American University of Beirut

Shattered glass of Beirut

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Just over 3km from the epicentre of the Beirut explosion in 2020, at the American University of Beirut​ Archaeological Museum, a case displaying 74 glass vessels was blown from the wall, and thrown to the floor. The case, the surrounding windows and 72 of the 74 ancient glass vessels were shattered. Shards of the ancient glass were almost inextricably mixed with each other, as well as with glass from the case and windows.


This is the story of those 8 vessels. This is the story of the damage they suffered, the scars they will forever bear as witnesses to the explosion and as an expression of defiance in the face of destruction. This is a story of healing reflecting the recovery of the citizens of Beirut as they rebuild their lives and their city.


Collaborations and initiatives​​

The first Mission:

Claire Cuyaubère, a glass expert from Institut National du Patrimoine (INP)​ arrived in Beirut on September 4 and started the recovery phase.
Following the rescue/recovery mission, the condition report revealed that two small goblets survived the disaster intact and only some 15 items were restorable. However, many remain un-restorable despite the fact that their entire body shards had been recovered and their identity established through their inventory number and photographic records.
The entire recovery process was documented and broadcast live on American University of Beirut social media channels by the American University of Beirut Office of Communications. This was most likely the first time such transparency had been displayed live while working on cultural heritage recovery.
As a result, messages of encouragement poured in.​


The second Mission:

In partnership with the INP and funded by International alliance for the protection of heritage in conflict areas (ALIPH), the second mission took place in June-July 2021 and saw hundreds of the glass fragments pieced back together and 10 glass vessels conserved by the INP experts and the Archaeological Museum team with the support of archaeology students.
This led to the design of a new field course in partnership with the Department of History and Archaeology designed by the curator. 


Third Mission:

We undertook interdisciplinary projects at American University of Beirut with various faculties in order to give these shattered fragments a chance to serve science.
In partnership with the DIgiTal Cultural Heritage (DITCH) center at AUB’s Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA), we focused on developing virtual 3D reconstructions of selected broken glass vessels.
This could eventually lead to the creation of holograms of these pieces, providing them with a virtual second life, or a 3D print of the original piece, providing them with a clone!!!

​​​ ​ 
Glass bottle (Inv.# 4303)


Glass bottle (​​Inv.# 4288)

The fourth Mission, in partnership with the AUB Department of Physics at FAS and the Science and Technology in Archaeology and Culture Research Center (STARC) at the Cyprus Institute, is conducting an analysis of the chemical composition of the fragments from the shattered glass objects.
Emphasis will be put on non- invasive analysis, with invasive sampling restricted to those fragments that cannot be restored.

Academic significance:

These various initiatives materialized in January, 2022 with the organization of an international workshop entitled “Through shattered gl​ass”.

The Archaeological Museum seeks to collaborate with a variety of working groups at the American University of Beirut and beyond, providing material culture for assessment, analysis, and publication with the clear goal of preserving, conserving, restoring, and disseminating the value and relevance of cultural heritage.

Four axes were explored over two days:
• Archaeology/typology of glass
• Glass restoration
• Material science and glass
• Computer vision and glass reconstruction


The Fifth Mission:

In August 2020, the British Museum made contact with the newly appointed American University of Beirut Museum Curator, Dr. Nadine Panayot. Conversations lasted more than 18 months. When TEFAF (The European Fine Art Fair) granted a fund, the British Museum offered to ship 8 vessels suitable for transportation to be restored at The BM laboratories​. Aimee Bou Rizk, an American University of Beirut Museum Assistant, was also graciously invited to the BM for three months of conservation best practices training.

Exhibition at the British Museum "Shattered glass of Beirut​":
The eight glass vessels conserved at the British Museum Conservation Lab were displayed in "ROOM 3" at The British Museum (from August 25, 2022 to October 23, 2022) before returning to Beirut.

