Piecing together artifacts from museum bombed in WWII

Published on August 4th, 2010 | by Sevaan Franks

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During World War II, the Tell Halaf archaeological museum in Berlin was bombed, smashing ancient artifacts into smithereens. Now, after nine years of work, 60 artifacts have been pieced together from 27,000 fragments found in the ruins of the building.

The ancient treasure — monumental deities from Aramaean civilisation and relief slabs depicting hunting scenes — will soon be back on public display.

A century after it was first discovered in the Syrian desert and nearly 70 years after its bombed and broken shards were dumped into crates and buried anew in the cellars of Berlin’s Pergamon Museum, the story of its salvation is itself an unlikely tale.

“We have reconstructed more than 90 percent of the artifacts from the Tell Halaf museum,” said German archaeologist and restoration manager Lutz Martin, 56.

“Of the 27,000 pieces, there are only 2,000 left over” that could not be fitted back, he added.

The labour of love, undertaken by a small technical team, was financed by the banking family of Max von Oppenheim, the archaeologist who first discovered the Aramaean palace of Tell Halaf shortly before the outbreak of World War I in an area today located in northern Syria, on the border with Turkey.

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