic, typical of this Euphrates Valley Early Bronze Age third millennium horizon, notably these very tall chalice-like vessels that were named champagne cups by Sir Leonard Wooley and Lawrence-- it was T. Lawrence-- when they're working at nearby Karkemish.

And more material, literally pouring out of the ground or being plucked from the Euphrates. This situation highlighted, to us, a real problem in the Tishrin, and that is the accumulation, the vast accumulation, of archaeological collections. And it is a problem, what to do with all of this material that had been produced through the salvage excavations of the Tabqa and the Tishrin, as well as in more recent excavations.

And this is what they had in mind when they said, Andrew, we want you to go to Qal'at Najim. This brought about the creation of the Syrian-Australian archaeological research collaboration project, with our colleague, Dr, Youssef Kanjou, the director of the Aleppo Museum.

The project was really designed to establish a repository for archaeological collections from this region, this Euphrates River Valley region, in north Syria. Qal'at Najim is on the west bank of the Euphrates, not far from the modern town of Menbij. And it is here at Qal'at Najim where you have the impressive remains of an Arabic crusader castle, principally dating from the 13th century CE, with noticeable Ayyubid architectural influences, heavily restored by the Syrian Department of Antiquities and Museums, but has not really been fully investigated for its adaptive re-uses.

And it was the late Dr. Hamido Hammade, from Aleppo, who suggested that Qal'at Najim may make an ideal repository for the archaeological collections that had been extracted through those salvage excavations in this part of northern Syria. And we would have to agree. The vast large chambers and corridors provided abundant storage potential and opportunity for this accumulation of archaeological collections that are being stockpiled in mud brick magazines, dotted up and down the river valley.

So in 2010, we identified four stages in the Qal'at Najim project, the first being the creation of an archaeological collections repository, the second, to develop a research framework for managing these significant archaeological collections, the third being to think about educative, interpretive and heuristic-related opportunities, and the final, but not the least important, to think about how we can engage the local community around archaeology and cultural heritage in this part of northern Syria.

So in 2010, we commenced work on the first stage with the creation of the repository. And 20,000 diagnostic fragments from the Neo-Assyrian city of Tell Ahmar, that had been excavated by Guy Bunnens and the Melbourne team, were relocated to Qal'at Najim to provide a pilot for the development of the repository here at the castle.

And that was a very satisfying task to see this coming into fruition. We also started thinking about the research frameworks, looking at the historical archaeological periods, as a way of trying to think of a management framework for these collections, relating to the sites from the Tabqa and the Tishrin, thinking that we could allocate resources to those periods or sites that represent perhaps less well-known periods or historic themes, and so on.

And we also started to think about the educative and the interpretive opportunities, but unfortunately, the situation in Syria has really prevented us from going forward with the second, third, and fourth stages of the project. But we were really critically aware of this desire to be able to establish, at Qal'at Najim, material that would be in Arabic, that would talk about the significance of the archaeological findings, that would be made available to those people living in the communities from that region, that are often overlooked by the foreign archaeologists, in terms of the research projects that have gone on.

So first part, let's drill down, and talk about the Syrian crisis. So the Syrian uprising has turned into a brutal civil war between the government and rebel forces, that has descended into a regional sectarian conflict. The situation deteriorated further with the rise of the Islamic State, who violently pursued the creation of a new caliphate in the Middle East.

The war in Syria is entering its sixth year, with no end in sight. The toll of the war is unimaginable, the loss of life overwhelming. The war has displaced and impoverished more than half the population. Those who remain in the country, and particularly in the cities, face continuous threats of violence, with limited access to resources, and aid workers struggle to meet the needs of the inhabitants, and often cannot access areas suffering from intense bombardment.

So how did we end up here? The unrest grew out of the 2011 Arab Spring protests. This coincided with the most intense drought ever recorded in Syria, which lasted from 2007 to 2010, and resulted in widespread crop failure, an increase in food prices, and a mass migration of farming families to urban centres.

The country also faced particularly high youth unemployment rates. At the start of the war, discontent against the government was said to be the strongest in Syria's poor areas. These included cities with high poverty rates such as Daraa in the south, and Homs in the centre, and the poorer districts of the larger cities.

