History:

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.

Proposed Intervention :

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.

The 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.

Another 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.