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British Museum says will restore ancient artefacts damaged in Beirut blast

Published: Updated:

The British Museum will restore eight ancient glass artefacts damaged in last year’s Beirut port explosion, the London cultural institution announced on Tuesday.

The glass vessels were shattered after 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut’s port caused a blast that devastated the city on August 4, 2020.

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Workers will piece together hundreds of glass fragments at the British Museum’s conservation laboratories in London with funding from The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF).

“These objects hold immense historical, artistic and cultural significance. Their return to their rightful form is a powerful symbol of healing and resilience after disaster,” said TEFAF chairman Hidde van Seggelen.

The artefacts were held in a case displaying 74 Roman, Byzantine and Islamic-era glass vessels in the American University of Beirut’s Archaeological Museum, located 3.2 kilometres (two miles) from the blast.

The explosion caused them to shatter into hundreds of pieces, which were mixed with broken glass from cabinets and windows.

Only 15 vessels were deemed salvageable and eight safe to travel to London for restoration.

Sandra Smith, head of collection care at the British Museum, explained that glass reconstruction is a “delicate process” as shards move out of shape and have to be drawn back under tension.

The vessels, dating back to the first century BC, document the evolution of glass-production technology in Lebanon, with two thought to have been imported from Syria or Egypt.

The works will temporarily go on display at the British Museum before returning to Beirut.

Director Hartwig Fischer said the British Museum’s “expertise and resources” would allow the artefacts to be saved and “enjoyed in Lebanon for many more years to come”.

The August 2020 blast killed more than 200 people, caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage and forced the Lebanese government to resign, exacerbating the country’s health and economic crises.

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