Staff and volunteers at the Archaeological Museum at the American University of Beirut retrieve fragments of broken glass vessels damaged by the Beirut blast. (Photo: AUB Office of Communications and Archaeological Museum)

British Museum to restore glass artefacts damaged in Beirut Blast

The British Museum will restore eight ancient glass artefacts damaged during the Beirut blast, as per an announcement by the London cultural institution.

The glass vessels were destroyed when the American University of Beirut’s Archaeological Museum was damaged during last year’s explosion, a mere 3.2 kilometers away from the port where a large amount of ammonium nitrate exploded.

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

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

The explosion resulted in heavy damage to many of the port’s surrounding residential neighborhoods, including the life-threatening destruction of massive amounts of glass. The vessels themselves were shattered into hundreds of pieces and mixed with broken glass from the neighboring cabinets and windows.

Out of the 74 Roman, Byzantine and Islamic-era glass artefacts located in the shattered casing, only 15 vessels were deemed salvageable. Out of those 15, only eight were safe enough to travel to London for restoration.

The remaining seven will remain in storage until the AUB Museum is capable of collecting enough resources and skills to undertake an in-house restoration with help from international parties.

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

The vessels date back to the first century BC, and represent the evolution of glass-production technology in Lebanon. Two are believed to have been imported from neighboring Syria or Egypt. They consist of four rare bowls, a perfume flask and a beaker from the imperial Roman period (first to third century AD), a Byzantine jug (fifth century) and an elite Islamic lustre flask (seventh to ninth century) decorated with silver and copper pigments (probably imported from Syria or Egypt).

The restoration is believed to take around four months of concentrated work.

“The shards of the vessels will be very carefully bonded together with conservation-grade adhesives. Sections are very gradually built up until the remains of the vessel are in one piece,” said a spokesman on behalf of the British Museum.

Once their restoration is finished, the works will be temporarily displayed at the British Museum before being sent back to Beirut.

The blast has caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage, in addition to killing more than 200 people and injuring thousands.