Forgotten legacy of ancient Lebanon brought to life in Durham

(Source: The Northern Echo – Aug 2016)

History lovers now have the chance to find out how life in ancient Lebanon helped shaped history, thanks to the work of Dr Mark Woolmer of Durham University’s Department of Classics and Ancient History.

Dr Woolmer’s work is part of Daily Life in Ancient Lebanon – an exhibition hosted by Durham University’s Oriental Museum. Artefacts never seen before in the UK – including silver bowls, cooking pots and burial urns – help to transport visitors thousands of years back in time to Lebanon during the Bronze and Iron Ages.

It was a time when the country was home to great explorers, sailors and maritime traders – the Phoenicians.

Using the artefacts loaned from the British Museum and the National Museum of Beirut, Dr Woolmer, the university team and student volunteers paint a picture of how the ancient Phoenicians were responsible for remarkable trade voyages across Europe and creating revolutionary manufacturing processes.

Dr Woolmer said: “Contemporary politics and war – shown in our media – has led many westerners to form negative perceptions of Lebanon. “In Daily Life in Ancient Lebanon we challenge that view, and show thecountry and its people are among the founders of modern civilisation.

“This is an exhibition of international importance, and to host it in Durham creates a unique opportunity for visitors to discover an unsung part of world history.”Dr Woolmer’s world-leading research into how ancient Phoenicians regarded ships as living entities is laid out in the exhibition.

The bows of their ships were adorned with horns, said to give them the strength, power and virility of a bull as they traversed the seas, and even rammed enemies.Deities such as the goddess Asarte and “king of the city” Melqart – believed to protect these ships – are also introduced to visitors.

Several of the world-renowned Amarna letters are also revealed in the exhibition. These diplomatic correspondences between the Egyptian administration and representatives in Lebanon, written on clay tablets, tell us much of what we know about political and social customs at the time.

They sit alongside objects such as cooking pots, platesand ivory plaques, once used by Phoenician people.

Visitors to the Oriental Museum can also get a taste of what it was like to be a charioteer in ancient Lebanon by climbing onto arecently unveiled sculpture of two horses and a chariot. Daily Life in Ancient Lebanon runs until 25 September. The exhibition is supported by the Honor Frost Foundation, the Friends of Oriental Museum and Durham University’s Collingwood College and Department of Classics and Ancient History.

The Oriental Museum is open Monday to Friday, 10am-5pm and on Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays, 12pm-5pm. Entry is £1.50 for adults; 75p for children aged between 5-16, and over 60s; and free for students and
children under five.

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