Our project is coming to an end. Most of our research finished last December, although publications will continue to come out for quite a while. Thanks to a special grant from our sponsor, the Research Council of Norway, we did, however, get a six months extension in order to work with communication and dissemination. Over the last months my colleagues Birgit and Håkon have been working hard together with colleagues from Bergen City Museum and British artist Amanda Chambers to plan and prepare for our final activity, the exhibition Journeys to Tadmor: History and Heritage in Palmyra and the Middle East.
Last fall, while we were pondering how to to communicate the importance of social networks in the distant past of the Near East to a modern public, we were contacted by Amanda, who had been moved by the Islamic State's wanton destructions in Palmyra in 2015 to produce her artwork Exhume. Amanda were looking for possible venues to display her art in Norway. As we care deeply about Palmyra, a place around which much of my own scholarship revolves and from which we all have fond memories, we decided to tell our project-story about the networked past of the Near East focused through the city. We also wanted to highlight the relationship between past, present, and future, and the role og heritage and history. Thus, although our emphasis is certainly on the Roman period, we decided to use the Aramaic and Arabic name for Palmyra – Tadmor, and to follow this remarkable place through history.
To our luck, Bryggens Museum, a part of Bergen City Museum were able to accommodate us in their schedule this summer. Bryggens Museum main focus is Medieval Bergen, but they also have frequent special exhibitions and resident artists. As Bergen, like Palmyra, was build on long-distance trade the venue felt all the more relevant. Our project is funded by the Research Council of Norway SAMKUL program, which supports research addressing 'the cultural precondition of societal development'. Projects are encouraged to engage with stakeholders and the public and they generously agreed to cover most of the exhibition costs.
While we have done research on Palmyra in Bergen for more than a decade, our otherwise fine city does not boast a collection of classical art. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, however, has the largest collection of Palmyrene sculpture outside Syria, and generously agreed to lend us a funerary bust depicting the Palmyrene couple Atenatan and Salmat who lived in the second century CE along with three tesserae – clay tokens that were used as entrance tickets to religious banquets in ancient Palmyra. Our own university museum has coins from rulers that were involved in the dramatic events in Palmyra in the third century CE, including Vaballathus, Aurelian and Diocletian, along with ethnographic material documenting trade goods as well as Bedouin life in the Near East. The University library in Oslo kindly lent us their first edition of Robert Woods famous Les Ruins de Palmyre (1753), the book that made Palmyra famous throughout the world, and together with our own library they came up with books by Norwegian authors who have been inspired by the fate of Zenobia and Palmyra. With tourist memorabilia, 3D prints, digital models and lots of photos we have what we need to relate the story of Palmyra from the Bronze Age beginnings until todays sad destruction and debate on the role of cultural heritage in the Middle East as well as in the West. Through Palmyra we hope to show how networks connected people and places in the past, how they are sometimes and with dramatic consequences disconnected, and how networks also stretch across time.
The exhibition opens on June 30th and stands until September 17th in Bryggens Museum. The catalogue will be put online after the exhibition period.