Archaeology and Ancient History

Libyan Antiquities at Risk

Funded by the Society for Libyan Studies

Mselleten, obelisk tombsLAaR: Libyan Antiquities at Risk is a 6-month pilot project funded by the Society for Libyan Studies based at the University of Leicester. Its target is the recording and dissemination of information about Libyan funerary sculptures of the Hellenistic, Roman and late Roman periods, which are under threat of being sold on the illegal art market. These sculptures are particularly vulnerable to being removed from the monuments they belong to due to their peripheral location in ancient settlements. There are concerning reports about the destruction of funerary monuments whose blocks are reused for unregulated building activities, especially from around the cemeteries of Cyrene. Stones of any artistic value will, most likely, be smuggled out from the country to enter the illegal antiquities market. Given the current political instability in Libya and the threats to which its archaeological heritage is exposed, the project’s intention is to create a website and associated database with descriptions and photographs of stone artefacts (mainly architectural elements and sculptures) belonging to funerary monuments in Cyrenaica and Tripolitania.

Tombs at GhirzaThe principal aim of the project is to set up an online photographic reference collection which will help to safeguard the Libyan monuments threatened by destruction and looting. The database will have entries about each monument following a user-friendly format. This information will be primarily used to identify those objects which may be already circulating on the illegal market. Close collaboration with academics, the Libyan Antiquities Service, cultural heritage operators, police, professional antiquities dealers, museums and other institutions will be an essential part of this work. In addition, the database and website will represent a significant contribution to archaeological research in Libya and North Africa, since most of the evidence from ancient funerary monuments is unpublished or is only very briefly commented on in scientific journals and books.

The majority of information and photographic documentation will be sourced from the materials collected in the Society for Libyan Studies Archive, hosted at the University of Leicester. This project, sadly born of conflict, gives the Society for Libyan Studies the much-needed opportunity to digitize significant parts of the archive. It also offers the possibility to further strengthen the already solid collaboration between the Society for Libyan Studies and the School of Archaeology and Ancient History of the University of Leicester. Additional funding will be sought after the initial 6 months to enable the continuation of the project and to expand the database by including other endangered antiquities.

The project members are: David Mattingly, Niccolò Mugnai, Julia Nikolaus, and Susan Walker.

For further information please contact Niccolò Mugnai or Julia Nikolaus.

Libyan Antiquities at Risk logoThe logo of the Society for Libyan Studies

Back to top