PRESERVATION \ Principles \ 71theo
1: G. Buccellati, April 2011

Theory of archaeological preservation

Introduction
Presuppositions
Impact
Identification with the production process
Reconfiguration of the ancient perception

Introduction

     A theory of archaeological preservation deals with the fundamental presuppositions of the enterprise, and with an articulation of the results deriving from its implementation.
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Presuppositions

     The purpose of preservation is coterminous with that of excavation. So the answer to "why preserve?" is the same one must give to the question "why excavate?" We wish to gain knowledge, but never in a random way, rather in such a way as to expand the boundaries of the already known.
     One may object that the most fascinating aspect of discovery in general, and of archaeological discovery in particular, is the element of surprise – the moment when we unexpectedly come across data that seem to be remote from established patterns of understanding. But then, it is, precisely, only a matter of distance: we are inevitably led to bridge the seeming chasm between the new data and the already established framework within which these data acquire meaning.
     So, the moment of gaining knowledge is intrinsically linked with the need to preserve it and to share it. We are widening the domain of the known, but the "known" acquires its proper status only when it is articulated within a framework where all the known is included.
     This is why, ultimately, preservation is a question of communication. The standard form of communication is publication in the normal sense of the term, i. e. the transfer of the data to an analogical medium, whether on paper or digital. But the physical safeguard of the document as such is as much a part of this communication project. It is in this sense that preservation is publication.
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Impact

     There is another dimension in which a theory of archaeological preservation acquires special relevance, and that is the way in which it helps to develop the sensitivity of the archaeologist for the pristine document as originally found in the excavations. Wanting to preserve the physical artefact (whether stationary like architecture or movable like objects) helps to focus on aspects of manufacturing and of perception in ways that would otherwise escape the attention of the excavator.
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Identification with the production process

     Production refers to the way in which a conservator is trained in duplicating the procedures, and even in using the tools, the original producers followed and used. This sensitivity derives from the attention the conservator brings to the raw material and its configuration. It is this sensitivity that makes the archaeologist better equipped to understand the original production process, and therefore better prepared to understand the current status of what is left of the original (the "ruin").
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Reconfiguration of the ancient perception

     Perception refers to a point of view that did unify originally not only a structure, but the entire built environment of which the structure is a part. Since the conservator is instinctively led to think of the whole (regardless of how little may be left of the original), the unifying perceptual point of view is an immeasurably valuable contribution to the archaeologist.

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