AIA and SCS 2016 Annual Conference – A Conservator's Perspective

View of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, January 2016

The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and the Society for Classical Studies (SCS) recently held its annual conference on January 6-9, 2016 in San Francisco (conference program). This was my first time attending an AIA annual meeting. Although the conference was obviously geared towards archaeologists, I did find many of the sessions useful for conservators. The talks and workshops were generally organized by geographic location, time period, or specialized topics. Additional activities were organized by specific graduate programs or archaeological projects.
The conference began with the AIA public lecture given by Professor Lord Colin Renfew and the opening reception. The talk touched on some of the troubling world events that are currently affecting cultural heritage sites and some of his work on the island of Keros. The presentation was very well attended (standing room only of those who did not show up early). The opening reception immediately following the public lecture was a time when people could informally gather and discuss their work.
The AIA meeting had many different sessions running simultaneously and I had to strategically choose the talks I wanted to attend. I tried to go to all the presentations about archaeology sites that I had done fieldwork. I was interested to see how the material was presented to a specialized audience of archaeologists and to support my colleagues. I also attended several technical sessions such as archaeological photogrammetry and archaeometric approaches to the Bronze Age.
One of the themes that was touched on in many of the talks was addressing the current threat to cultural heritage in zones of conflict. There was a specialized workshop on the topic that brought leading experts to discuss not only the extent of destruction but the role of the international cultural heritage community. While overall these were sobering discussions, there were a few ideas that have the potential to be actualized and could possibly make a noticeable difference. Many organizations are working to document the damage using local reports and remote sensing in the hopes that the data could be of legal use for future war crime prosecutions. There was also the suggestion that resources should be allocated to reflect the racketeering cycle to have the maximum affect.
On Saturday morning, there was a special workshop entitled Innovation at the Junction of Conservation and Archaeology: Collaborative Technical Research moderated by Anna Serotta and Vanessa Muros. Below are the four talks presented during the session.

  • “Looking Closely: Microscopy in the Field” –  Colleen O’Shea and Jacob Bongers
  • “Archaeologist-Conservator Collaboration through Imaging: Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) on the Sardis Expedition, Turkey 2015” – Emily Frank, Harral DeBauche, and Nicholas Cahill
  • “Same Data, Targeted Uses: Site Photogrammetry for Archaeologists and Conservators” – Eve Mayberger, Jessica Walthew, Alison Hight, David Scahill, and Anna Serotta
  • “Drilling, Zapping, and Mapping for more than a Decade: Collaborative Project to Source Classical Marble in the Carlos Museum” – Renée Stein and Robert Tykot

I was honored to co-present the collaborative work undertaken at Selinunte during the 2015 excavation season. Following the talks, there was a general discussion regarding the role of conservation in fieldwork and the specialized knowledge that conservators can contribute to archaeological research questions. I hope that the AIA will continue to allow a space for conservation to engage with the larger archaeological community within the context of their annual meeting.