TYRE: The Italian contingent of the newly expanded United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) stumbled upon the unexpected this week. Rather than cluster bombs or other sinister detritus resulting from this past summer's 34-day Israeli bombardment, the troops found a cache of antique earthenware and ancient human remains.
The Italian team made the archaeological discovery while it was in the process of building new roads in the area surrounding its headquarters in the Southern village of Tebnin.
Captain Magistreti, media officer for the Italian contingent, said the troops will deliver the antiquities to the Lebanese Directorate General of Antiquities with help from the Lebanese Army.
Magistreti said it would be premature to speculate on the historical era to which the earthenware belonged "before they are examined by specialized archaeologists."
Ali Badawi is the director of Lebanon's archaeological sites in the South. He said he suspected the clay pots might belong to the Roman or Byzantine eras, which corresponds to the third and fourth centuries AD.
In a separate announcement, Deputy Italian Foreign Minister Ugo Intini said Friday that Italy, along with other members of the international community, was working hard to put an end to the nasty cycle of political assassinations that have wracked Lebanon, beginning with the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005 and running through Tuesday's murder in broad daylight of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel. Intini stressed that Italy was committed to helping Lebanon fend off any resurgence of civil war.
Intini spoke after paying a visit to the Italian contingent of UNIFIL on Friday. He participated in the funeral service for Gemayel on Thursday as a representative of the Italian government, and met with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on the same day. Intini quoted the Lebanese premier as saying he was ready to hold dialogue with both Syria and Iran. Intini added that the European Union was also expected to discuss the situation in Lebanon with both Syria and Iran. Intini said Iran and Syria should come to realize that "Lebanon is a gathering place, and not a source for discord and hostilities."
Before he left Lebanon on Friday afternoon, Intini also held a meeting with members of the Italian UNIFIL contingent in Tebnin. The troops briefed him about the humanitarian nature of their mission in Lebanon, including the clearing of cluster bombs and other unexploded ordnance. They also showed Intini the earthenware fragments and bones they had discovered.
While archaeological excavations and the care of objects from antiquity fall rather far afield of the Italian team's duties, Italy is particularly sensitive to issues of national heritage and cultural patrimony, and has played a leading role in efforts to retrieve looted antiquities from several international museums, including the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and, most recently, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Earlier this week, Italy insisted that the Getty return 46 artworks in its collection that were allegedly stolen, smuggled out of the country and eventually sold to the museum. The Getty, however, disputes Italy's claims on at least half of the artifacts - most notably with regard to a bronze statue called "The Statue of a Victorious Youth" and a 2,500-year-old limestone marble statue of Aphrodite, which the museum maintains was discovered in international waters in 1964. Italy, nonetheless, wants it back. Other countries that have been aggressively pursuing the repatriation of looted antiquities include Greece and Egypt. - With agencies