Since the earliest days of archaeology the Land of Israel has been the focus of extensive research that has revealed the country’s historical wealth and its cultural values. The importance of antiquities is known to all and is expressed by the intensive involvement in archaeology, academic research and the development of heritage sites for the public. Now, at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, we can no longer ignore the fact that the valuable archaeological resources are limited, extremely sensitive and subject to many threats.
The situation today is such that archaeological resources in Israel have been excavated for more than one hundred years. The damage that is caused to the remains and the loss of some information are an unavoidable price that must be paid for the benefits derived from excavations. In addition to this the harm resulting from the exposure of the remains to environmental conditions occurring in the absence of conservation measures and maintenance, as well as due to inappropriate development and site neglect, all contribute to hastening the process of destruction and deterioration of the heritage asset.
Some of the damage done to sites or small finds need not necessarily happen and is caused due to a lack of awareness regarding the role of conservation in archaeology. The method of exposure, removing items, the controlled storage and the treatment of the finds that is provided close to the time of exposure are some of the ways to reduce damage and may even prevent it. By adopting a conservation approach at the time of the excavation one can limit the damage to the finds and more importantly, streamline the conservation process and reduce its cost.
On the one hand archaeological resources are perishable and on the other conservation resources are limited. Thus the Israel Antiquities Authority is confronted with the complex challenge to “…preserve, conserve and study the archaeological heritage of the country at the highest scientific level, and maintain a balance between development needs and antiquities preservation…”.
The Israel Antiquities Authority is currently conducting a course on “Conservation in Archaeology” for field archaeologists. The course is intended to familiarize them with conservation tools and formulate a means for cooperation with conservators, so that together they can minimize the effects of the excavation on the state of preservation of the finds.
The aim of the course, then, is to raise awareness concerning aspects of conservation at the time of the excavation itself and encourage an approach whereby conservation is an integral part of the archaeologist’s responsibility.
Practically speaking, the objective is that the participants will actively partake in the conservation of the finds and will take into account the conservation considerations that are required during all phases of the excavation process: in the initiation and planning stage of the excavation, at the time of the excavation and its conclusion, and during the treatment of the site and the small finds.
In order to maintain an ongoing dialogue between the archaeologists and conservators of the Israel Antiquities Authority, we want to formulate a policy document that defines the role of the archaeologist in the process of conservation, the role of the conservator in the archaeological excavation and their mutual contribution to the research and treatment of heritage assets.
In order to reach the desired situation whereby the archaeologist will be aware of the ramifications of the excavation on the preservation of the finds and will adopt a cautious approach that limits the damage to the heritage asset, the course deals with understanding the properties and the sensitivities of the materials and ancient technologies, the affect of the excavation on destruction and deterioration processes, methods of preventive treatment and conservation intervention. These subjects are discussed in the practical context of the conservation process and in the broad context of the development of the ‘conservation movement’, conservation principles and professional ethics.