When does conservation begin?|
Extrinsic, concurrent, integrated
The view from within
When does conservation begin?The general answer is: after the fact. The focus is first of all on the objects. Once they are removed from the earth, after they have been brought to the expedition house and deemed important enough to be treated, they are then handed over to a technician, the conservator, who proceeds with consolidation and, where needed, restoration. In the case of architectural features such as walls, the interval between exposure and treatment can be considerably greater, when it ever happens. Often, wall conservation begins when there is little left to conserve, so that restoration, or outright reconstruction, becomes the rule.
This procedure is essentially extrinsic to the retrieval process – both chronologically (there is time interval between exposure and treatment) and logically (treatment is applied to a "thing" that exists by itself, apart from its context).
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Extrinsic, concurrent, integratedExtrinsicism refers, then, to an attitude whereby conservation is overlaid to a pre-existing "thing" that is handed over, detached from the umbilical cord of the archaeological process.
While that attitude is perhaps still prevalent in the field, a more enlightened approach aims at anticipating intervention so that it takes place alongside the recovery process. This we may call a concurrent treatment: it bridges the time interval, so that conservation is co-terminous with the archaeological process, and benefits from a direct and immediate knowledge of the context and the conditions under which the item has been identified in the ground. With concurrent conservation, the main advantage is for the conservator: the modality of the recovery are useful for an assessment of needs and procedures to be used when the treatment is actually applied.
I argue for an integrated approach, where it is the archaeology itself that benefits from conservation. In this case, conservation is inscribed in the very strategy of excavation, meaning that it is called upon to help define goals before any "thing" is actually discovered and identified in tis typological reality.
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The view from withinThe main benefit of an integrated approach to conservation on the part of the archaeologist is that the conservator, thinking as an archaeologist, can more readily contribute his or her insight not only with regard to the technical aspect of what needs to be done