Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Conference call for papers: The impact of cross-disciplinary conservation on social development

16th-17th May 2014UCL Institute of Archaeology

A two-day conference organized by the Conservation and Development 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).

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 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. 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.
Submissions will be 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.

Dissemination: Presenters will be invited to submit their papers to a special issue of the Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies  (an open access and peer-reviewed journal).
For more information contact

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Conservation and Development Research Network

The Conservation and Development Research Network (CDRN) is based at the UCL Inst of Archaeology. This research network brings together researchers to critically examine the potential impact of conservation in social and political arenas. The results of this research network will foster conservation practices relevant to socio- cultural, economic and/or ecological contexts of areas in need for development, areas of post-conflict reconstruction (ongoing conflict and/or conflict prone will also be considered), or reconstruction due to natural disasters. 
CDRN members include: Rebecca Bennett (UCL/IoA alumna);Dimitrios Chatzigiannis; Anne-Marie Deisser (University of Nairobi, Department of History and Archaeology); Eric Demarche (UCL-Qatar, MSc Conservation Studies); Jessica Johnson (University of Delaware, Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage); Renata Peters(UCL/IoA Lecturer and CDRN Coordinator); Flavia Ravaioli (UCL/IoA MSc in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums); Kelly Schulze (UCL/IoA MSc in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums); Tracey Sweek (British Museum).
Our main aims are to:
  • Identify and elaborate on how the practice of conservation can impact on people’s wellbeing and quality of life
  • Engage local groups in re-construction and/or development of their socio-cultural life through the practice of conservation
  • Explore cross-disciplinary collaborations between academics and professionals involved in cultural and environmental conservation (in both practical and theoretical levels)
  • Identify available local resources and study the prospects to use it
  • Develop ways to make the practice of conservation sustainable
  • Find links between material heritage conservation and environmental conservation, especially in cases where biodiversity and ecology play strong roles in the lives of local people

Members of CDRN are currently collaborating with various projects, including:
The Origins of the Acheulean in East Africa (ORACEAF) Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania) is the site where the earliest Acheulean was first discovered, and where the traditional view of the Oldowan-Acheulean transition was first established. The multidisciplinary character of the ORACEAF project is providing an integrative perspective to the analysis of the paleoecology, archaeology, geology and geochronology of the early Acheulean at Olduvai. In addition, conservators R Peters and R Bennett are now working on a long-term conservation project for the material obtained from recent excavations.  
Archaeology, Heritage and Civilisation in Iraqi Kurdistan The Shahrizor Plain, where UCL has been permitted to work, lies in the province of Suleimaniya, within the heartlands of what was once referred to as the ‘Cradle of Civilisation’; the region in which farming, urban life and literacy began. Although the project is in early stages of development R Peters, F Ravaioli and colleagues working in Kurdistan are working on a sustainable conservation policy for material that happens to be unveiled by the forthcoming excavation season.
See more details here:

Friday, 20 April 2012

Development, archaeology and living people in Iraq

In 'Seeking to Preserve the Past but Stumbling on the Present' the New York Times discusses conflicts that can arise when one is seeking to preserve remains of the past but this preservation becomes an obstacle to living people. The article shows how deep these conflicts can go, not only in practical but also in ethical terms.   

 "On land where Assyrian kings once reigned, an Iraqi farmer named Araf Khalaf surveyed the scrap of earth that has nurtured three generations of his family. It is little more than a mud hut and a scraggly vegetable patch, yet his land has become a battleground, one pitting efforts to preserve Iraq’s ancient treasures against the nation’s modern-day poor." "My father grew up here," Mr. Khalaf said. "This is our land."

The issues become even more debatable when the context where they occur is Iraq.  It is never easy to find a solution to instances when local people occupy sites of historical importance. If authorities were to move them from the sites, where should they take these people?  How legitimate is it to disturb lives of people to preserve remains of the past?

See more on the NYT

Altamira Cave, microbial strains and access

Altamira Cave, in the north of Spain. Image from Science & Technology 

Altamira Cave has had a long history of closing and opening to the public since its discovery in 1879. Access policies are about to be revised, again. However, according to recent studies carried out by Saiz-Jimenez and other scientists (see the article on Science 7 October 2011, pages 42-43) opening the cave for visitors  would have disastrous effects. 

Local authorities think otherwise, however, as the region has become an important touristic hub. There are some interesting points to debate here, such as how to define an access policy that will not compromise the cave or local development. Another important point would be the validity of the replica, that is, whether it provides an 'authentic' experience for visitors.

See a good discussion here For Cave's Art, An Uncertain Future, by Carmen Drahl

The Great Pompeii Project: plan to preserve sites and prevent interference by organized crime at Pompeii

The Great Pompeii Project  will be funded by the European Commission and cost €105 million.  Approximately €85 million will be spent on the restoration/conservation of the site.
In addition, the influx of European Union money is hoped to help stimulate the economy in an economically depressed area (unemployment rate is nearly 17 %, while youth unemployment in 2011 was 37 %). Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti declared that they "...hope to trigger a process that will assist the local youth who don’t have jobs, but before that happens, Pompeii must remain standing...”.  
An 'anti Camorra Watchdog' has been appointed. “Experience has taught us that subcontracts and construction works in particular are areas that attract the interest of organized crime”, said the Italian Interior Ministry official. 
Read more on the NYT (article by Elisabetta Povoledo)

Monday, 2 May 2011

Looting, exhibitions & conservation

Various debates emerged this week. Although they are not directly concerned with conservation they are certainly relevant.

First there were news of illicitly acquired artefacts being returned to Egypt by the Mexican government. It is interesting to see Mexico at this end of the negotiation. As Mexico is one of the countries that had its material culture plundered in the past, they certainly know what it is like to be at the opposite end.

There were also news about the reconstruction of four halls at the Baghdad Museum despite the fact that it is closed to the public until further notice. One of the halls will display artefacts recovered after the 2003 looting. According to the reports the museum managed to recover more than 750 objects from Syria, 2,000 from Jordan, and unclosed numbers from the US, Holland, Sweden, Germany, Poland and Peru.

Quite a lot of space has been dedicated to the discussion of an exhibition organized by the government of Singapore in collaboration with the Smithsonian Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The material to be displayed was salvaged by aprivately-held German company from a shipwreck off the Indonesian coast. It includes pottery, rare pieces of porcelain , silver and gold. Although there has not been a final decision, the exhibition is tentatively scheduled for the spring of 2012. The company  is said to have sold the salvaged material to the Singapore government. It is worth to note that Indonesia has not ratified the 2001 UNESCO convention, therefore, this kind of operation is considered legal.

This has generated a lot of concern in the last few weeks and the Smithsonian is being asked to terminate the collaboration. The NYT, for example, reports that the Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology said that by proceeding with the exhibition the Smithsonian would be violating its own set of professional ethics and promoting the looting of archaeological sites. Various archaeological organizations have expressed similar views.

The board of directors for the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is said to be studying the case and a final decision is expected for May. Given the amount of planning necessary for an exhibition of this scale I cannot even begin to think of how much pressure this is generating for the conservators behind the scenes!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Painting conservation materializes 'warming ties' between China and Taiwan

A report at theThe Independent shows how conservation may mean much more than the mere physical reintegration of a painting. 

Two pieces of "Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains", a 660-year-old painting  by Huang Gongwang have been held in separate institutions since1949 - one piece in Taipei, another in the Zhejiang province of China. They are about to be reunited for a 40-day exhibit in Taiwan, as a signal of warming ties between the governments of China and Taiwan.