Session 7: Architectural and Archaeological Sites – Q&A and Panel Discussion

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On Wednesday in session 7, we looked into new approaches to the conservation and management of archaeological and architectural sites, discussing good approaches to the conditions in which buildings and artefacts were found. The session considered the complexity of different contexts; from the extent of destruction at the sites, to new methods and technology utilized next to traditional ones, the importance of involvement of communities and ways to document and sustain archaeological and architectural heritage.

Tracking Trends: A Study of Post-Earthquake Approaches in Conservation in Patan, Nepal

The first presentation by Martina Haselberger, talked about her experience in Patan city immediately after the Nepal Earthquake in 2015. She highlighted the importance of team work with various actors like national authorities, international experts, and most importantly, local communities. This last one is a key factor since Nepal’s culture demands cyclical renewal of materials if its structural and decorative elements are damaged, therefore the communication and consultation with local communities is essential. The conservation team had to adapt to these circumstances and decided to recreate a specific idol with help of craftsmen but without replacing the original damaged one that was already in place. She answered a question about this topic:

  "As the idol was badly damaged (broken) it lost its significance for the local community as it could not be worshipped any more. Thus, they showed not much interest in its conservation – local art historians and preservation architects were more concerned. Community consultation played an important role – without it the sculpture would have been restored but not appreciated – and no solution like the present one (new idol next to conserved original) would have been found"

Another focal point of the intervention in situ was the search for a balance of new modern methods with traditional ones with the help of local craftsmanship and western based principles, for example the usage of new carved timber, stones and different approaches in mortars.

The Nimrud Rescue Project

 Another example that demanded local community participation in archaeological heritage management was the Nimrud Rescue Project.  Jessica Thompson’s team was challenged to reconstruct this site after the iconoclasm in 2015 and later  devastating bombing in 2016, both at the hands of ISIS. You can see the destruction caused by this attack in the images. There was a strong reaction in the chat, with many questions and comments about these inhuman actions.

Jessica explained participatory engagement from different backgrounds was very important. With the help of UNESCO, the Smithsonian, Iraqi Institutions and local organizations a protective fence was put up around this citadel and the project of re-excavation of the remains started.  This Rescue Team carried out a thoughtful analysis and reflected the complexity of the conservation and rehabilitation of the zone using a unique methodology based in a grid layout with cordages documenting each square so fragments can be removed, cleaned and stabilized. A question was raised at this moment:

“Given the level of destruction to the site, can you speak a bit more about the role that documentation will play in the recovery efforts and possibly the future plans for the site?”

“Documentation is taking place at a variety of levels. Satellite imagery, drone surveys, photography before, during and after recovery, and we're in the midst of project collating information in GIS And of course written reports by Iraqi and US partners. The main issue is that we (Iraqis and US partners) have found little previous documentation from just prior to the destruction for direct comparison - documentation kept in Mosul and Baghdad on reconstruction, has not been found (because both museums where documentation was stored were looted) - though of course there is vast published documentation by previous researchers and excavators.

They also used a technique of reburial using non-woven geo-textile and covering it with mud bricks available in the local zone. This will help preserve the fragments from deterioration.

By 2019 they had done an incredible job covering around ⅓ of the citadel, and gathering a huge number of fragments. By the end of Q&A, we knew much more about teamwork and how the help of different organizations and locals can assist in reactivations of identity for different societies.


Carlos Izurieta is a senior student of conservation and restoration of paintings and sculptures at Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Spain.