Session 5: Mosaics and Contemporary (Tom Roby)

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The first talk of session 5, Addressing Challenges of Conserving and Maintaining Mosaics in Storage, was presented by Tom Roby, on behalf of co-authors and consultant conservators Livia Alberti, Cristina Caldi, and Ermanno Carbonara, and project partners Archaeologist Mustapha Atki, from Morocco, and Myriam Ziade from Lebanon. Roby is an architectural conservator in the buildings and sites department of the Getty Conservation Institute. 

In this talk Tom focused on technician training work to conserve mosaics in storage, which is one branch of the MOSAIKON initiative carried out in the southern and eastern Mediterranean region. This presentation addressed the last training at Volubilis and the future training in Sidon for the conservation of mosaics storage without backings, the problems they encountered, and how they were solved.

In Volubilis the main problems included the condition of the mosaics and a lack of documentation of lifting mosaic components. The first step was to create a form to gather all the existing information, and then the training for the treatments began. It is important to highlight that this project emphasized the use of low-cost, locally available materials to ensure that these treatments could continue in the future. One of the highlights of this 3-week training session was the creation of a new storage shelving structure in order to safely view and study the mosaics. The 12 trainees got the experience and knowledge of backing and storing mosaics.

In Sidon the mosaics are in a similar condition to those in Volubilis—and most of the Mediterranean region—stacked in wooden panels and kept in an uncontrolled environment with water filtration. With the storage now repaired, the plan is to create a laboratory and develop a backing treatment using materials that are easily found in Lebanon, and then train a team of Lebanese technicians. A shelving structure is currently being designed and there is a plan to reorganize the storage hangar. 

This fascinating presentation was followed up by a Q&A where Tom Roby answered queries such as how to improve conservation planning in archeological sites to prevent a repeat of what happened in the 90’s. He articulated his point of view by saying that it would be easier if the excavation activity was limited, although in extreme cases, the conservation authorities should work with developers from the start. Concerning the Beirut project, he pointed out that the water infiltrations are already fixed, and they advised that the drainage should be improved to prevent future flooding.

Overall this has been an enriching session. Tom Roby has done an exceptional job at explaining some of the projects that MOSAIKON is doing in the Mediterranean regions, and he has was also attentive and helpful in the Q&A by responding with targeted answers to the questions asked.


Ana Vega Ramiro is a paintings and frame conservator based in Sweden