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Friday, Session 13: Sites - 2

Preventive conservation from The UK (above) to Japan (below). 
Images taken by Fabiana Portoni.

We started the last day of the conference with a session that took us on a trip around the world. From The Palace of Westminster in London, to ancient Tumuli in Japan, finishing at the tomb of Tutankhamen in Egypt. The projects might have taken place in different latitudes on the planet, but the session had a clear focus on the importance of communication as a tool for preventive conservation regardless of location.

The session started with a talk by Michael Henry and Wendy Jessup about the importance of having a collaborative approach to preventive conservation strategies for collections in heritage buildings and sites. Wendy eloquently gave advice regarding key skills to successfully interact with other stakeholders and the importance of teamwork. Having individuals that bring their own perspectives, training and expertise to a project is crucial. Ultimately, this diverse collaboration is what makes a project successful. The talk summarised important aspects of how to find strategies bearing in mind the capabilities of the institution and taking into consideration aspects of external infrastructure such as climate change and cyber-attacks.  

In the second talk we travelled to London, UK with Charlotte Martin de Fonjaudran. Charlotte spoke about monitoring and mitigating particulate matter deposition on decorative surfaces in the Palace of Westminster. Her project looked at monitoring dust deposition on site with the aim to get representative data to inform practical solutions. She mentioned how she adapted existing tools for the dust monitoring process, including an open source tool called “Image J” with a plugin designed specifically for cultural heritage. Throughout her talk Charlotte also mentioned the importance of communication to convey the need of resources for preventive and mitigation measures for the long term preservation of heritage. I particularly liked how Charlotte finished her talk by mentioning the similarity between the actions needed to fight climate change and those for the preservation of cultural heritage. ‘Doing the right thing takes time and courage as well as the combined effort of many individuals’.

Our next speaker, Masahide Inuzuka, transported us to Japan. He talked about the investigation of the thermal environment inside the shelter for a decorated tumulus in Japan. This talk introduced the audience to the challenges faced by Japanese burial mounds, Tumuli, from the 4th-7th centuries. Tumuli are underground chambers with painted and decorated wall surfaces whose common issues are mould growth and condensation. Masahide focused on the case study of the Hinooka tumulus in Ukiha City located in the Fukuoka prefecture. The project used monitoring tools and computational methods to increase the understanding of the damage mechanisms and present adequate solutions.

Lori Wong talking about the fascinating wall paintings in the tomb of Tutankhamen. 
Images taken by Fabiana Portoni

The last talk in the session took us to The Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Lori Wong talked about the collaborative work undertaken to improve the conditions in the tomb of Tutankhamen. She dedicated the presentation to the memory of Shin Maekawa (1952-2016) who did some crucial work in the project.  

Lori started her talk by dispelling some of the myths and fake news associated with the damage mechanisms within the high profile tomb. The current collaborative project between the Ministry of Antiquities in Egypt and The Getty aims to create a long term preservation management plan for the tomb. Lori explained the challenges the tomb faces such as high levels of dust, mechanical damage caused by visitors and high relative humidity. She explained the new implementations such as an air ventilation system and barriers to protect wall paintings from mechanical damage.  She concluded with a few thoughts about the importance of engaging visitors with information regarding the conservation challenges and the work to preserve the tomb. She mentioned open dialogue and good communication as key.

The Q&A session touched on the topic of authenticity and replicas mentioned by Stefan Michalski during the introductory session. As it turns out, there is a replica of the tomb of Tutankhamen just down the road from the original, but the original one has never been closed. I don’t blame visitors who would rather see the actual tomb over the replica, when given the choice. The speakers touched upon the challenges of displaying original artefacts or replicas which, as you can imagine, is a huge topic on its own. The Q&A finished with useful advice from Wendy about developing relationships and building trust with our colleagues, collaborators and all stakeholders.  She said: ‘it is something that might not happen right away, but if the relationship is developed it can go a long way’.

Author: Fabiana Portoni is a Preventive Conservator for the British Museum in London.