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Current Field Projects Underway on Nearly Every Continent

September 24, 2007

LOS ANGELES—From local projects in Los Angeles to others in China, Egypt, and Tunisia, the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) works with a wide range of international partners to preserve cultural heritage. 

Seeking to advance conservation practice and to enhance the preservation and understanding of the visual arts, which includes historic buildings and sites, the GCI is currently involved in more than 20 field projects on every continent except Australia and Antarctica, serving much like a cultural peace corps that forms long-term partnerships. 

The GCI’s selected projects focus on conserving important sites and also producing research knowledge that can be used by conservation professionals around the world in caring for other sites or collections. 

“Every project we take on is intended to benefit and serve the field of conservation,” said Tim Whalen, director of the Getty Conservation Institute.  “Working in partnership with colleagues, our objective is always to advance conservation projects, and in conjunction with them, develop long-term, sustainable conservation solutions.”

Three of the Getty’s current ongoing field projects include research, conservation and education partnerships in China, Egypt and Tunisia. 

Developing and Applying the China Principles
China has a long cultural tradition extending back some 5,000 years—its cultural heritage sites record the formation and development of Chinese society.  With its outstanding cultural legacy and a long tradition of conservation and restoration practice, Chinese authorities have shown great leadership in their desire to create national  guidelines for the conservation and management of the country’s vast cultural heritage.

Working with China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) and the Australian Heritage Commission, the GCI has helped develop this set of guidelines, called the China Principles, which document approaches to conservation and management of cultural heritage sites within a Chinese context.  These guidelines, published in Chinese and English, are now being put into practice at selected sites in China. 

The sites include an ancient Buddhist site, the Mogao Grottoes, where, following a long-term conservation effort led by the GCI, continued collaboration with the Dunhuang Academy aims to understand and control the impact of visitors and build site management skills; and the Imperial Mountain Resort at Chengde, where the GCI is working to develop an approach to the conservation of an Imperial Buddhist temple, including investigating the protection of traditional architectural decoration and unpainted wood. 

“Conservation guidelines are critically important.  A survey of cultural resources in China several years ago identified more than 400,000 sites, of which more than 1,000 are of national historic importance,” said Whalen.  “In addition to the conservation and maintenance of the Chinese heritage, issues such as expanding economic development and increasing tourism also pose further threats to this remarkable artistic legacy, and these need to be adequately addressed to ensure their continued integrity and beauty.”

Ensuring a Future for Egypt’s Valley of the Queens
In Egypt, the GCI is partnering with Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) in an effort to aid in the conservation and management of the Valley of the Queens, the home of Queen Nefertari.

Located on the West Bank of the Nile at Luxor, the Valley of the Queens in the ancient necropolis of Thebes is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.  One of the most important archaeological areas in the world, Thebes is also the site of the Tombs of the Nobles and the Valley of the Kings, famous for the tomb of Tutankhamun.  Because of new construction, intensive agriculture on the flood plain of the Nile, and mass tourism, the ancient monuments on the West Bank are subject to increasing threats and accelerating deterioration.
The collaborative, six-year, two-phase project is now nearing the end of the conservation and management planning phase (2006–2008). The project team has been documenting the approximately 100 tombs and other elements in the Valley of the Queens and evaluating past damage and threats to the Valley from natural causes such as flooding.  The team also is developing a plan to mitigate future threats to the historic area, which include learning how to manage an influx of tourists.

Now approaching the implementation phase, expected to last from 2009–2011, the GCI team is working closely with a group of mid-career Egyptian professionals on all aspects of site planning, implementation, monitoring, and maintenance to prepare them for the responsibilities of managing the sites on the West Bank.  Training includes attendance at annual workshops, month-long sessions at the GCI in Los Angeles, and participation in international conferences.  In addition, the GCI is training a small group of experienced SCA wall paintings conservators, updating their knowledge and introducing them to established techniques and new materials available in the field. 

The Valley of the Queens project is the latest collaboration between the GCI and the SCA (formerly the Egyptian Antiquities Organization), a relationship that began shortly after the inception of the GCI in 1985.  The first joint effort focused on the conservation of the wall paintings in the tomb of Nefertari, which are considered among the most beautiful to have survived from pharaonic times. 

Partnering with Tunisia
With thousands of examples, Tunisia offers a rich environment for studying and conserving ancient Roman mosaics.  In 146 B.C., the Roman Empire claimed and conquered a wide strip of North Africa, including what is now the modern nation of Tunisia.  During the Roman period in Tunisia, particularly between the second and fifth centuries A.D., mosaic art flourished.  Mosaic pavements were designed as colorful “stone carpets” to adorn large villas, country estates, and public buildings.  Tunisia is one of the world’s richest repositories of these works. 

The GCI and Tunisia's Institut National du Patrimoine (INP) recently conducted a workshop on "The Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites in Tunisia” in an 
effort to nurture a new generation of Tunisians equipped to lead the way in sustainable conservation of Tunisia's significant cultural heritage.

The workshop evolved out of a long-term partnership between the INP and the GCI initiated in the late 1990s with the training of Tunisian site technicians in the documentation and maintenance of Roman-era mosaics.

To complement the ongoing training program, the recent workshop was held for about 25 Tunisian professional staff—archaeologists, architects, engineers, and historians—all of whom have some responsibility for archaeological sites and built heritage throughout Tunisia.

Held in the eastern coastal town of Hammamet, the nearby historic sites of Pheradi Majus, Thuburbo Majus, and El Jem were used for training and field exercises for the group.

Taught by an international team of conservation professionals from Tunisia, Egypt, Canada, England, Italy, Belgium, and the United States, these experts collectively provided a broad context for the application of conservation principles–providing participants with a comprehensive understanding of the principles and practices of conservation, and emphasizing the need for holistic and interdisciplinary perspectives when devising strategies for conservation. 

The three-week training program also strengthened professional bonds among course participants–many of whom had not previously worked together–creating a professional network of relationships within the country that organizers hope will be long-lasting.

The workshop doesn’t end with the training–the GCI and INP intend to implement follow up sessions to continue the mentoring of workshop participants. Three times in the coming year, participants will reconvene for about one week, meeting at a selected Tunisian site where the issues of archaeological site conservation and management are representative of the problems and conditions the Tunisian professionals regularly encounter.

The recent workshop resulted from the GCI’s long-term involvement in Tunisia.  The GCI, in partnership with the INP, originally established the ongoing Technician Training Program in 1998, and has been working in the region ever since.  The program  educates site caretakers to conserve ancient mosaics “in situ,” within their original location, and also provides the education for staff of the INP to protect and preserve the thousands of mosaics within the country that are exposed to environmental risks.

The GCI’s Technician Training program is being taught and implemented throughout Tunisia.  Each “trainee” completes a two-year curriculum taught by GCI staff and consultants.  The curriculum is divided into four campaigns which build on each other.  After each campaign, the technicians spend several months at archaeological sites practicing the techniques they have learned.

“The training program is providing measurable results,” says Whalen.  “There are now three regional teams that regularly maintain and conserve mosaic sites across a large part of the country.”

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Melissa Abraham
Getty Communications

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The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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The Getty Conservation Institute works internationally to advance conservation practice in the visual arts-broadly interpreted to include objects, collections, architecture, and sites. The Institute serves the conservation community through scientific research, education and training, model field projects, and the dissemination of the results of both its own work and the work of others in the field. In all its endeavors, the GCI focuses on the creation and delivery of knowledge that will benefit the professionals and organizations responsible for the conservation of the world's cultural heritage. To learn more, subscribe to the GCI's E-Bulletin by visiting