PRESERVATION \ 71strat
1: G. Buccellati, August 2009

Conservation as part of the excavation strategy

The nature of strategy
A question of sensitivity
The view from within
The view from without

The nature of strategy

     Strategy is the predictive organization of resources, articulated along a timetable and formulated with regard to aims that have been specified in the short and the long term range. It must remain flexible, i. e., open to changes and variations depending on what one encounters along the way. To this end, there must be back-up plans and alternatives.
     In the case of archaeological excavations, the goals are in the first place of an intellectual nature: one expects a certain configuration of the ancient remains, and one proceeds from the known to the unknown, adjusting the aim as the previously unknown becomes progressively known.
     In this perspective, it is clear why conservation should be inscribed within the very core of strategy. The fragility of the unknown looms large, and one should account for it from the start, anticipating what the nature of this fragility may be, and arguing in advance as to what the procedure might be for protecting it. (A similar argument must be made for site presentation.)
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A question of sensitivity

     The first criterion for a successful implementation of this policy is that there be an active collaboration, on the technical level, between the excavator and the conservator. But even upstream of collaboration there should develop a reciprocal sensitivity for the needs and concerns of each other. The excavator should acquire a sensitivity for conservation issues, and conversely the conservator should develop an affinity for stratigraphic imperatives.
     This is especially important since it is, in the reality of most expeditions, difficult if not impossible to have a full time conservator available at all times to argue the merits of conservation when excavation plans are developed and then to monitor the progress when excavations are carried out, and thus take part in the definition of the relative strategy. What is desirable then is a more thorough integration of attitudes. It means that the archaeologist must think and act as a conservator, and conversely the conservator as an archaeologist.
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The view from within

     In this sense, conservation is not so much a technique invoked from outside, as it is a concern that guides choices. Not, obviously, that the specificity of the technique should be ignored, quite the opposite: the technical expertise is more indispensable than ever, and must be deployed in full autonomy. I am only advocating that the concerns that drive the expertise be shared to a fully mutual advantage.
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The view from without

     As already indicated, conservation must retain its full autonomy, and its specific demands must, precisely, be kept in the foreground by the excavator (see, e.g., Stanley-Price 1995).