In 2020, a chemical explosion in Beirut caused 218 deaths and massive destruction. It also shattered one of the richest collections of ancient glassware in the world, giving experts the ability to analyze artifacts in ways that would otherwise have been impossible.
September 29, 2022
IMAGE a 2000 year old glass carafe – turquoise tint, elegant spout. It likely decanted wine at lavish Roman banquets, surviving earthquakes and warfare before ending up among equally beautiful and delicate pieces in the Archaeological Museum of the American University of Beirut (AUB) in Lebanon. Then, in an instant, it breaks.
At least 218 people died and thousands more were injured when a giant pile of ammonium nitrate exploded in the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020. The explosion was one of the largest explosions not recorded man-made nuclear weapons, and the ensuing shock wave wreaks havoc for miles around.
The incident was also a cultural calamity. The wider region around Lebanon is touted as the crucible of glass production, a material that has helped shape civilization. As one of the oldest museums in the region, the AUB housed a particularly rich collection of ancient glass objects. The blast shattered 72 pots, bowls, cups and other vessels dating from Ancient Rome (1st century BC to 5th century AD), Byzantine Empire (4th to 15th century AD) and Age Islamic gold medallion (8th to 13th century AD).
Rather than try to fix everything, AUB Archaeological Museum curator Nadine Panayot saw an opportunity in the rubble. A lot …