3D Technologies Restore Damaged Syrian Artifacts, Honor a Fallen Hero

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The ISIS-destroyed museum in Palmyra. [Image: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images]

There seems to be no end to the anguish in Syria. Even victories seem to be short-lived; after ISIS militants were driven out of Palmyra last March, it would be less than a year before they returned to take over the historical site again in December. In the brief period of time between occupations, however, archaeologists and historians rushed to salvage what they could from the shattered remnants of the ancient artifacts that ISIS had destroyed.

While many of those rescued artifacts had been damaged, they’ve been able to be at least partially restored in many cases, both digitally and physically, with 3D technology. Among those items were a pair of funerary busts from the second century – one depicting a man, the other a woman, whom historians believe were part of a local family of wealthy merchants. Salvaged from Palmyra’s museum after the site was retaken by Russian and Syrian forces, the damaged artifacts were taken to Beirut and then to Rome, where a team of experts from the Institute for Conservation and Restoration (ICR) have been working for the past two months to make them whole again.

Technicians scanned the two busts with laser scanners and then replaced the missing pieces with 3D printed replicas. The male figure was especially badly damaged, with about half of its face missing, so the technicians created a “prosthetic” replacement for the missing half. The prosthetic was attached to the remainder of the bust with six small magnets, making it easily removable in case the missing piece is ever found.

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[Image: Chris Warde-Jones/The Telegraph]

“The resin prosthetics were coated with a very fine layer of stone dust to make them blend in with the original stone,” said Gisella Capponi, director of ICR. “It was a great honour for us to be able to restore such extraordinary artefacts, which were so brutally damaged by Isis.”

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Khaled al-Asaad in 2002, in front of a first-century sarcophagus from Palmyra. [Image: Marc Deville/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images]

This particular restoration was especially bittersweet, as it was done in tribute to Khaled al-Asaad, the 82-year-old retired head of antiquities in Palmyra, who bravely refused to reveal the locations of artifacts he had removed and was beheaded by ISIS in August 2015 as a result. A placard the terrorists placed on his body called him the “director of idolatry.” Others have called him, rightfully, a hero and martyr, and his sacrifice is honored by restoration of some of the artifacts he dedicated his life – and death – to.

The appearance of the man and woman depicted on the busts reveals the wealthy history of Palmyra; the man wears a Roman-style toga and the woman is wearing jewels around her neck and in her turban.

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Daria Montemaggiori, a member of the restoration team, with the female bust. [Image: Chris Warde-Jones/The Telegraph]

“It was a very important trading town. A range of valuable things were traded through it, including ostriches, slaves, olive oil and precious stones and textiles,” said Frances Pinnock, a professor of ancient Near East archaeology at La Sapienza University in Rome. “It was part of the Roman Empire but then rebelled against Rome. This couple represent the elite of Palmyra, who were mostly rich merchants.”

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3D scans were used to create a replacement “prosthetic” for the male figure. [Image: Chris Warde-Jones/The Telegraph]

Thousands of years later, Palmyra again is a site of rebellion – the rebellion of people like Asaad and others who have stood up to ISIS despite the threat of death, and of the teams working to ensure that the terrorist group’s efforts to stamp out history and culture will not succeed. At this point, the Syrian army is advancing on Palmyra, ready to take it back from ISIS yet again. Once the site has been retaken, the restored busts will be returned to the city – which demonstrates the hopeful belief that this time, ISIS’ defeat in Palmyra will be permanent. Until then, the artifacts will be kept in Damascus, where they will be sent at the end of this month.

Recently released drone footage of Palmyra shows further devastation. The façade of the Roman-era theatre has been severely damaged, and the sixteen columns of the Tetrapylon monument have been reduced to two. Still, the efforts of ICR and other organizations working to restore damaged artifacts from Syria and other conflict zones represent hope that what was destroyed can be rebuilt, and that Syria will once again, one day, be a place of peace whose art, history and people can safely return. Discuss in the Palmyra forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: The Telegraph]

 

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