Lebanon battles to get its treasures back

11/28/2017

The Temple of Eshmun is the best-preserved Phoenician site in Lebanon. Located close to the southern city of Sidon, the temple was dedicated to the Phoenician god of healing and renewal, one of the ancient culture’s most important deities. Hundreds of artifacts unearthed during excavations were looted by militias during the civil war and sold on the black market, disappearing without a trace. Almost four decades later, two of these objects, worth millions of dollars, are due to return to Lebanon.

Archaeologist Anne Marie Afeiche, the director of the National Museum of Beirut, told Al-Monitor that the two artifacts were unearthed during excavations at the Temple of Eshmun in 1967. One is a marble bull’s head measuring roughly a foot high and the other a marble statue of a calf bearer.

“They come from this very unique site and they represent a very special time frame, which is the end of the Phoenician period,” she said. “They are very characteristic of this period and they are made of marble. We do not have marble in Lebanon, so this marble was imported at the time — because it was so valuable — to build the Temple of Eshmun. They are dated to approximately 450 B.C.”

French archaeologist Maurice Dunand led the excavation of the site from 1963 until the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war in 1975, unearthing hundreds of artifacts that helped shed light on the Phoenician period and the history of Sidon and Lebanon more broadly. The dig was supervised by Lebanon’s Directorate General of Antiquities, and the objects were stored on-site for the duration of the excavation. They were later moved to a storeroom in Byblos, thought to be more secure.

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Al Monitor