First established in 2013 as a joint undertaking between the Museum für Islamische Kunst – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the German Archaeological Institute, the project is now set to continue into 2016. The partnership, which is working towards the creation of a digital register of cultural heritage for Syria, is supported by the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Professor Stefan Weber, director of the Museum für Islamsiche Kunst, welcomes this long-term funding commitment: “It is incredibly important for Syria to create a durable, internationally integrated, and digitized national archive: one that is able to record the extraordinary achievements of this country's culture, support its traumatized people in the process of reconstruction, and help define their national identity. In 2016 we will attempt to save local archives, map out systematically where destruction has taken place, and take the first steps towards making the archive accessible for projects involving children."
In terms of both the quantity and quality of its historical sites, Syria's cultural landscape is one of the most exceptional regions to be found anywhere in the world. Many of the most fundamental aspects of contemporary human society, such as agriculture and urbanization, can be traced back to initial developments that took place in this region. Since Syria contains archaeological and historical monuments from all periods of history, from the first traces of human agricultural activity through to the Ottoman period, the country boasts a cultural heritage that is of truly international significance.
Current developments in Syria present a massive threat to this unique cultural heritage – much of which has yet to be properly investigated by the academic community. The destruction wrought on cities' historic districts, and the wholesale plundering of important archaeological sites, serve as an urgent reminder of the rate of devastation that could well lead to the irrevocable loss of some of the country's most significant historical landmarks. Consequently, it is of fundamental importance for current and future assessments of this historical landscape that there should be a means of systematically archiving and evaluating the available documentation relating to different categories of findings and data.
Thanks to the long-term research projects made possible over recent decades by partnerships between international missions and the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums, there is a wealth of data available relating to many of Syria's most important archaeological and historical sites. However, much of this research data has so far only been available in analogue form, as data relating to archaeology and historical building research was not digitized on a large scale until the late 1990s.
It is therefore absolutely essential that older databases are completely digitized in order for them to be accessible in the future and usefully integrated into larger data projects, which will in turn enable assessments of the condition of Syria's cultural heritage.
The Museum für Islamische Kunst and the German Archaeological Institute have built up extremely extensive collections of data as a result of their long-term work in Syria, and in November 2013 embarked on the digitization of their archives as part of the joint “Syrian Heritage Archive Project". From its very outset, the project forged international networks with other similarly stored archives with a view to undertaking the long-term documentation of Syria's cultural heritage.
The “Syrian Heritage Archive Project" is sponsored by the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany and receives active support from the Friends of the Museum für Islamische Kunst.