Documenting pottery recovered from an ancient burial cave near Idlib, Syria.
In June 2015, when the Syrian civil war was raging across the countryside of Idlib in northwestern Syria, a local villager began digging into the hillside behind his house to create a makeshift shelter to better protect his family from the daily aerial bombardments. As he was excavating, the man came across the entrance to an ancient burial cave that, upon further exploration, was found to contain scores of pottery vessels and other archaeological artifacts.
The hilly region in southern Idlib where the ancient burial cave was discovered.
Well aware of the importance of preserving Syria’s archaeology, the villager immediately reported his discovery to the Idlib Antiquities Center, a local volunteer organization made up of archaeologists, university professors, museum staff, and community members who remain dedicated to protecting and safeguarding Syria’s heritage during the conflict. The Center quickly sent a team of specialists to survey the burial cave and inventory the various archaeological materials found inside.
Plan of the ancient burial cave created by the Idlib Antiquities Center.
The team’s survey revealed a modest, rough-hewn burial chamber, measuring about 5 x 4 meters, with nearly 250 intact or nearly intact pottery vessels, all of which were dated based on their style and decoration to the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000–1600 B.C.). The tomb contained various honorary and ritual objects, including bronze weapons and tools and an array of cultic figures and objects. Some of the larger pots even contained the remains of deceased infants, a common burial practice of the second millennium B.C.
Some of the nearly 250 intact pottery pieces that were documented during the project.
In order to safeguard the remains, the landowner and local town council approved the transfer of the discovered objects to the Center’s headquarters in Idlib, where they could be safely processed and stored. Finally, in August 2018, with the support of CAORC’s Kaplan Responsive Preservation Initiative (RPI), the Center’s staff began to carefully document each piece of pottery recovered from the tomb, which included writing brief descriptions, making scientific drawings, taking precise measurements, and digital photo documentation. After being documented, the pieces were then wrapped in layers of protective sheeting and bubble wrap for temporary storage in secure and well-labeled boxes kept in the Center.
Members of the Idlib Antiquities Center recording critical information about the tomb’s pottery.
With the support of the Kaplan RPI program, the Center was able to document and store nearly three-quarters of the pottery pieces recovered from the burial chamber and has plans to complete the work when additional funding is available. Ultimately, once the Syrian conflict is resolved, the Center plans to transfer the entire collection to the provincial Idlib Museum where it can be cleaned, conserved, and eventually interpreted and put on public display.
NOTE: This CAORC article is adapted from the original Arabic text written by Nasser Tome of the Idlib Antiquities Center. All photos are courtesy of the Idlib Antiquities Center.
The J.M. Kaplan-funded Responsive Preservation Initiative (RPI), administered by CAORC, provides critical funding to support urgent preservation, documentation, and site management efforts at cultural heritage sites around the Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean.
Learn more about RPI-funded projects at www.caorc.org/rpi-grantees.