Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1998.11.08

de la Torre, Marta, The Conservation of Archaeological Sites in the Mediterranean Region. An International Conference Organized by the Getty Conservation Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum, 6-12 May 1995.   Los Angeles:  The Getty Conservation Institute, 1997.  Pp. 164, color pls. 13, black and white figs. internally numbered.  ISBN 0-89236-486-6.  $50.00.  

Contributors: Marta del la Torre and Margaret MacLean, Sharon Sullivan, Christos Doumas, Hartwig Schmidt, Renée Sivan, Nicholas Stanley-Price, John K. Papadopoulos, Martha Demas


Reviewed by Mary Stieber, Cooper Union
Word count: 2134 words

Though not, strictly speaking, the "proceedings" (p. vii) of a recent conference which was jointly sponsored and organized by the Getty Museum and its Conservation Institute, this publication presents the substance of the conference whose laudable premise was the acknowledgment that archaeological sites (or "heritage" sites, as they are called in these pages and therefore in this review) hold tremendous value for a number of key interest groups besides professional archaeologists, scientists and scholars. This diverse group includes local inhabitants, tourists and other visitors, government officials and entrepreneurs, among others. The conference was held in the Mediterranean on board a ship in May, 1995, and included excursions to three famous sites: Piazza Armerina, Sicily; Knossos, Crete; and Ephesus, Turkey. The results of the conference as a whole represent a fresh view of sites and their management and as such it will be of interest to anyone who is directly involved in the operation, maintenance and presentation of a heritage site, whether ancient or modern. The results of this conference also serve as a reminder that it is both useful and appropriate to step away periodically from the business of excavating in order to reflect on the implications and the responsibilities of releasing ancient sites from the earthly prisons which are imposed upon them by time and human occupation.

These are the kinds of managerial tasks, attention to which, in the words of one contributor, "seldom gets people academic recognition or promotions" (Sullivan, p. 26), and as such, they tend to be relegated to the sidelines of archaeological careers. It is a simple fact but sometimes overlooked by professionals in the field that the lives of other, non-professionals, are to a great degree involuntarily affected, and not always in positive ways, when they do their jobs well. There is much talk here of "values." To their credit, all of the conference participants whose papers are published here offer sensible, sensitive suggestions for incorporating the needs and requirements of both professional and non-professional interest groups into the plans for the maintenance and "presentation" or "interpretation" (to adopt the language of the conference) of a heritage site. Aside from the preservation of the sites themselves, which is priority number one, as the title of conference implies, it is the concerns and needs of these groups, whether they are generated by the pursuit of scholarship, by self-interest or by necessity, that this conference addressed. Some of the recommendations, while impressive in print, would require the addition of personnel and another layer or two of bureaucracy to the already complex arrangements at many archaeological sites. Thus, they are less likely to achieve fruition at those sites where the additional appointment of a "site manager"--a suggestion common to many papers--could fragment leadership. But for the most part, there are ideas and philosophies here which can be implemented and in some cases are already in place at major sites.

A convenient two-page summary of the conclusions of the conference opens the collection. Part One follows, with papers under the general heading, "The Management and Presentation of Archaeological Sites." An overview of the aims and achievements of the conference is authored jointly by de la Torre and MacLean, while each of the four contributors to this section writes from the unique perspective of his or her own professional experience. Sullivan presents a detailed "planning model" developed for sites in Australia but which could be adapted for use elsewhere, while Doumas focuses on the history of the management of a single site, Akrotiri, Thera, where he is currently director of excavations. Particularly engaging are the contrasting views on the presentation/interpretation of sites offered by Schmidt, a professor of conservation of historic buildings at the Faculty of Architecture of the Technical University in Aachen, and Sivan, a heritage presentation specialist, museum planner, and developer of historical sites. Schmidt is primarily interested in the success and failure of attempts to reconstruct ancient monuments like the Arch of Titus in Rome, the Stoa of Attalos and the Parthenon in Athens, and the Library of Celsius in Ephesus. Reconstructions (which involve incorporating original remains into new structures in order to recreate the impression of a coherent whole) can compromise the integrity of the preserved ruins and, when they fail to integrate themselves properly with their surroundings, give a misleading impression of a monument's importance or visual appearance relative to neighboring monuments. As an alternative to reconstruction, Schmidt seems to favor "comprehensive presentations" on the model of Colonial Williamsburg which are created entirely for the entertainment of visitors, while restricting the intervention on genuine remains to "measures that preserve historic buildings and monuments: conservation, restoration, and anastylosis" (p. 50). Sivan extends the debate to less familiar sites like the third- or fourth-century Jewish necropolis at Beth Shearim, the Nabatean settlement at Avdat, and the Canaanite royal city of Tel Dan, all in Israel, where unorthodox methods of site presentation, including the strategic placement of modern sculptural interpretations of ancient genre scenes, some of them humorous, are now being practiced with a fair degree of success. Not all of the solutions presented in this paper, however, will meet with universal approval.

Part Two includes papers on the three archaeological sites visited by the conference attendees: Stanley-Price on the Roman villa at Piazza Armerina; Papadopoulos on Knossos; Demas on Ephesus. Finally, a single appendix contains summaries of charters which have been adopted internationally concerning the appropriate management of the world's archaeological heritage, from the 1904 Madrid Conference through the Charter for Sustainable Tourism of 1995. A list of the conference participants and their institutional affiliations, short biographies of the authors, and illustration credits follow. Since the three papers in Part Two constitute over half of the publication, it is worth reviewing each of them in further detail.

