Tuesday, 10 December 2013

CALL FOR POSTERS: The impact of cross-disciplinary conservation on social development

The impact of cross-disciplinary conservation on social development
A two-day conference to be held at the UCL Institute of Archaeology,
16th-17th May 2014


A two-day conference is being organized by the Conservation and Development Research Network (University College London), in collaboration with the Heritage Conservation and Human Rights Network (University of Nairobi) and the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage (University of Delaware).

This conference will explore the impact of conservation ethics and practices on socio-cultural, economic and ecological contexts in need of development, areas of post-conflict recovery and reconstruction due to natural disasters.  Conservation decision-making processes are influenced by local, national and international socio-economic factors and their associated contexts. Conversely, conservation can also significantly affect socio-economic development and lead to improvements in people’s lives. Understanding layers of history, values, how they are shaped, their contexts, motivations, and their impact form the fundamental basis for effective decision-making processes in conservation today. The main purpose is to stimulate lasting discussion (within heritage conservation, the broader field of heritage, and nature conservation) on how the practice of conservation can promote human wellbeing and economic prosperity, support conflict or disaster recovery, and foster social cohesion.
Poster submissions are invited in the following areas:
  • The impact of the practice of conservation on people’s wellbeing and quality of life 
  • Engagement of local groups in re-construction and/or development through the practice of conservation.
  • Cross-disciplinary collaborations between professionals involved in heritage and nature conservation (in both practical and theoretical levels).
  • Research on and use of locally produced resources to replace expensive imported treatment materials.  
  • Practical issues of conservation in the field, focusing on involvement/training of local people.
  • Theoretical and practical approaches that make the practice of conservation sustainable.
A limited number of posters on these themes will be displayed on the first day of the conference, including an evening reception when poster presenters will have the opportunity to discuss their work with other conference attendees.

Poster abstracts:
Poster abstracts, in English and maximum 500 words, should be submitted to conservationucl@gmail.com by January 15th, 2014. Abstracts should contain the main aims of the poster, a summary discussion of the topic and main conclusions.  
For more information contact conservationucl@gmail.com

This conference is the winner of the Institute of Archaeology's 2013 Conference Competition and part of the UCL Grand Challenges, Intercultural Interaction


Thursday, 21 November 2013

Thinking outside the longbox: preventive conservation in comic book shops by Marina Gibbons

Both the conservation profession and the comic book collecting subculture matured during the last century, largely in isolation from one another.  As a result, the types of preventive conservation tactics that became institutionalised in the comic book retail sector often diverge from modern conservation strategies in other heritage contexts.  Yet if inadequate preservation methods endanger the living tangible and intangible heritage practices of the comics subculture, there is an imperative for conservation outreach in that sector.  In order to demonstrate the need for a professional dialogue between conservators and shop owners and to reinforce the necessity of ongoing supplier quality review in other conservation contexts, this study explores the preventive conservation strategies commonly used by comic retailers and tests the practical benefits of their archival products.  The origins of the comic book collecting subculture, its modern values and the materials of the books themselves are also discussed.

This is the abstract of a dissertation submitted in partial fullfilment of the requirements for the degree of MA in Principles of Conservation, Institute of Archaeology, University College London 2013.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013


Conservation interventions and ways of using material heritage resources are often referred to as being either “appropriate” or not without any explanation of what this actually means. Based on an understanding of material heritage as a social construct defined by the communities who value it, a framework is developed for determining and discussing the appropriate use of material heritage resources. Fundamental to this framework is an understanding of the concept of “acceptable damage”.  It is suggested that damage should only be considered in cases where the associated benefits through use outweigh the negative change, thereby preserving or increasing overall “capital”. A model for conceptualising the values of material heritage and the benefits provided through using heritage resources as a form of capital is proposed, which is intended to function within the “Simplified Mechanism for Appropriate Use”. Based on planning structures developed for the management of heritage sites, the mechanism is from the perspective of the conservator operating within the larger sphere of heritage management. It is suggested that heritage management would benefit from involving conservators in determining how heritage resources are used. Both the mechanism and the associated model are intentionally designed to reap the benefits of interdisciplinary management. The proposed framework draws upon the literature developed for the conservation and management of both heritage collections and sites and is intended for use in the management of all categories of heritage. The discussion benefits from a consideration of practical heritage management, featuring a case study of the management of the potential World Heritage Site of Chatham Dockyard and Its Defences; the framework developed is therefore informed both by theory and practice. It is intended to facilitate the informed use of material heritage while encouraging heritage managers to make the value-judgments underlying all use-decisions explicit.