The exhibition at the B M was cocurated by American University of Beirut Museum Curator Nadine Panayot, James Fraser, BM Curator for the Ancient Levant, and Zeina Klink-Hope, BM Curator for the Modern Middle East.

According to BM analytics, the final visitor figures for Beirut Glass Exhibition at The British Museum were 43,287. This is the highest visitor figure since the BM started working on "Room 3" a few years ago.

The sixth Mission:

Renowned scholar Stephen Koob, recently retired as Chief Conservator from the Corning Museum of Glass in New York, graciously volunteered his time and expertise for a period of three weeks to restore some of the broken glass artifacts, teach an intensive hands-on course on glass restoration to specialist and non-specialists, and participate in person at the workshop.

Video​ by U.S. Embassy in Beirut on Stephen ​Koob and his help in restoring broken glass vessels.


On September 6, 2022, the American University of Beirut Board of Trustees members who visited the Archaeological Museum were treated to an informal exhibition of the 16 reconstructed glass vessels.



Museum newsletter- shattered glass (November 2021 vol. XXXIV No.1).pdf

Museum newsletter- shattered glass (August 2022 vol. XXXV).pdf

Newsletter Middle East - The British Museum (Issue 6, 2021).pdf


​The exhibition featured in several publications, national papers and international outlets.

New Scientist​ article: Piecing together a shattered history

The Sunday Post
Press and Journal 
Express and Star
Yorkshire Evening Post
Mail Online
 Evening Standard

The Sunday Times
The Times
The Observer, the Guardian

The National
La Croix
Trt World
Yahoo News,
Alarabiya News
Daily Sabah
Taipei Times
L'Orient-Le Jour

Atlas Obscura
Museums Journal 

La Presse: Une nouvelle vie pour des antiquités brisées par l'explosion de Beyrouth
24 août 2022

AUB Office of Communication (25/8/2022): AUB Archaeological Museum tells the world of Beirut's fall and rise

النهار :​ترميم أوانٍ أثريّة هشّمتها فاجعة 4 آب وعرضها في المتحف البريطانيّ (صور)

ICI BEYROUTH (25 Août, 2022)4 août: nouvelle vie pour des antiquités brisées

Lebanon Files: ترميم أوان أثرية هشّمها انفجار بيروت… اليكم التفاصيل
الخميس ٢٥ آب 2022 

LBC International: أوانٍ زجاجية أثرية هشّمها انفجار مرفأ بيروت عادت إلى سابق عهدها في "بريتيش ميوزيوم"  
  آب 2022 25 

يُرمّم أوانيَ أثرية هشّمها انفجار المرفأ British Museum   :نداء الوطن
26 آب 2022

Indy100: Ancient glass vessels damaged in Beirut blast go on display at British Museum
by Helen William (26-8-22)

Naharnet (27-8-22)British Museum showcases ancient vessels smashed in Beirut blast

Nadeem Badshah (Sat 27 Aug)Ancient glass vessels restored after Beirut blast go on display at British Museum

آثار بيروت.. ترميم ما نجا من الانفجار : العربي الجديد
 اغسطس 2022   28

Evening Standard: ​Ancient glass vessels damaged in Beirut blast go on display at British Museum
By Helen William (29-8-22)

L'Orient Le Jour (30 août 2022): Nouvelle vie pour des antiquités brisées par les explosions de Beyrouth

The Times: Beirut's shattered glass treasures are restored after port explosion

Asahi Shimbun Digital: ​​
An ancient glass vessel shattered by a large explosion​ ​
(Feb.4, 2023)
Desperate sight seen by a young cultural property restorer Challenging the shattered glass puzzle ​
​(Feb.5, 2023)
The British Museum, a mighty ally​ (Feb. 6, 2023)



Interview with Nadine Panayot, curator of the AUB Archaeological Museum ​on

BBC World Service-Newshour​ (29 August 2022)

Boulos BBC​ (25 Octobre 2022)​​

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