The war in Syria is being fought by several factions. You've got the Syrian government and its allies. You've got the Free Syrian Army. You've got the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Salafi, including al-Nusra. You've got IS or ISIL, Daesh. There is no denying the conflict in Syria is complex, and no one predicted this catastrophe.

Various factions receive substantial support from outside the country, making the problem that much more serious. The war in Syria has also resulted in overwhelming destruction to the country's heritage sites, cities and monuments, including those places inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list such as Palmyra, and of course the old city of Aleppo, which have become battlegrounds, with civilians caught in the crossfire between numerous warring parties.

The UNESCO World Heritage list has all six sites of Syria placed on the endangered list, Aleppo, Damascus, Palmyra, Bosra, and, of course, the Dead Cities, Qal'at Simeon in the north. The destruction of antiquities has been caused by shelling, army entrenchment, looting at various tells, museums, and monuments. And this instability, created by the conflict, has had additional and serious repercussions for the archaeology, with a lot of illegal looting and digging.

In 2014 and 2015, following the rise of IS, several sites in Syria were destroyed by the group as part of a deliberate destruction of cultural heritage. Really the front page headlines was clearly what the objective was here, to give IS that notoriety, that level of attention and front page publicity, that headline. And at Palmyra, the group destroyed many ancient statues, temples, and monuments.

Before the conflict, the sprawling site of Palmyra was one of Syria's main tourist attractions, of course very much associated with Queen Zenobia, during the Roman period, and a key Syrian desert-side part of that caravan trade network, attracting many tourists, visitors, every year.

And since the Islamic state took Palmyra in 2015, the extremists have demolished some of its best known artefacts and monuments, The Temple of Bel, tragically, and the famous Triumphal Arch, before and after, damaged by the retreating IS fighters.

The Palmyra Museum, also a scene of significant damage, this is looting on an industrial scale. And Syrian archaeologist, Dr. Khaled al-Asaad, head of antiquities for Palmyra, a position he held for 40 years, was publicly beheaded by IS on the 18th of August 2015.

He was 81 years of age, had devoted a lifetime to the research, the interpretation, of the archaeological findings of Palmyra. He was killed for not revealing, to IS, the location of the antiquities that had been removed from the museum for safekeeping.

And of course, we've seen, in 2016, when the Syrian government re-took Palmyra, the Russian orchestra performing in the ancient amphitheatre. This really provoked, I think, some strong responses from the international community, particularly the archaeological community, because I think everyone was still in mourning, and there was a lot of talk about restoration.

And of course the Polish mission, for decades, has been the main investigator at Palmyra, and didn't seem to even be mentioned in any of the conversation about what was happening at Palmyra.

I just want to mention quickly the Aleppo Museum. The Aleppo Museum, because of course, the Aleppo Museum is where all the objects, the significant objects, from El-Qitar, Tell Ahmar, and Jebel Khalid went for display at the end of every season.

And of course, it's really 3% to 5% of what came out of the ground at those excavations. When the war started, the staff at the Aleppo Museum did what they could to prepare for the conflict. You see the galleries here without objects on display. Those that couldn't be removed for safekeeping were sandbagged, because there wasn't time. There wasn't resources. They weren't equipped to deal with the scale of the problem.

The curators, under the direction of Youssef Kanjou, did manage to remove the significant objects and replace them with copies, so all is not lost, but the whereabouts of those objects remains unknown.

And just to give you some idea of the challenges here, those sandbags that were put in place at the beginning of the conflict perished, so really, there's no easy solutions here. And of course, the inventory of the Aleppo Museum wasn't digitised. This is the register of the objects of the Aleppo Museum, so they really needed help.

So the conflict has resulted in severe human rights violations, many massacres, and caused a massive refugee crisis. The Syrian Centre for Policy Research reported, in February 2016, the death toll to be 470,000, with 1.9 million wounded, reaching a total of 11.5 of the entire population.

Over the course of the war, a number of peace initiatives have been launched, including the Geneva Peace Talks. I think Geneva IV has just finished this week, led by the United Nations, but fighting continues with no real end in sight.

A list compiled in 2014, in association with Heritage for Peace, documents 38 cultural heritage organisations and the actions they are taking towards the preservation and protection of Syria's cultural heritage. A significant number of groups were formed directly in response to the hostilities that commenced in 2011. Both Syrian and foreign agencies are represented on the list, and not surprisingly, competing interests and opposing views are hindering a coordinated heritage response effort.

