文化遺産国際協力コンソーシアム Japan Consortium for International Cooperation in Cultural Heritage JCIC-Heritage logo JCIC-Heritage

The Archaeological Research Project on the Sites of Palmyra

The Archaeological Research Project on the Sites of Palmyra

Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, Nara Prefecture

Syrian Arab Republic

The Sites of Palmyra

1990-Ongoing Fundamental Research,Conservation and Restoration
01/12/2011
NEXT

BACKGROUND

The World Heritage Site of Palmyra, a Caravan City on the Silk Road

The Syrian Arab Republic (Syria), situated on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, is a small country about half the size of Japan. Syria was governed by several different powers until it gained independence from France in 1946. Its people, however, have considered the whole of the eastern Mediterranean region known as Cham (the area that covers present day Syria, Lebanon and Jordan) as Syrian territory. Situated in the center of the development of civilization, a unique culture was born in Syria, influenced by Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia, Greece and Rome. Artifacts buried in Syria attract the attention of researchers from around the world, and various projects, including ours in Palmyra, are being carried out thanks to the generosity of the Syrian Government.
Palmyra is located in the center of the Syrian desert. It was a city-state that flourished from the first century B.C. to the third century A.D. Balancing the powers of Rome in the west and Parthia in the east, Palmyra was the most prosperous of the cities along the Silk Road. Palmyra’s wealth came to an end in 274, with the failure of Queen Zenobia’s ambitious territorial expansion. The remains of Palmyra measure six kilometers from east to west, and eight kilometers from north to south. The city is composed of various buildings, centered on the Temple of Bel, the god who ruled the universe. Like ancient remains found in Greece and Rome, the city of Palmyra is surrounded by graveyards (necropolises). Inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1982, Palmyra is an outstanding tourist site where visitors can walk freely around the area and experience the history of the city as it was at the height of the east-west caravan trade.

Restored Tomb F (tombs of BWLH and BWRP) (Photo by Kiyohide Saito)

Picture of House Tomb 129-b in the northern necropolis in 3D image processing layered on computer graphics in preparation for restoration and reconstruction(Produced by The University of Shiga Prefecture, ACCORD,K.K., Courtesy of Kiyohide Saito)

ACTIVITIES

Exchanges with Syria after the Nara Silk Road Exposition

Our excavation project on the remains of Palmyra originated in 1988, during the Nara Silk Road Exposition hosted by Nara Prefecture, when some exhibit artifacts were borrowed from Syria. A relationship grew out of that correspondence, and in 1990, Nara Pref. sent a research team (Project Leader: Takayasu Higuchi) on a mission to Palmyra, made up of members from Nara University, Kyoto University, Kyushu University, the Ancient Orient Museum Tokyo, and other institutions. The team continued to work with Syria for 11 years, until 2000, carrying out excavation work on three tombs in the southeast necropolis of Palmyra: a house tomb (Tomb A), and two underground tombs (Tomb C and Tomb F). In the course of the project, restoration and reconstruction was performed on the tomb of the brothers BWLH and BWRP (Tomb F), which had been constructed in 128. The project was based on the principle of anastylosis, in which the reconstruction work is clearly distinguishable from the original remains.
A follow-up excavation, restoration and reconstruction project entitled “A Study on Funerary Practices and Social Backgrounds in Palmyra” was carried out in the southeast necropolis from 2001 to 2005. The project was led by the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara in Nara, with the participation of other institutions such as the University of Shiga Prefecture, Kyushu University, the Ancient Orient Museum of Tokyo, the National Museum of Nature and Science of Tokyo, and Accord Co., and was funded by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (Project Leader: Kiyohide Saito). Excavation work was carried out in three tombs: the oldest existing tomb in Palmyra (Tomb G), an underground tomb (Tomb E), and an underground tomb (Tomb H) constructed in 117 by TYBL. Further restoration and reconstruction work was conducted at Tomb H, inside which magnificent statues can be found in their original positions. Funding for this project was granted by the Sumitomo Foundation, and emphasis was placed on recreating the immediacy of the atmosphere at the time of excavation.

Restored Tomb F (tombs of BWLH and BWRP) (Photo by Kiyohide Saito)

Excavation of the burial facility in the main chamber of Tomb F (Photo by Kiyohide Saito)

Excavated niche at the north wall of Tomb H (Photo by Kiyohide Saito)

RESULTS

Exchanges with Syria after the Nara Silk Road Exposition

In the first phase of the project, carried out from 1990 to 2000, we investigated two underground tombs and a house tomb, and completed restoration and reconstruction on one underground tomb (Tomb F). As a result, visitors to Palmyra can see the newly restored underground tomb, which contributes to tourism in the area. Furthermore, our research-based restoration and reconstruction method was adopted by our Syrian counterparts when the Palmyra Museum carried out its restoration and reconstruction project on the floor and entrance stairs of the Tomb of the Three Brothers.
In the second phase, we investigated two underground tombs and a pit grave containing a wooden coffin with a stone cover, and furthermore conducted restoration and reconstruction on Tomb H. In this project, an underground tomb restored by new and different techniques was added to the southeast necropolis of Palmyra which serves as a field museum. Our research, restoration, and reconstruction project not only provided a resource for tourism, but also created employment for the local community, thus contributing, however slightly, to the economy of Palmyra. Today, international teams from countries such as Poland, Germany, France, USA, Italy and Norway are doing research in Palmyra. Their findings are made public, thus providing tourists with new and exciting discoveries to enjoy while exploring the site.
We began a new project funded by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (Project Leader: Kiyohide Saito) in 2006 in the northern necropolis, in order to study the historical development of funerary practices in Palmyra. The focus of the project shifted from underground tombs to a house tomb (129-b), in order to get an overall understanding of funerary practices in Palmyra. Our goal is to restore and reconstruct House Tomb 129-b, so that the house tombs, whose contents are largely unknown, can play a role in Palmyra’s tourism industry.

Arch of the main chamber of Tomb H during the restoration process (Photo by Kiyohide Saito)

3D scanning of the House Tomb 129-b in the northern necropolis (Photo by Kiyohide Saito)

MAP