American University of Beirut

The Museum Collections

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Organization of the Museum collections

​The Museum collections are organized according to two  parallel concepts: c​hronological and thematic.

The chronological displays are set along the peripheral walls of the gallery showing the evolution mostly of pottery from the Chalcolithic Age (4,000 BC) to the Islamic Period (19th century AD).

Special themes include:​

​The Cesnola Collection; the first collection of the Museum, donated by General Cesnola in 1868, includes Cypriot Pottery from the Early Bronze Age in the III millennium BC up to the Roman Period.

Cesnola showcase

​​​​​The Pre-Historic Section includes the Paleolithic and the Neolithic periods.

​​​​The Ksar ‘Akil stratigraphic sounding is an introduction to the archaeological fieldwork. It was undertaken by a team of the University of Boston in 1948. The stratigraphic sounding is represented by 23m deep​ trench, consisting of thirty seven layers belonging to several cultures which are identified by the flint tools discovered in each layer. The dates range from 50,000 to 18,000 BP, dates obtained by C14 analysis. Also the oldest man in Lebanon is known by the discovery of his jaw dated to 40,000 BP. A complete skull also discovered in the excavation dates from 35,000 BP.

Ksar ‘Akil showcase

The Paleolithic Period or the Old Stone Age (3.75 million years-12,000 BP) is represented by the evolution of man physical nature and the flint tools he made, as well as his style of life: the discovery of fire, of hunting and cave painting with charcoal.

​Paleolithic showcase

​The Neolithic Revolution or the New Stone Age (12,000 BP-6,000 BP) marks a major revolution, a landmark in the Prehistoric Period due to several innovations, such as: 

1-  Birth of agriculture

2-  Domestication of animals

3-  Introduction of clay material to produce hand made vessels

4-  Beginning of villages

5-  Introduction of religious cults

Neolithic Revolution showcase

The BRONZE AGE starts a new era with the development of urban civilization and commercial trade routes. 

This period is divided into 3 phases:​

The Early Bronze Age (3000-2000 BC) shows a continuity of urban life attested at Byblos which developed close political and trade relations with Egypt. This is illustrated at the AUB Museum in many Egyptian objects such as a carved alabaster fragment of a bowl imitating a honey combed and an alabaster jar with a Hieroglyphic inscription of pharaoh Pepi the firs​t.   

Fragment of alabaster vase
with cartouche of pharaoh Pepi I 

​​During the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1600 BC) the international trade of the earlier period flourished in the 2nd millennium. This period is marked by an increase in cultural and trading contacts; imported vessels found in Byblos reflect connections also with Minoan Crete, like the Kamares pot (1700 BC) found in the double tomb in Byblos. This piece is important because it is the earliest imported item from Crete to Byblos. The beautiful decorative pattern represents sea weeds.

Kamares vase

During the Late Bronze Age (1600-1200 BC) the economy prospered and local Levantine kings paid tributes to the foreign rulers; the Mitanni Kingdom of northern Syria, the Hittites in Anatolia and the Egyptian pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty. An extensive trade grew between these costal city-states with Egypt, Mycenae and Cyprus. This is illustrated in three consecutive showcases.

Uluburun shipwreck

The Terracotta Figurines
; the showcase represents the evolution of terracotta figurines from the​      II​Ird millennium BC to the Roman Period.​

​​Terracotta figurines, chronology showcase

​​According to the Sumerian creation myth, the practice of fashioning terracotta figurines goes back to the creation of the world. Enki asks his mother, the goddess Nammu, to form a creature of clay. In the Biblical account of man’s creation, the Creator also molds Adam out of clay. The use of clay as opposed to metal became more popular for it was a common material easy to produce. In the middle of the second millennium BC, the molded technique is introduced in order to produce larger quantities. With the Greco-Roman period, features of the figurines become more naturalistic. The terracotta figurines are ex-votos or offerings to the fertility goddesses.


The Metal Figurines; Female figurines were rarely made of metal which was an expensive commodity used for weapons. The majority of the collection of metal figurines represents males. They were also ex-votos to the gods or representations of the gods themselves. Some were found in the Temple of Obelisks in Byblos such as Reshef, god of thunder and storm. Statuettes of animals were also offered to the gods, as symbols of power.

Figurine in a shrine from Byblos


​​​​​The IRON AGE

The invasion of the Sea Peoples in the 12th century BC marked the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age (1200 BC-5th century BC).

Some cities on the Eastern Mediterranean were completely destroyed, while others continued their existence as autonomous city-states.

Frieze showing Sea peoples

​​​​Tell el-Ghassil
; includes the results from the AUB Museum excavations​ at Tell el-Ghassil (1956-1974). The site is located in the University Farm in the Bekaa, at 16 km south-west of Baalbek. Eleven archaeological levels ranging from 1800 to 600 BC, indicate that Tell el-Ghassil was a rural agrarian site.

A reconstruction of a complete skeleton, found in this tomb, represented in a crouched position, as a fetus in the womb of his mother to reproduce the belief of rebirth after death. Daily vessels were thus placed next to the dead for him to be used in the afterlife.

Tell el-Ghassil represents the link between the Late Bronze Age of the 2nd Millennium B.C. and the Iron Age of the 1st Millenium B.C.​

Tell el-Ghassil tomb​

​​The PHOENICIAN CIVILIZATION; the Phoenician city-states occupied the coastal area of modern day Lebanon extending north to Arwad in Syria and south to Acre in Palestine.

Prior to the Iron Age the inhabitants of these city-states were called the Canaanites. The Greeks called these people “Phoenicians”, after their well known purple dye, the color of which they called Phoe Ni Kes.

