Deir ez-Zor (Syrien)
Digitizing the Inventory of the Museum of Deir ez-Zor (Syria)
In a world of conflict, war, looting, and total destruction inventories of immovable, movable, and intangible cultural heritage are indispensable. Over centuries these inventories were written by hand on perishable materials – and often destroyed even if deposited apart of the objects they listed.
Obviously modern digital and illustrated inventories have the advantage that they may be kept at several independent localities and thus be protected from destruction. Furthermore, they can be disseminated quickly to involved authorities and institutions; they are useful identifying and tracing destroyed, looted, or robbed items; and they are an indispensable tool for restoration and reconstruction after the end of any given conflict.
During the past six decades the “Direction Générale des Antiquités et des Musées” (DGAM) of Syria has created an impressive decentralized landscape of Museums. 36 in total number, the National Museums of Damascus, Aleppo, and Palmyra are known worldwide. Unfortunately, numerous Museums have been and still are threatened by destruction and/or looting during the recent years of conflict in Syria. In spite of all adversities the DGAM has done an excellent job protecting the country’s cultural heritage. Nevertheless, without digital inventories, efforts to manage, protect and prioritize Syria’s heritage, and to deal effectively with future developments are held back. Consequently, DGAM has built up a database of inventories of all Syrian Museums during the past three years.
The National Museum of Deir ez-Zor
One of the decentralized new museums was the one in Deir ez-Zor. Founded in 1974 on the bases of a donation of a private collector it became the focal point of Syrian and international excavations conducted in eastern Syria once the newly constructed building was completed in 1992. In a joint venture of the DGAM and the Freie Universitaet Berlin the permanent exhibition was created, and in May of 1996 the Museum was inaugurated for the public.
When the war in Syria started in 2011 the Museum was closed and the objects displayed in the permanent exhibition were stored in the basement. Since 2013 parts of the city of Deir ez-Zor are controlled by ISIL fighters; the demarcation line between them and the Syrian military forces extends only 200 m of the Museum. In two spectacular actions in 2014 and 2015 DGAM has evacuated thousands of objects from the threatened Museum.
The project and its partners
In 2014 DGAM and Freie Universitaet Berlin agreed to conduct a pilot project digitizing the inventory of the National Museum of Deir ez-Zor. DGAM will digitize the Museum registration book and recently acquired information; the FU-part is based on file cards and other documents saved in Berlin since the cooperation on the permanent exhibition. The German part of this joint venture is sponsored by the Foreign Ministry of Germany. It has been accepted by the "UNESCO-Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Cultural Heritage Project"; it cooperates with the "Syrian Heritage Archive Project" (SHA) of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI), the ICOM-Comité International pour la Documentation (CIDOC), and with shirin (Syrian Heritage in Danger: an International Research Initiative & Network).
Aims of the project
During the past decades the collection of the National Museum of Deir ez-Zor has been increased massively by items from national and international excavation missions. Essentially the inventory consists of objects which have received a Museum ID and those which have not.
In a first step the data of the 21.867 officially registered objects, that is those which have a Museum ID, are transferred into a database. The denomination of the data fields follows the Object-ID-standard. The aim is to produce an illustrated list with diagnostic data in English and Arabic.
In a second step the database will be complemented by those objects that are kept in the Museum but have not received a Museum ID.
Starting in July 2015
Some of the problems that have to be solved along this way are the compatibility of the used data systems. Therefore, in August and November 2015 two meetings on IT procedures, workflow, and improvement of cooperation were conducted in Berlin. It was decided to apply the Object-ID-standard for international compatibility. Furthermore, the transfer of data will be managed via the XML harvesting schema LIDO for which tools will have to be developed. In the end the target system will be based at the DGAM.
By the end of 2015 the Berlin database contained about 2500 entries; all the available documents, especially photographs had been scanned and digitized.
Program for 2016
It is hoped to produce the illustrated list of the officially registered items in the Museum, that is those objects with a Museum ID. Pioneering the recording of the objects without Museum ID a separate database will be started featuring at first the delivered objects of the excavation of Tell Sheikh Hamad. Last but not least work will start on the development of an export tool for the XML harvesting schema LIDO.