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Conservation as a profession

The Earth is so simple, so clean and so apparent. Amongst its' important tasks, the earth holds the responsibility to conserve humanity's remnants and evidence of past cultures.

In silence and calmly, while integrating local flora and fauna, the earth conserves and protects stone and mosaic, plaster and pottery, glass and bone.

In a perfect, partial or destroyed state the earth succeeds to conserve a monument or a site, as it stood with all its secrets. This is a simple and perfect success.

In reality, the ruined and abandoned sites reflect the ideology of the culture that had constructed them.

To decipher and understand these sites and the success of conservation by the earth has become a challenge as well as a profession: site conservation.

The conservation of archaeological sites developed into a profession when awareness grew to the immense value that lies in the sites and to the severe decay process and damage resulting from exposure to climatic conditions. The practical principals of site conservation were established in Classical Europe in the 1950’s. Since then these principles are applied to all interventions and maintenance of heritage sites, stressing the use of techniques and materials which are compatible to those used in the past. Abiding to these principles is noteworthy, especially in light of the change in concept, techniques, and materials, that began at the start of the twentieth century, notably the use of modern cement (this changed the concept of construction completely) which was the preferred method from 1930-40 onwards. In the 1960’s, when the preference for the use of modern materials in heritage sites proved a failure, it was not a problem to revert back to the practical principals of site conservation.

Site conservation as a profession began in 1930's-40's Italy, in the dark basements of Classical Rome Antiquities Department. Several determined enthusiasts, headed by Cesare Brandi, prevailed upon influential archeologists and the Italian government, and established, in 1939, the Central Conservation Institute in Rome. The Institute formed the cornerstone in basing and acknowledging the complexity and necessity of the profession of conservation of archeological sites and artifacts. It is this base of concepts and techniques that formulated the International Charters for Site Conservation, which were later periodically updated.

Europe, led by Italy, is the center for promotion and study of archeological site conservation. International organizations have been established, for the identification of heritage sites worldwide, raising funds for conservation and training of local personnel. State and private schools were formed with varying frameworks offering three to four years of in depth and diversified study and training of three to six months for each specific skill. Libraries were created and a wide selection of books which deal with conservation in Italian, English, German, and French were published. Architecture schools offer conservation programs dealing with principles and particulars, in addition to modern building lessons, in order to train the architects in restoration, development and presentation of heritage sites to the public.

Site and artifact conservation have become a founded and respected profession in the field of archaeology and in public opinion, both in Europe and worldwide. As a result of the high public awareness of site conservation in Europe, conservation practice is permitted only to those who graduated with a full conservation degree and training -training may be up to three additional years. It is widely agreed that the ideal situation for the studies of conservation and archaeology would be an archeologist who studies the principles of conservation and a conservator who studies the principles of archaeology.

Currently, in Israel, there are no schools for archaeological conservation; artifacts and sites. Most museum artifacts conservators studied abroad while most site conservators learned, locally, "onsite". Only a few site conservators managed to experience short and partial training abroad or by foreign experts invited to Israel. In Israel the conservation of artifacts began in 1965 in the laboratories of the Israeli museum upon its establishment. Since then, the laboratories improved and advanced greatly and other laboratories have been opened in the Universities and in the Israel Antiquities Authority. Archeological conservation has been carried out in Israel since the 1960's - 70's, privately, by architects and archeologists and by the old National Parks Authority.

Site conservation according to the international charters and principles began only eighteen years ago as the Department of Antiquities in the Ministry of Education became Israel Antiquities Authority.

Key characteristics of a site conservator:

  • A vision and enthusiasm with in-depth, interdisciplinary training.
  • Precision, efficiency, creativity, a capability of understanding and assessing both details and concepts that appear onsite.
  • A capability to correlate the real situation on-site with the capabilities and results of documentation and conservation.
  • Ability to plan and determine techniques and materials to the visible needs of the site.
  • Understanding the dynamics within the site starting with the excavation process, the causes of decay and their affects, through the phases of presentation to the public and maintenance which will decide the site’s future.






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