What brought together these city-states under one Phoenician civilization are the following common characteristics:

1.     ​​ Phoenician purple dye

The Purple dye extracted from three types of murex shells gave a different tint according to the murex type used and when applied on silk or wool. 12,000 shells were needed to extract 1.5 grams of this dye, making the purple dye a very expensive and luxurious item. Because of its importance, the murex shell was represented on most Phoenician coins of Tyre, where from it was mostly 

Dark purple color

​2.  Phoenician trade and navigation

The Phoenicians are best known for their trade and navigation skills. They exploited the trade sea routes of the Mediterranean,establishing settlements from Cyprus to Spain, exporting Cedar timber and their local industries (like purple and spices) and importing in exchange other material.

During the Solidere reconstruction project of Beirut Central District at the end of the Lebanese civil war, the AUB museum team excavated, in 1995, a warehouse near the present harbor of Beirut. A photo shows a room full of Phoenician storage jars ready to be exported; one of the jars contained carbonized raisins seeds. Two sherds of the same type of jars bare the same Phoenician inscription which reads LŠMN meaning olive ​oil.​

     Warehouse in BEY003 excavation

​​​ ​​3. ​ ​Phoenician glass

The Phoenicians were also famous for their glass making. Glass started first in Mesopotamia in the 3rd Millennium B.C., followed later in Egypt and the Levant in the 2nd Millennium B.C. In the 1st c. B.C., the Phoenicians invented the blowing technique which transformed glass into a fine and more transparent product and allowed a large variety of shapes and colors. Glass vessels were used for table ware, also as containers for medical ointments, and for ornaments and cosmetics.


Glass table ware showcase

4.​  Phoenician religion

For their religious practices and rituals, each Phoenician city honored its own deities. 
Some characteristics of the Phoenician rituals, in the Museum collection, are represented by:
- The large stelae representing a Phoenician priest in a prayer position. 
- A throne of the goddess Ashtart
- There are libation spoons which were used for washing purposes to go from the profane world into the holy world and small items like the glass amulets to protect against the evil eye​.


​Phoenician glass bead 



Stele representing a Phoenician priest 

​The Ford mandible, dates from the 5th c. BC. It was discovered in a sarcophagus in Sidon. The 6th​ front teeth were about to fall due to a gum disease “purea”. The Phoenician dentist bound them together with a gold wire in a perfect technique. It is the earliest known example of dentistry and the highlight of the AUB Museum collection.


The Ford Mandible

 5. ​ ​​Birth of syllabic writing and Phoenician 

The oldest systems of writing appeared with the hieroglyphic system in Egypt and the cuneiform writing in Mesopotamia, in the IIIrd millennium BC. The great writing invention was to reduce this large number of 700 signs to 30 consonantal signs only. A copy of an original tablet from Damascus Museum is displayed in the AUB Museum with the first complete cuneiform alphabet of the 14th c. BC found in Ugarit North Syria.

The Phoenicians invented the first complete linear alphabet in the 11th c. BC which was more easily written specially with ink on papyrus. It consists of 22 consonants without vowels. The Greeks borrowed the Phoenician alphabet in the 8th c. and added vowels to it.

This first linear alphabet is one of the most important contributions of the Phoenicians from which all alphabetic scripts are derived and which spread to the rest of the world.

Graph of writing evolution 

Bodashtar inscription


Among other special collections of the AUB Museum are those which belong to the Classical Period.

The Museum collection includes funerary reliefs from Palmyra, an oasis in the Syrian desert and became an important commercial center in the Roman period. The loculi in the Palmyrenean tomb were closed by sculptured reliefs which represent the portrait of the buried persons, dating from the Ist to the IIIrd century AD. Inscriptions in Palmyrene writing indicate the name and the date of the deceased. These loculi have been reproduced in this alcove to recreate the atmosphere inside a tomb.

Palmyra alcove

Palmyrene bust

​​The Greco-Roman and Byzantine Periods are highlighted by:

-          A collection of sculptures mostly from the Roman Period.

-          A plaster replica of a portal of a Byzantine baptistery from Babiska - North Syria.

-          A Byzantine mosaic from the southern suburbs of Beirut from the 5th - 6th century AD

-          Funerary rituals during these periods are illustrated in 2 showcases: one from Egypt and the other from the Levant.

-          A collection of funerary cippe, stelae and sarcophagi in lead and terracotta are displayed on the staircase leading up to the mezzanine.

​​​​​​The Islamic Period stretches from the Omayyad Period (656 AD) until the Ottoman Empire (19th c. AD). The Islamic culture was famous, among many features, for its architectural achievements. The glazed tiles and pottery highlight their characteristics in the AUB Museum collection.
In 2015, the Islamic collection was reorganized and a new display was inaugurated in this year.
Architectural elements consisting of five tiles taken from the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem were displayed in the Islamic gallery. 
A photograph of the south porch of the Dome of the Rock, shows the similarity of the decorative motifs of these tiles that it is useful to relate them to the porch and hence correlate their architectural position in the building.​

 The Islamic tiles
of the Museum collection

Glazed plates

The south porch of the
Dome of the Rock

The Mezzanine  include the display of small objects in the table cases:

- Weapons & Tools
- Ivory & bone elements
- Lead figurines
- Bronze & Gold Jewelry
- Intagli
- Cosmetic tools
- Byzantine Crosses
- Amulets
- Oil Lamps
- Seals & Scarabs
- Coin Collections: these trace the development of coinage from the 5th c. BC thru the Ottoman Period.​

​ General view of mezzanine

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