Review by Austin Nevin
From 16-18 September 2018 the Palace Museum in Beijing hosted the third annual Taihe Forum on Protecting the World's Ancient Civilisations, bringing together experts and scholars from China, Egypt, India, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Italy, Germany Greece, Lebanon, Mexico and Syria. The three-day forum was co-organised by the Museum, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
The intention of the 2018 Forum was to explore the balance between urban development and the protection of cultural heritage in ancient capitals, the sustainable development of cultural resources in cities and the conservation of historical relics. The International Institute for Conservation (IIC) was invited to take part in the Forum in sessions devoted to restoring and passing on the heritage of ancient capitals and was represented by Austin Nevin, who presented key activities organised by IIC including highlights from the 2018 Turin Congress, Studies in Conservation and the most recent Point of the Matter Dialogue on conservation in times of conflict, “Culture Cannot Wait: Integrating Cultural Heritage First Aid with Humanitarian Assistance in Crises”.
With representatives at the Taihe Forum from both Syria and Iraq, the widespread looting and trading of relics and the destruction of heritage through armed conflict were key topics of discussion. Indeed, at the conclusion of the forum, Mahmoud Hamoud general director of Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums in Syria, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Palace Museum to cooperate in sharing information concerning research and security. Debate at the Forum also focused on the critical need for conservation to be integrated into excavations, the documentation of built heritage, and the essential role of preventive conservation in sustainable plans for tourism and development. International standards for conservation and ethics, and efforts made internationally to disseminate research and recognise excellence were shared by the IIC and the chair of The International Council of Museums – Committee for Conservation (ICOM-CC), Kristiane Straetkvern.
Shan Jixiang, director of the Palace Museum and recipient of the IIC Forbes Prize at the 2014 Hong Kong Congress, indicated in his speech that "Governments have to take more responsibility to combine the protection of cultural heritage with the comprehensive development of economies and societies. More scientific evidence should be available to support protection". Shan also encouraged partnership between countries and international organisations to jointly study ancient civilisations, continue modern development and improve international communication.
Austin Nevin, FIIC and Council Member and Associate Editor of Studies in Conservation, is a conservator and conservation scientist and permanent researcher at the Italian National Research Council, Milan. His research is focused on material art history and the development of methods for the study of works of art.