Archaeological Conservation at ASOR 2013

Three weeks ago LeeAnn Barnes Gordon and I co-chaired a conservation session at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) in Baltimore, MD.  Friends, I loved every minute of it.
This year the session, titled “Conservation and Site Preservation in the Near East,” kicked off at 8:20 in the morning on the very first day of the conference.  We were concerned about the early start time, but attendance was good and the audience was engaged and responsive. This was the second in series of 4 planned sessions, and I’ll tell you about our lofty goals for the series a bit later. First, here are the 6 papers from this year, with a few notes from me about each:
Preserving Egypt’s Cultural Heritage: Experiences Gained and Lessons Learnt”
Michael Jones (Antiquities Conservation Project, American Research Center in Egypt)

I was surprised to learn in this talk that ARCE’s fantastically comprehensive conservation and education programs in Egypt, underwritten by USAID, all began as a simple salvage response to the deadly 1992 earthquake. Michael spoke about building stakeholder support for conservation in Egypt, about the challenges of recent political turmoil, and showed us the wonderful results of conservation efforts at the Red Monastery in Sohag, among other sites. If you don’t know much about ARCE and its conservation programs, read more here.

Training for the Conservation and Management of In Situ Mosaics: The MOSAIKON Initiative”
Leslie Friedman (Getty Conservation Institute), Jeanne Marie Teutonico (GCI), Kathleen Dardes (GCI), Thomas Roby (GCI)and Zaki Aslan (ICCROM)

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about mosaics preservation, MOSAIKON is improving and teaching it. How to do a great job with locally available materials? They’re on it. Training for the next generation in-country? That, too. Conservation education in Arabic? Yes! Mentoring for conservators in the Middle East? Of course. What about my favorite site preservation solution, reburial? They’re studying the most effective ways to do it for mosaics. And of course, they are producing publications about it all. Check it out here.

Digging on the Edge: Archaeology and Conservation at Kourion, Cyprus”
William Weir (University of Cincinnati), paper delivered by Stephen Humphreys

This site-specific case-study delivered great information and dramatic visuals of mosaics perched precariously on cliff-edge. It detailed, from the archaeologists’ perspective, the experience of working with conservators to document and save mosaics at a site. It also illustrated the complexities of conservation at archaeological sites; within a single site, the response to each mosaic differed depending on the mosaic’s location, construction, and the project’s ongoing research. A great talk illustrating successful collaboration in archaeological conservation and research.

Painted Roman and Byzantine Cypriot Tombs: Properties, Processes and Preservation”
Ioanna Kakoulli (University of California, Los Angeles), Christian Fischer  (UCLA), and Demetrios Michaelides (University of Cyprus) 

This was an excellent talk for anyone interested in conservation of wall-paintings; these Cypriot rock-cut tombs have undergone structural damage from shifting bedrock and water damage from floods and rainfall. Ioanna also discussed the technical analysis of plaster, pigments, and binders for the paintings. This talk was also great for anyone interested in preservation and management of active tourism and pilgrimage sites: littering, vandalism, education and interpretation! How about making your conservation plan work for nearby hotels as well as an active monastery? Done. This talk detailed a comprehensive approach to a complex series of problems.

Dilemmas in Preservation of Iron Age Sites in the Valley of Beer-sheba”
Zeev Herzog (Tel Aviv University)

Zeev’s talk beautifully, and humorously, detailed the decades-long effort to preserve mud-brick architecture at the site of Beer-sheba in Israel. An unusually inventive series of campaigns beginning in the 1960’s tried almost everything the determined teams could think of: chemical consolidation, firing the bricks in-situ with a portable kiln, capping the walls with new mudbricks, and, finally, capping and restoration with modern, fired bricks. In addition to illustrating a half-century of conservation and site preservation at a single site, this talk explored preservation and interpretation goals for important Iron Age sites in Israel.  

The Conservation and Technical Analysis of Ancient Near Eastern Objects at the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum”
Sanchita Balachandran (Johns Hopkins University)

As a conservator in a university archaeological museum, I’m always impressed by the JHU Archaeological Museum’s (and Sanchita’s) commitment to linking conservation to undergraduate teaching and using object-based projects to improve learning for students. This talk was especially useful because it had detailed case-studies of specific objects and projects. I especially liked the way Sanchita used these projects to develop transferable skills like observation and critical thinking for her students.

Back to our lofty goals – LeeAnn and I began this series of sessions with the goal of fostering collaboration and better integrating continuing education in the allied disciplines of conservation and archaeology. We want to bring more conservation information to our archaeology colleagues, and we hope to promote archaeology meetings as a forum for conservators.  So far each session has been an excellent educational opportunity for us, and we hope our audiences have felt the same way. We’re grateful to our speakers in both years thus far and to ASOR for embracing the series.
Archaeological conservators, we hope you’ll join us for future meetings in San Diego (2014) and Atlanta (2015).  If you’re willing to contribute to conservation sessions at either meeting, please write us! We’d love to hear from you. The deadline to submit abstracts for 2014 is February 15.
Suzanne Davis:
LeeAnn Barnes Gordon: