The Bet Sheʽan conservation project began in late 1994, in the wake of the archaeological excavations at and around the site which lasted about a decade. The excavations were carried out by two expeditions: one from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, headed by Professors Yoram Tsafrir and Gideon Foerster, and the other from the Israel Antiquities Authority, headed by Dr. Gabi Mazor and Rachel Bar-Natan.
An enormous area with impressive finds was uncovered in the excavations, most of which constitute the center of the Roman city of Scythopolis. Public buildings, such as the theater, the western and eastern bathhouses, the agora, city streets, the nymphaeum and other monuments were discovered. In addition, numerous architectural elements were found in various states of preservation. During those years it was not customary to perform conservation measures concomitant with the excavation as is the case today. In the absence of immediately implemented conservation steps the state of preservation of the building materials that were not basalt began to deteriorate rapidly and damage, some of which was irreversible, was caused to numerous complexes and elements. In addition to this, vegetation took root in the ancient complexes. The sudden change in the environment of the finds – which were previously covered with soil and were now exposed to other climatic conditions, to light and the air – led to “excavation shock”. An accelerated process of weathering and disintegration of soft stone, mosaics, plaster and fresco remains and original mortar occurred at the site. This process was evident in the disintegration of the material and loss of stability of the items that had survived. Several locations around the site were in danger of collapse.
The great interest in the excavation finds attracted many visitors to the site. The issue of safety at the site played a part in recognizing the urgency of removing any danger, of implementing conservation and stabilization measures, as well as preparing the site for visitors. In late 1994 and 1995 two sessions of a conservation course took place at the site. Approximately 40 of the excavations’ laborers were trained as conservators. Upon completion of their training conservation measures were commenced at the site. These involved stabilizing architectural complexes and preventive conservation that included preparing drainage, sealing the tops of walls, stabilizing the edges of plaster and mosaics, as well as artistic conservation of architectural elements, mosaics and frescoes. All of this was implemented in accordance with the development plans.
The overall conservation plan of the site was meant to resolve problems in several of the complexes: the western and eastern bathhouses, Palladius Street, the Sigma, the theater, the agora and the forum. The conservation work carried out such measures as stabilizing original building materials, supporting elements, conserving sensitive components (plaster, fresco, etc.), implementing structural completion to provide necessary engineering strengthening and integration, and preparing the urban drainage system.
The Tourism Development Administration of Bet Sheʽan worked at the site for about a decade, from the end of the 1980’s. The development plans were prepared for it by architectural firms operating in conjunction with the Israel Antiquities Authority and under its professional guidance in matters regarding conservation. With the closure of the administration, the management of the conservation and development activities at the site was turned over to the Nature and Parks Authority. As of the end of 2012 fourteen workers are involved in the conservation project on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (11 conservation workers, a documenter, secretary and director). The personnel are divided into permanent teams that specialize in a variety of professional aspects: a building and engineering conservation team, an artistic conservation team (mosaics, marble and frescos) and a conservation maintenance team. The work is progressing according to conservation plans that are updated annually.
The conservation activities in the Bet Sheʽan National Park are being implemented in full cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority. The conservation team is engaged in finishing a complete conservation treatment of those locations that have not yet been dealt with. This is taking place at the same time as conservation maintenance is being done to the complexes that were previously treated.