This is the abstract of a dissertation submitted in partial fullfilment of the requirements for the degree of MA in Principles of Conservation, Institute of Archaeology, University College London 2013.

The Politics of Conservation: #ДАНСing and Romancing the Soviet Army Monument in Sofia by Maria Agova

This is the abstract of a dissertation submitted in partial fullfilment of the requirements for the degree of MA in Principles of Conservation, Institute of Archaeology, University College London 2013. 
This paper draws a parallel between the physical and political remnants of the communist regime in
Bulgaria and explores the Soviet Army Monument in Sofia as a temporal and spatial reflection of the relationship between Bulgaria, the Russian Empire, Soviet Union and, now, the Russian Federation, with a specific focus on the #ДАНСwithme anti-government demonstrations currently taking place in the country (14 June 2013 - present [18 November]). The monument is considered as a point of resistance where competing discourses – that of the authorities responsible for building and maintaining this relationship, and that of marginalised groups that seek to challenge and destroy it – clash, offering the possibility of change. By investigating the monument’s multiple, often conflicting meanings and uses throughout history within the framework of counter-memory and counter-monumentality, it highlights its dissonant nature and offers the basis for a discussion of the applicability of current heritage conservation principles.

To what degree can change be said to increase value and significance? How far does context affect the assessment of change in heritage? By Veronica Ford

The following is the abstract of a dissertation submitted in partial fullfilment of the requirements for the degree of MA in Principles of Conservation, Institute of Archaeology, University College London 2013. 

This dissertation explores in greater depth the relationship between heritage and change and how this relates to how we present and conserve the past. Change in heritage is often viewed negatively when it causes material deterioration and the erosion of existing heritage values. However, it also has many positive facets conferring age value, aesthetic value, symbolic value and evidential value. 
Whether a change is considered valuable and how it is considered valuable will be defined by the context in which it is presented. Museums and heritage organisations guard heritage, but they also help to define how heritage is valued through their acquisition, display, interpretation and conservation of objects. This dissertation examines some of the contexts in which change is valued and look in more detail at the implications this has for conservation.

To begin with, a number of terms frequently used to describe change are defined, examined and challenged. In general, terms like ‘patina’ and ‘damage’ have either positive or negative value attached to them, but they are often used as if they were neutral. Next, change is examined in terms of the types of positive values which it may contribute, which include evidential value, symbolic value, aesthetic value and age value. Examples are drawn from the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum and the National Trust. Finally the context and aims of these three institutions are examined in order to determine how and why change may be valued in particular institutional settings. 

A visual assessment of objects in the British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum was carried out which assessed objects in which change or alteration was visible. This assessment looked at how far changes were explicitly viewed as positive, through the information provided about objects on their exhibition labels and online collections search. In the case of the National Trust the overall aesthetic of three houses was examined – Calke Abbey, Scotney Castle and Kedleston Hall. 

The dissertation concludes that the terms used to describe change should be used with greater caution than they already are – no changes are intrinsically positive or negative. Such a description is the product of an individual’s subjective judgement depending on their opinion about the value of the object and how the change has affected this. Whether a change is likely to be viewed as negative or positive will also depend greatly on the context as well as how well interpretive text explains change. At the V&A, with its focus on manufacturing and design, change is valued when it demonstrates an artefact’s materials and manufacturing methods. At the British Museum, which has a broader focus on world cultures, change is valued when it helps to explain the cultural use of the objects. At the National Trust, the value of change is highly dependent on the broader values of each property. At Scotney Castle, picturesque decay is triumphant. At Calke Abbey, decay is symbolic of broader trends in society and aristocratic decline. At Kedleston Hall, the aim is to display the house as it would have looked in the late 18th century and therefore change which contradicted this aesthetic is viewed negatively, whereas restoration is used extensively as a positive change. 

When contemplating future conservation treatments, it is important that the positive values of past change are recognised. Conservation should not automatically class all change as undesirable, but must consider the values ascribed to the object and the context in which it is situated. However, the fact that future changes may be desirable should not be used as an excuse to allow an object to be subject to uncontrolled change.  The impact of material change on value change is unpredictable. Therefore, the retention and enhancement of the current values of an object should be prioritised over any potential future values that change may bring.

For more information please contact Veronica Ford

Monday, 18 November 2013

Blurred Lines: Human remains or collectibles?

