four men cover a mosaic with a white cloth

SYRIA and IRAQ: Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq Project

Cultural heritage in Syria has been destroyed and damaged by civil war, both by the Assad regime’s dropping of barrel bombs and targeting by ISIS of specific sites and collections. In response, the Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq Project (SHOSI) was created in April 2013 as a consortium of the Smithsonian Institution, and the Penn Cultural Heritage Center at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the U.S. Institute of Peace. Through research, trainings for local museum professionals, public outreach, and the use of modern technologies to monitor destruction, SHOSI is responding to the threats against cultural heritage in the Middle East.

The project conducted research on cultural damage and destruction using advanced satellite technologies and analytic methods. 

It also provided training for Syrian museum professionals to support in situ care for ancient mosaics at the Ma’arra Museum. The Smithsonian supported emergency conservation and protection efforts by providing equipment, supplies, and training to Syrian cultural heritage professionals and volunteers to safeguard the immovable mosaics collection at the Ma’arra Museum in Idlib Province. When a barrel bomb severely damaged the museum in June 2015, the sandbag barriers held, protecting the mosaics and preventing the walls on which they were installed from collapsing. Altogether, some 1,600 square feet of mosaics were protected.

Working with affected communities, the project developed outreach activities for refugees and displaced communities that included an oral history project, organizing women to make and sell traditional handicrafts, and a children’s educational program encouraging exploration and protection of local heritage. 

In the summer of 2014, the Smithsonian organized an emergency workshop for Syrian museum professionals to share Smithsonian expertise in emergency care for museum collections. The workshop gave Syrian museum curators and conservators an opportunity to come together as a community and identify ways to protect objects in place.

Later in 2015, SHOSI provided an emergency response for cultural heritage training course for Iraqi colleagues at the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage. This training prepared them to respond to destruction of heritage sites by ISIS as well as collateral combat damage during the ongoing conflict. 

Hear Dr. Brian Daniels present the project at the Cultural Heritage in Crisis Conference in Berlin in 2018: 

Image: Syrian cultural workers prepare to use sandbags at the Ma'arra Museum to prevent damage to Late Antiquity and Byzantine mosaics from barrel bombing. The SHOSI Project