Stanley-Price, an independent consultant in cultural heritage preservation with an extensive background in fieldwork and administration, writes on the Roman villa at Piazza Armerina, a site renowned for its mosaic floors. He identifies and briefly characterizes four categories of values which together comprise the basis for the "wider significance" of the site: 1) historical; 2) aesthetic; 3) scientific; 4) social and symbolic, themes which are considered generally throughout the conference. How best to integrate all four categories informs the main subject of his paper, the history of the conservation and presentation of the mosaics which has witnessed a nearly continuous series of interventions (which can include excavation as well as conservation and preservation measures) since the site's modern rediscovery in 1881. The most controversial intervention, designed and built in the 1950s and still essentially in place, is a protective enclosure made of clear panels, including the roof, which is not archaeologically accurate, of course, but which does allow for the penetration of natural light to facilitate viewing. What had seemed a satisfactory solution has, in fact, presented a new set of aesthetic and conservation problems of its own, including the disrupting effect of shadows created by light entering from above, and temperature and humidity fluctuations brought on by the greenhouse effect. Stanley-Price also considers the anomaly of allowing modern visitors to view more of the mosaics than an ancient Roman would, and of the process of experiencing the environment somewhat falsely through a predetermined fixed route. That there are, however, justifiable reasons for allowing ancient remains to be viewed in a convenient if not authentic manner is reflected in the way objects are routinely displayed in museums around the world. There are both positives and negatives to being able to examine, for example, the Parthenon pedimental groups at eye level and the Parthenon frieze at eye level, inside out, and with sufficient lighting. In the end, Stanley-Price leaves open the questions of appropriateness which he addresses throughout his essay, while he hopes for new solutions at Piazza Armerina. Papadopoulos' article on Arthur Evans' "find of a lifetime," Knossos, would make for fascinating reading even if it were not connected with this project. The associate curator of antiquities at the Getty, Papadopoulos isolates a list of categories of values similar to Stanely-Price's; however, Knossos--the second-most-visited site in Greece after the acropolis of Athens--with its legendary cast of characters like Minos, Daedalus, and Theseus, carries a far weightier burden of romance and symbolic importance than does the Roman villa. In the author's words, "although Minoan Knossos was lost from human view, it was never lost from human memory" (p. 98). Papadopoulos' account of the history of the site before, during and after Arthur Evans' notorious interventions is detailed and thoughtful. It is illustrated with vintage photographs from the Evans Archive at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, which provide a stark reminder of just how much of this site, as presented in classrooms and lecture halls through the familiar imagery of Evans' reconstructions, is the work of modern artists and architects. It has long been realized that Evans' largely irreversible "reconstitution" (as Evans himself referred to it) is as much an early twentieth century period piece as it is an authentic recreation of ancient Minoan architecture. But, as the author points out, for better or for worse, Arthur Evans' version of ancient Knossos is itself an important part of the history of the site and is now regarded as significant enough to restore. Furthermore, a fact that is not well-known, the reconstructions themselves constitute the finest and best-preserved examples of Art Deco and Art Nouveau architecture in Greece today.

Martha Demas of the Getty Conservation Institute writes on Ephesus, "the first and greatest city of Asia Minor" during the Roman Empire, now the "'first and greatest' tourist attraction in the region," according to the author (p. 127). For the purposes of her paper, Demas includes in her "definition" of Ephesus not just the Roman city center but the scant remains of the Artemisium, which, except for a single re-erected, stork-inhabited column, now lie under water for much of the year, but once a Wonder of the World, as well as the Christian and Islamic monuments and shrines in the vicinity, all of which, combined with easy accessibility by sea, make this site one of the most frequent on the itinerary of both land tours and cruises. With the growing popularity of Turkey as a destination that is regarded as a bit more exotic than Greece or Italy, everyone these days, or so it seems, has been to Ephesus. Because these tourists also include many Greeks, Ephesus has accidentally found itself to be a rare and tenuous connection between two modern countries which have long been bitterly at odds with one another. But the value of Ephesus runs even deeper for Turks, as Demas explains: "Ephesus is recognized as a symbolic link between Turkey and Europe," a status which has became all the more significant since Turkey has been trying to join the EU. Like the other two authors, Demas identifies and discusses the values (in this case, archaeological and historical, social, symbolic, aesthetic and natural, and economic) attached to this site, then presents a lengthy history of the interventions, some of which (like those on the Library of Celsius) had been addressed in an earlier paper. At Ephesus, the complexity and variety of the remains and a centuries-long history of tourism have occasioned an eclecticism of approaches to intervention and presentation with all of the attendant problems of a cumulative effort and the lack of a master plan. Demas concludes her essay with a straightforward appraisal of the problems associated with multitudes of tourists, many of them oblivious to the deleterious effects of careless behavior at an ancient site, which amounts almost to an appeal. She ends on a note of cautious optimism, as did Stanley-Price, that new ways of conserving and presenting will be considered in order that this revered site may be properly tended as it enters the next millennium of its history.

As Demas and other contributors throughout this collection acknowledge, the undeniably romantic appeal of the remains of ancient civilizations has proved irresistible to generations of curious wanderers over the terrains of ancient civilizations. From poets like Byron and Shelley to painters like Hubert Robert and Joseph Severn to students of the ancient world like Schliemann and Evans, the draw of ruins has made poets, adventurers, and excavators of many of us. These papers contain a valuable array of concrete, workable ideas about the preservation and the presentation/interpretation of heritage sites. And the majority of them do not condescendingly disregard the power of the "pastoral quality of ruins in nature" (Demas, pp. 132-33) to continue to attract, fascinate and affect the lives of all kinds of people, scholars included. Finding better ways to incorporate that inevitable fact into plans for the management of archaeological sites and their conservation is a worthwhile endeavor and an important facet of the collective responsibility of the profession.

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