So I just want to talk now about Shirin. Come on, Andrew, get going. All right. Shirin, the Syrian Heritage in Danger, an international research initiative, a network created in 2014. So at the International Congress on Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, ICAANE, at the 9th ICAANE, in 2014, in Basel, there was a special workshop organised on Syrian heritage. And it discussed the problems, the war, the situation in Syria.

I attended that workshop. And I was a little bit confronted by the muteness of so many of the participants. There just really didn't seem to be a strong response from this very important body that represents, at an international level, the community of Near Eastern scholars. And so many of the international members of ICAANE had established their careers through archaeological research projects in Syria.

And in fact, one of my students, Diane Fitzpatrick, really was quite outspoken, and said, we should be doing more. And we all agreed. So Shirin was created in response to a request by the participants at the 9 ICAANE Basel meeting. And we have a website, and I should just mention what we are trying to do.

So Shirin is an initiative from the global community of scholars active in the field of archaeology, art, and history of the ancient Near East. And it brings together a significant proportion of those international research groups that were active in Syria, prior to 2011.

Now let's not forget that before the Syrian crisis, there were over 140 permits held by foreign missions working in Syria. There was a lot of research activity going on in Syria. There needs to be a response, a significant response, from that community.

So an international committee was formed, and possibly because of my troublemaking, I was invited to represent Australia. Michelle Maqdissi, the former director of the Syrian Department of Antiquities and Archaeology, is also an advisor. But the international committee is made up by senior experts, directors of missions, projects, in Syria.

Our key priorities, the Shirin key priorities, are providing archaeological experience and expertise. This body of scholars has an incredibly detailed knowledge and experience of the archaeology of Syria that needs to be making that available. We need to be producing damage assessment reports based on that knowledge, those archives, that experience.

We need to be looking and evaluating the provenance of the illicitly excavated artefacts, and we also need to be supporting our Syrian colleagues, particularly in the area of creating databases for sites and museum collections.

So one of the things that we do is we produce newsletters, which you can find on the Shirin website. The damage assessment reports-- all the project directors of those 140 permits were sent these forms to fill out, which we have been collating and coordinating. And we were able to, through satellite imagery, and our own networks, produce these assessments that can give us accurate indications of what the situation is, like here at Bosra, prepared by Professor Frank Bremer.

And we can start to document and record the various damage and destruction through that damage assessment process, as we can see here. The first statutory meeting of the Shirin International Committee was at the 61st Recontres Assyriologiques Internationale in Bern. The second meeting happened last year in Vienna as part of the 10th ICAANE.

And I'm pleased to report that the third statutory meeting of the Shirin International Committee will happen in July this year at Marburg, part of the Recontres Assyriologiques Internationale meeting, which is looking, appropriately, at dealing with antiquity, past, present, and future.

And Shirin, as part of this, will be hosting a special workshop on Heritage in Conflict, a Review of the Situation in Syria and Iraq. And we have papers, actually many papers, particularly papers from Syrian and Iraqi archaeologists, that will be looking at Syria, the organisation and action of local authorities, the Aleppo case, and actions abroad, colleagues in exile, and NGOs.

The Shirin international initiative has also produced a motion on the restoration of Palmyra, a communique on the situation in Aleppo, and contributed significantly towards the development of an ethics charter for Near Eastern archaeology and Assyriology.

It's better than doing nothing, and I'm pleased that it has mobilised some members of the international archaeological community. I'm delighted to say that in Australia-- and in fact, Australia was one of the first countries to respond, with the formation of the Australian National Committee overseen by Professor Graeme Clark and Dr. Heather Jackson, and Doctor John Tidmarsh-- and we have representatives from many of those other groups that you see there.

We've identified, for our objectives, to continue to support our Syrian colleagues, particularly the director of the Aleppo Museum, Dr. Youssef Kanjou, currently in Tubingen, on the 12th of March 2013. In the middle of the night, when we got the call, we need to go, and we need to go now. We knew what we had to do.

We've also investigated the opportunities to develop a project with the Aleppo Museum, curate an exhibition. Great, I can take that off the list, and develop an education programme to really try and inform and contribute to what's happening there.

So Lindy. How are we doing? Are we on track? Excellent. All right. We're on the homestretch. Here we go. So let's talk about the exhibition.

It will be my 23rd exhibition in the Classics and Archaeology Gallery in the Ian Potter Museum of Art. It will be my last exhibition, and possibly the most significant. So I'm hoping that when this opens, you will come and see it. As I mentioned at the start, the exhibition seeks to highlight the archaeological findings from the University of Melbourne research projects in Syria, at El-Qitar, Tell Ahmar, and Jebel Khalid, and also draw attention to the current conflict.

And it will do this through those case sites, and we are going to focus on Palmyra. So I want to just, in the remaining few minutes, take you on a virtual tour of this planned exhibition. Here we have a floor plan, a footprint, of the Classics and Archaeology Gallery.

And let's start in case number 1. I always feel that if I can lock down case number 1, if I can get the right object in case number 1, the rest of the exhibition will all fall into place. Now how can we put up an exhibition on Syria without the objects? Well, we did check your database, and we did find that there were some objects here.

But we found something at the Australian War Memorial from Palmyra, a bust, given to the war memorial by Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel, who was given it by a sheikh of Tadmur, modern Palmyra.

Two Australian airmen were forced down in Syria and saved through the hospitality of an Arab sheikh. As a reward, since a gift of money was out of the question, Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel presented the sheikh with a gold watch, and in return, was given this sculpture. So the Australian War Memorial has very, very kindly, at very short notice, agreed to send this bust of a woman-- her name is Hagar-- and there's a Syriac inscription that mentions her title.

of course, from Palmyra. It's a funerary stele. It's of unmistakable Palmyrene style. The drapery, the jewellery, indicates this is a person of social standing, and so she will appear in the first case in the exhibition.

As we head round, we will also have, from our own special collections, a copy of the Ruins of Palmyra, otherwise Tadmur, in the desert, a publication from 1753, that contains some of the most evocative images of this British journey to the eastern Mediterranean, and included places like Baalbek and Palmyra, lavishly illustrated, and here in the exhibition.

And this will be juxtapositioned, at the end of the gallery, by a large photo of the Triumphal Arch of Palmyra, to really wrap around this exhibition. And next to that will be a monitor that will play a short video on the reconstruction of the Palmyra arch.

This reconstruction was coordinated by the London-based Institute for Digital Archaeology, and new technologies in digital copying and 3D reconstruction are allowing us to bring back, not just monuments, but entire cities, illustrating what these technologies can do to partially alleviate the material devastation caused by terrorist action.

It's not without controversy. And of course when Boris Johnson unveiled it, people talked about digital colonialism and the Disneyfication of archaeological sites and monuments, but nevertheless, I think, given what's happened at Palmyra, in our exhibition, we need to be talking about this.

Khaled, the 80-year-old Director of Antiquities gave up his life. We are in a museum. We would be doing the same. We are just gatekeepers of our collections. And it's important that we don't become desensitised, or not talk about some of these important issues.

In the Centre of the gallery will be the Australian or University of Melbourne contribution. Because we don't have objects in those, four freestanding cases will be electronic devices containing high-res images of some of the most archaeologically important finds that came out of those excavations, like these Phoenician-style ivories that were found at Tell Ahmar, from the 7th century, used to inlay wooden furniture, carefully conserved, and were sent to the Aleppo Museum.

This is in the Phoenician school with those Egyptianizing influences, beautiful, fine, fragile items, examples of the Luwian inscription. I remember being at Tell Ahmar the day this was found. It was upside down. It was just being recycled as a stone threshold, and it was turned over to reveal this Hittite hieroglyphic script.

These are incredibly significant archaeological finds. And the clay tablets, the 23 cuneiform tablets, were found in area C, that give us the names and details of the individuals living here at Tel Ahmar, their transactions and acquisitions.

From Jebel Khalid, some of the most spectacular finds from this Hellenistic city, is this, the head of Hercules, in limestone fragments, life-sized fragments of marble statuary, very finely incised gems, beautiful pieces of painted plaster.

And from El-Qitar, the Hittite tablet, the silver hoard, the wonderful gold jewellery. And in the other parts of the Centre of the gallery, we do have material objects. The generosity of the Syrian Department of Antiquities meant that because they were salvage projects, we were allowed to bring back a share of the finds, to Australia, and we have significant collections of pottery, diagnostic sherds, some lamps, some wonderful terra cotta figurines.

