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Exhibiting the Past: Priceless
Uncovering the History of Lebanon
Nature in the Design
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Spring 2006 Vol. IV, No. 3

Exhibiting the Past: Priceless

The AUB Archaeological Museum has waited 138 years for its first major renovation that will protect a collection that has survived the rise and fall of civilizations.

Visiting the AUB Museum will soon be a very different experience than it has been in the past. You may feel that you are being pulled along from one collection to another. This is no accident. All of the exhibits are being reorganized according to the latest principles of museology to make visiting the museum a more enjoyable experience—and to ensure that these wonderful treasures are protected for future generations.

The building housing one of the oldest museums in the region was originally built without any insulation in the floors, explains Museum Director Leila Badre. Over the years, water and humidity have seeped into the building, putting at risk the impressive collection of artifacts from the Bronze Age and Iron Age and the Roman, and Byzantine periods. “One lead piece disintegrated completely because of the humidity,” said Badre. Other pieces bear the dark spots of permanent damage. The updated structural design will permit a new system that will maintain internal humidity at optimal levels.

In addition, the layout of the museum did little to optimize the museum visitor’s experience or even highlight the value of the objects on display. “Visitors had to zigzag through the museum. The lighting and labeling systems were outdated,” lamented Badre.

Come June 2006, all this will become history. This is the date when renovation is scheduled to be complete and the “new” museum will open its doors to the public once again. (Actually, the museum never closed during renovation; most items were simply moved to the Study Collection Hall.)

An architect, a graphic designer, and archeologists worked together using software simulations to develop a painstakingly designed layout for the new museum. It will have a chronological “skin,” which will go along the walls of the museum and tell the stories of the various historical period, spanning from 25,000 BC to the nineteenth century. In the center of the museum space, several thematic displays will highlight the glass collection, the Phoenician civilization and the birth of writing, the Islamic period, and other collections. The museum will also feature a particularly impressive, near-complete Byzantine mosaic on the floor. The entrance will be moved to the side of the museum and there is also a new elevator in the museum, which allows visitors to go from the ground level to the second floor.

At the main entrance, visitors will be greeted with the Cesnola pottery collection, named for General Cesnola, the American Consul in Cyrpus who donated the first collection to the museum and which led to the museum being founded in 1868.

The museum could not have been renovated without the generous support of Artemis A.W. Joukowsky, Martha S. Joukowsky and the continuous efforts of the Society of the Friends of the AUB Museum. Martha Joukowsky, professor emeritus at Brown University and AUB trustee since 1987, excavated in Lebanon between 1967 and 1972. She has strong ties to the country and to AUB, where she earned her Master’s in Archaeology in 1972. The Joukowsky Family Foundation made a $1-million donation that

permitted the refurbishing of the museum. The Society of the Friends of the AUB Museum, formed in 1979 to encourage support for the museum, provided key support by raising additional funds needed to complete the project. The Joukowsky Family Foundation also gave $1-million to provide an endowment for museum activities. All options are open, said Badre, and they could include developing multidisciplinary laboratories to study and analyze museum artifacts. Thanks to the efforts of the Joukowskys and their dedication to the continued study of archaeology in Lebanon, the museum will have a new face in June 2006. “It will be a first-class, up-to-date, didactic museum,” said Badre, beaming with pride.

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