42nd Annual Meeting – Architecture + Objects Joint Session, 29 May, 2014, “Conservation Realities and Challenges: from Auto Regulation to Imposition at Archaeological and Historical Sites in Colombia” by Maria Paula Alvarez

I was drawn to this presentation on account of my background in archaeology. Although I have never had the chance to visit Colombia, I was very interested to hear about the challenges, that Colombian conservators, archaeologists, and other allied professionals encounter in their efforts to preserve their country’s archaeological and historical sites.
Maria Paula Alvarez, Director at the Corporacion Proyecto Patrimonio, presented a number of interesting case studies to illustrate the types of conservation and preservation problems that she and her colleagues face and work on solving. Her examples included assessments, research, testing, and treatments at
1)         archaeological sites, such as:

  • The Archaeological Site of Fuente de Lavapatas, where the conservation issue was stone deterioration. Extensive studies – including the evaluation of the environmental conditions at the site and the geological and physical properties of the affected stone – were conducted to determine the causes of deterioration. As well, testing of treatment materials – including biocides for controlling biodeterioration and consolidants for disintegrated areas – were undertaken.
  • The Archaeological Park of Facatativa, where panels of rock art were deteriorating not only as a result of exposure to the natural environment, but also as a result of exposure to humans. Both biodeterioration and vandalism in the form of graffiti were damaging to the rock art panels. The panels received conservation attention for both problems.

2)         and historical monuments, such as:

  • The Jimenez de Quesada Monument in the city of Bogota, which had been damaged as a result of vandalism in the form of graffiti. The monument received a conservation treatment that included both the removal of the graffiti as well as the application of a coating to protect the monument against future graffiti vandalism.

In all of the cases that she presented, Maria spoke about the effect of the political, social, and economical climate on the sites’ conservation and preservation. She stressed the impact that such climates have on cultural heritage, from the care to the destruction of sites. She explained how various political, social, and economical circumstances have led her and her colleagues to determine goals and procedures for conservation and preservation projects. I found these concepts very powerful. For me, this presentation was a strong reminder of the complexities involved in the preservation of cultural heritage.