And here, I must acknowledge this important contribution that Dr. Heather Jackson, who I can see sitting at the back of the room, has made in providing information and material available for this exhibition. Thank you, Heather.

Persian writers, seance amulets, mantels, and of course the documentation of the field work itself. I'll just let these images wash over you.

From my point of view, I felt it was very important to include part of the excavation archive in this exhibition, the notebooks, the drawings, the reconstructions, and the publications. The contribution of the Australian archaeologists to the archaeology of north Syria, as I mentioned, has been significant. This body of work has been published in the excavation reports, and these items, these volumes, will also figure in the exhibition.

And the ephemera, the permits and the correspondence, the telex, I think sent by Cliff Ogleby, arrived back OK, paid the guards' salary. So important. When this war started, we talked in Basel about all those permit holders really needing to fulfil their responsibilities, to, if possible, continue to pay your guards. This is the last line of defence.

The drawings and the illustrations, the sketches and the drawings, the team photos, from those three decades of archaeological research.

There will be a symposium in August. I might be jumping the gun here. I'm hoping that we can persuade Professor Ross Burns, the former Australian ambassador to Damascus, the author of Monuments of Syria, and most recently Aleppo, to participate, and, if we can find the resources, our Syrian colleagues, such as Dr. Youssef Kanjou, the former director of the Aleppo Museum, who has, in exile, produced two very important publications, "A History of Syria in 100 Sites" that appeared last year in English and this year in Arabic, again, highlighting the need to make the information available to the local communities, to the Syrians themselves.

So if any of what I've said tonight resonates. I invite you to have a look at Shirin, the website. I encourage you to support our initiatives and our activities. I invite you all to come and see Syria, Ancient History, Modern Conflict, that will open at the end of March and beyond for, I think, about five months, until August.

Can I acknowledge our Syrian colleagues and friends, Professor Graeme Clark and Dr. Heather Jackson, from the Jebel Khalid project; doctors Guy and Alec Bunnens from the Tell Ahmar project; doctors Tom McClelland and Ann Porter, from the El-Qitar project; the director of the Ian Potter Museum, Kelly Gellatly, and her team; Holly Jones; Cliff Ogleby; Anneliese Van De Ven, for providing significant important support; the Australian War Memorial for lending us that bust from Palmyra; special collections at the Bailey Library.

Can I also just finish that next week, there will be a special screening of a film, The Destruction of Memory, a documentary over at the University of Melbourne, on Thursday the 16th of March, at 6:30, in the new Arts West Building in the Kathleen Fitzpatrick Theatre.

If this is something that interests you, please come along. There will be a panel discussion at the end of that screening. Kate Darian-Smith, Professor Kate Darian-Smith, Krystal Buckley, a former president of Australian ICOMOS, and, I think, myself, are members of that panel that will be discussing that.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.

Wow. Thank you very much for an absolutely fantastic lecture and inspiring talk. We'll now open the floor to questions. I'm sure there's lots of questions that people want to ask. Over here with Deb?

Are any of the participants in this horrible war paying any attention to the destruction that they may be causing, and if so, if any of them do give a damn, is your group--

What was the last part?

Is your group having any input?

Yeah. So I think the belligerents, or the parties involved in the conflict, are certainly deliberately destructing monuments, as I mentioned, as a form of propaganda. They know that it guarantees them a headline, and that's what they're seeking, particularly at high-profile sites like Palmyra.

It really questions just, inscription on the World Heritage list, add or detract. We know that the sale of looted antiquities is a major source of revenue. It's talked about as being the second largest source of revenue outside of oil, for some of these elements. The situation is so problematic, Shirin and the other groups that are trying to do things, I think, are very limited to what they can do.

I think we're trying to support our Syrian colleagues. There are still people in Syria that we are trying to support. We're trying to support the documentation, and the reporting of the damage, but I think realistically, I know within our international committee, we're sort of talking about post-conflict, in terms of restoration, where we can really do, and it will be massive when that time comes.

Thank you, Andrew. Are you and the other members of Shirin at all concerned for your personal safety? And perhaps secondly, why is this to be your last exhibition? That would be very sad.

Safety, no, I'm not concerned. I mean, for those of you that know me, you know Syria defines my archaeological career. My partner is Syrian. We have an apartment in Aleppo. We are in contact with our friends and relatives in Syria on a daily, if not every second day basis. So we know what's going on there. There's no glass left in any of the windows of the apartment, I have to say, but the apartment still exists.

Second point, whilst I mentioned that this will be my last exhibition, I don't want to be too dramatic about it. But I have an opportunity to consolidate my research with the retirement of Professor Tony Sagona, and I really feel that this is a good opportunity for me to sort of step back from the museum, in that curatorial role, and be more active.

Although, of course, I have to say, for the last 13 or so years and 22 exhibitions, I've enjoyed every minute of that opportunity.

I thought I'd heard of an international organisation that actually chased down documented looted products. Have you heard of such an organisation?

On the looted antiquities? Yep. Look, I didn't mention it, but we know that the porous borders between Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq are seeing, on a massive scale, antiquities going out of Syria. In the north, in the Euphrates Valley, in the Kurdish-controlled areas, they're actually trying to stem the flow, and have created warehouses where they are capturing and collecting this material so that it's not lost.

But it is unchecked. And it is on a big scale. I think what we're keen to do through Shirin, particularly given those project directors, that intimate knowledge of those sites, their knowledge of what was in their magazines, to play a role in identifying material that might be surfacing.

But it's a complex matter, this illegal looting of sites. We've talked about this deliberate destruction for purposes of propaganda and front page headlines, but in the chaos of what's unfolding in Syria, of course, we've got opportunistic sale of material.

In fact, when I was in Europe-- we were in Berlin-- we saw, on people's mobile phones, are you interested in any of this material? It was disturbing, but, of course, you've got a desperate situation, and in desperate times, people will do desperate things.

It comes back to the point of Qal'at Najim. It comes back to the point of engaging the local community. It comes back to the responsibility, the ethical and moral responsibility, of the foreign missions to be able to produce material for Syrians, for those audiences, to really highlight the significance, the archaeological historical significance, of this material.

And that's what we started before this happened. We were too late. We really were too late. But I'm hoping that when we go back, and we will go back, we can address that. And I know that all my European colleagues know that when that time comes, it will be a very different situation. It will be a very different Department of Antiquities that we are dealing with. And we will have to rethink how that work and that activity is all undertaken.

Hi. You mentioned the note, where saying, paying the guards in Syria. Could you explain which guards and where they were?

So normally with an excavation permit, the University of Melbourne, under the direction of Heather Jackson and Graeme Clark, had assigned Jebel Khalid, and they had that approval until the end of the excavations. And often, that will be an annual excavation, and there will be requirements that go with that permit and that concession.

That will also include hosting the antiquities representative during the field season, and, of course, every site has a site guard that is there in your absence, that is responsible. And the project, the foreign mission, absorbs that cost as part of the permit, the project permit.

And of course with the problems since 2011, people have felt, well, I can't go, so do I stop paying? I know that the Australian projects have been doing everything they possibly can to be providing, and getting the payment, by whatever means, through Western Union or through our own networks, because of the importance of that.

And we depend on those relationships, those local relationships, very, very much. And that telex that Cliff Ogleby found from the excavation archive just indicates that that's something that the projects have been doing since this work began, back in the 1980s.

Look. I was devastated in Basel when we had this first workshop at the ICAANE, and all of these senior European and North American archaeologists were sitting there, and there was just silence about what we should be doing. And some archaeologists-- I don't want to mention names-- have packed up and have started projects in Iran. And again, it comes back to this ethical and moral requirement of our commitment here, and what that means.

I want to thank you, Andrew, from myself and from the audience, I'm sure, for an absolutely inspiring talk. You've covered so many different things, all the things that ring true in the work that we do, across the board, working in museums, about ethical approaches, about relationships, about developing and keeping that trust with communities, about the importance of documentation, and thinking very laterally about what we do.

And it's not just objects. It's about all those networks, and finding wonderful things in the Australian War Memorial. I mean, all of us have these items that people say, why do you have that? Well, it's because of times like this that it ends up being that these things, you could never--

As you could not envisage that this was going to happen in Syria, you cannot envisage the future importance of things that we all have in our collections. So I just want to extend a very, very great thank you for launching our first, well, our series for 2017, with such a wonderful lecture. And I'll just encourage you all to express our thanks to Andrew for a great talk.

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