I’ve always assumed that buying and selling human skeletal remains is illegal in the Netherlands because it’s illegal to buy and sell human organs. Of course I’m aware that hospitals/universities/schools receive human remains, but I always thought that those came from donations, or that when they were bought by these institutions that exceptions were made for them because they acquired them for the purpose of research and/or education. Apparently I’m wrong!

A week ago I visited a flea market in Bleiswijk, the Netherlands. Although I mostly visit flea markets to buy badly restored objects (so I can take them apart and see if I can do a better job) I somehow can’t help but gravitate towards the objects that have been acquired from our former Dutch colonies. I never buy any of those objects (because of their unverifiable provenance, and well, because I have no use for them) but there’s just something indefinable about their exotic nature that intrigues me.

The skull on the picture comes from Papua and
is/was on sale for € 550,-. (copyright: ILF)  
Normally I just see the kind of exotic objects that I expect to find, such as wooden statues, necklaces with cowries, sometimes ritual daggers, etc. However, this time I saw a stall with a few very unusual ‘objects’, namely two authentic (I was allowed to check) human skulls! I was intrigued, but mostly alarmed. The owner of the stall was very open about his merchandise and allowed me to take this picture of the skull. (In fact, he suggested that I pose with it, but that was just a bridge too far for me…)

At home I decided to do some research online. To my surprise buying and selling human skeletal remains as well as importing these is completely legal (unless of course you know that they’ve been illegally excavated from a cemetery or have been stolen from a morgue)! In fact, if you’re an (amateur-) archaeologist and find human remains during an excavation you can keep them. Apparently you’re only morally, not legally obligated to rebury human remains found during an excavation.

With the recent changes in the law concerning human remains in England (incl. reburying human remains within 2 years after archaeological excavation) it seemed unlikely to me that the Dutch law hadn’t changed. However, I haven’t been able to find anything about such a change (although I will keep looking). And in the meantime, human remains can be bought on Marktplaats (the Dutch equivalent of Ebay)…

Friday, 8 November 2013

Original vs Replica: Questions of Authenticity and Viewer Appreciation at the New King Tut Tomb

Egypt will be opening up a replica of King Tut's tomb, hopefully drawing visitors away from the original structure that has had gradual damage to the wall paintings due to temperature and RH fluctuations.  Although similar replicas around the world, such as Lascaux II, have been extremely successful in both original site preservation and visitor satisfaction, the use of replicas still begs the question of "which is better, a perfect fake or the real deal?"

This article also highlights the efforts of conservators at the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation, and provides an excellent photograph of conservators at work.  Hurray for conservation visibility!


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Should Greek archaeological sites be privatised?

The stadion of Nemea, Greece. Copyright: Wikipedia.
Last week while surfing the internet I stumbled upon an interesting interview with Dr Stephen Miller, professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley and director of the Nemea excavations in Greece. The interview concerned an open letter written by Dr Miller to the general public. Although I wasn’t able to locate the letter itself, it was pretty easy to discern its contents by reading the interview and other related online articles.

In his letter Dr Miller discussed the potential layoff of seven of the ten guards working at Nemea's site due to Greece’s government plans regarding the streamlining of the Greek civil service. (The streamlining of the Greek civil service is of course necessary because of Greece’s financial situation.) Not only would this leave the archaeological site more vulnerable to looting, but it would mean that as a result of the lack of security the site and the nearby museum would have to be closed to the public during weekends.

However, Dr Miller had two reasons for writing his letter. The first, and more obvious one, is to attract the attention of the media and ensure that the museum and site stay open. The other, this one not so obvious, was to lay the foundation for his proposal for the privatization of Greek archaeological sites. Dr Miller’s idea is that private companies could purchase an archaeological site from the Greek government, construct a museum near the site (and maybe a hotel, restaurant, gift shop, etc.), and take over the responsibility for storing and conserving the site’s artefacts. Those companies would earn money from the site by selling tickets, etc.

I’m not quite sure how I feel about this proposal. I can imagine how his idea would work for popular sites like Knossos in Crete (and I just had a disturbing vision of the site with a large billboard in front of it saying “Knossos is maintained by Burger King” and a drive-in next to it with the employees wearing cheap mock-ups of Minoan outfits).  But what about the sites that are not so well-known to the public? What’s the attraction for companies to invest in small archaeological sites and local museums? Maintaining archaeological sites and museums, hiring guards and curators and conservators would cost those companies a lot of money. Would it even be profitable for them? And if not, then why would private companies take the risk?

This leads me to my final and foremost concern. If we allow private companies to financially exploit archaeological sites and artefacts, what kind of impact would this have on the preservation of these sites and artefacts?

What are your thoughts?


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