State of research

In the 1970s, the Syrian Tabqa dam project was the reason for large-scale salvage operations in the middle Euphrates region. Salvage excavations on the site near modern Meskene, about 100 km east of Aleppo, were executed by two French teams between 1972 and 1976. Jean-Claude Margueron directed the excavation of the ancient near eastern town of Emar, while the exploration of Byzantine Barbalissos/Islamic Balis in the eastern part of the tell was conducted by André Raymond.

At Emar, the French archeologists discovered a temple area comprising the sanctuaries of the weathergod Ba'al and - possibly - of his consort Ashtarte as well as several dwelling-houses dating to the Late Bronze Age (13th and beginning of 12th century BC). From many excavation areas there came tablets, ca. 800 cuneiform texts, that were then published by the philologist Daniel Arnaud (Paris). Dominique Beyer (Strasbourg) examined the large amount of seal-impressions on the tablets.

When the French excavations had come to an end, the site was left without a guardian. It was then systematically robbed leaving the place to look like a Swiss cheese and bringing new tablets onto the art market. In the meantime, ca. 370 texts from private collections in Lebanon, the US, Japan, and Israel have been published. In 1992, the Syrian Antiquities Department took charge of the site and began another round of scientific excavations under the direction of Shawki Sha'ath, archeologist, and Farouk Ismail, philologist. In 1996, a cooperation with the University of Tübingen was brought under way, resulting, up to 2001, in four excavation seasons under the direction of Uwe Finkbeiner. Since 1999, the Syrian Antiquities Department has been represented by Jamil Massouh. Beside Late Bronze Age findings, the Syrian-German excavations unearthed occupation layers from the Middle and Early Bronze Ages (that is, from the second half of the third and the first half of the second millennium BC).

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