PRESERVATION \ 71publ
1: G. Buccellati, April 2011

Conservation as publication

Communication
Documentation
Interpretation
Site presentation

Communication

     Communication is the ultimate goal of research. And conservation is a fundamental moment in this process. The preserved "thing" is the best witness of itself – at least to the extent that its identity has been clearly understood when first removed from its context. Typologically, this leaves little doubt for objects and even for most architectural elements. Stratigraphically, too, conservation is an important tool of communication, particularly in the case of sections that exemplify the physical dimension of a chronological sequence.
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Documentation

     The primary function of conservation qua publication is to offer a documentation of the item as originally found. This does not obviously replace the descriptive and analogical publication, but it offers a firm point of reference.
     There is little question about the value of this aspect of conservation with regard to objects, as they come to be stored in museums, where they are further curated so that they may be made available for inspection as desired.
     The same is far from true in the case of architecture. In most cases where an effort is even made to "conserve" the architecture, the emphasis is on the appearance of what are supposed to have been the original volumes. It ends up being, in other words, a reconstruction more than a documentary conservation. The net result could be compared to a museum that exhibits only replicas... Instead, conservation as documentary publication should retain its absolute primacy even with architecture. Thus a visit to a site will be significant in that respect as well – studying at close range the conditions of the remains as documented in their original state and preserved through conservation.
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Interpretation

     Where conservation adds a missing dimension, through restoration, it contributes to the interpretive effort of the archaeologist – which is one reason why I have argued, in fact, that conservation should be inscribed in the very strategy of excavation: the sensitivity of the conservator for the construction process is in principle greater than that of the excavator, and as a result the understanding of the finished product is that much greater as well. The practice in object conservation, to distinguish the interpreted portion from the original must be maintained for architecture as well, the process should be reversible (to allow for changes in interpretation), and ample explanation should be provided justifying the results obtained.
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Presentation

     The actual display requires techniques and methods all their own. It is the natural follow-up to conservation, and it is the final target of the communication process. Museums have developed this to the utmost – for objects. That the presentation of architectural volumes should also be further developed is an important goal that is only now emerging in the field in its full significance. At Mozan, I have given much thought to just that, proposing ways of site presentation that take full advantage of the conservation effort, and go beyond, by presenting a comprehensive view not only of the "ruins" as documents, but also of the interpreted structures as evidence of the ancient architectural achievments. From Mozan to Urkesh and back.
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