Current day Bayt Ras stands on the ruins of the Capitolias, one of
the ten cities of the Decapolis League. Pliny the Elder founded the string of
cities during the Hellenistic age. A Roman era tomb was discovered, dating from
the 1s t – 3rd centuries AD, and contains 52 unique
inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic and dozens of frescoes that represent details
of day to day life that were otherwise not mentioned in other historical records.
The tomb itself consists of a large room carved in the limestone
bedrock, with the ceiling reaching 2.5 meters at its highest point, and a
second, smaller room connected via a small opening in the north wall. While the
larger room is covered with paintings and inscriptions, the smaller of the two
is square and covered in a plain plaster.
The tomb was discovered by accident in November 2016 while workers
attempting to expand a sanitation network near the local elementary school. It
became immediately clear to the workers they had stumbled on something
spectacular as they saw the tomb’s walls were filled with elaborate paintings
and inscriptions of great historical and cultural value. This truly unique find
required extensive documentation, conservation, and scientific study.
The site proved a major challenge, both technically and in terms
of jurisdiction. However, through the support of local community members and an
international coalition headed by SCHEP, the tomb has been preserved and
protected. SCHEP partnered with the Department of Antiquities alongside Higher
Institute for Conservation and Restoration in Rome (ISCR), the French National
Scientific Research Center (CNRS), and the Italian National Institute for
Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA) to begin field work in April 2017.
first step was a series of architectural, archaeological, and epigraphic
surveys in the tomb carried out by the French elements of the consortium, with
support from the Department of Antiquities and SCHEP. This included hand
drawings, photos, and photogrammetric, geophysical, and geotechnical surveys. The
results were a set of topographic maps, laser scans, and models of the tomb
that have allowed many students, experts, and enthusiasts to learn more about
Bayt Ras even if they cannot enter the tomb itself.
key area of preservation is of the frescoes themselves. They remain fragile and
are at risk of flaking or other types of damage. Therefore, the ultimate aim of
the first round of interventions was a ‘first aid’ mission, with limited
cleaning and more substantial interventions. The materials used were carefully
selected according to the conditions inside the tomb to mitigate any potential damage.
Despite the highly technical and advanced nature of the
interventions, SCHEP worked as always to include members of the local community
in every step of the process. This included training in ‘first aid’
intervention, documentation, excavation, publications and virtual reality to
graduate students and trainees of PAP and DOA.