The responsibility for the care of archaeological objects and sites often falls on archaeologists, architects, or civil servants whose training does not prepare them for the conservation problems they face. As a consequence, the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) developed courses and workshops intended to increase awareness of the need to apply basic conservation principles in the care of archaeological materials.
In 1987, the GCI offered Conservation in Field Archaeology, the first in a series of courses that provided an overview of conservation-oriented field techniques and preventive measures in archaeological excavations. Over the next six years, the course was given in Los Angeles, Chicago, Tucson, Jerusalem, and Washington, D.C. Topics in the course included the role of conservation in archaeology, deterioration mechanisms of organic and inorganic materials, techniques to reduce deterioration, the selection and use of conservation materials in the field, and the recovery of freshly excavated material and its safe transfer to facilities to be housed and stored. Additional topics included the conservation of dry and wet sites, coins and glass, lab and field techniques, storage and the maintenance of archaeological records. The course provided an overview of preventive measures that improve the recovery of freshly excavated material, as well as a review of in situ conservation methods, and issues of ethics and policy in archaeology and conservation.
During this same period, the GCI offered several courses on the field conservation of excavated objects and buildings, in conjunction with projects in Tiwanaku, Bolivia, and Paphos, Cyprus.
In related conservation areas, the GCI offered a course in 1987 on the conservation of artifacts made from plant materials, and a course in 1990 on the consolidation of ethnographic painted objects. The latter course, developed with ethnographic conservators and materials scientists, drew on GCI research to provide new data on paints typically found on ethnographic objects. The course was so successful that a special AATA supplement was developed on the topic.
GCI educational activities focused on site management -- the conservation, management, and protection of archaeological sites and monuments -- grew out of the Institute's work in archaeological conservation and the Conservation of Rock Art. In the early 1990s, in addition to the development of courses on rock art site management, the GCI conducted courses dealing with site management in China and Cyprus.
The GCI's continuing concern for increased training in the conservation of archaeological materials precipitated the current development of the joint GCI/UCLA master's degree program in the conservation of archaeological and ethnographic materials. The Institute's interest in promoting site management led to its China Principles project with its objective of developing and promoting national guidelines for conservation and management of cultural heritage sites in China.
Related articles in Conservation, the GCI Newsletter
- Archaeological Conservation and Site Management (Fall, 1995)