By Marta de la Torre and Margaret Mac Lean

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In May 1995, the Getty Conservation Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum hosted a meeting of senior government officials and other specialists in the areas of culture, archaeology, and tourism from 17 nations located near the Mediterranean Sea. The purpose of the meeting was to promote the protection of archaeological heritage through coordinated management of its appropriate uses—research, education, and tourism.

The conference was designed to foster a broad international and interdisciplinary exchange of information, ideas, and viewpoints about the protection and management of archaeological sites. Invitations were extended to individuals with commitment, experience, and policy-making authority from government ministries and related agencies, and to representatives of foreign schools of archaeology and other international organizations. The 80 individuals who attended represented the various groups interested in sites. For many, it was the first opportunity to discuss their concerns with others from different disciplines, industries, and countries.

The GCI is publishing a book entitled The Conservation of Archaeological Sites in the Mediterranean Region, which reports on the proceedings of the conference (See "GCI News"). The book includes chapters on three sites—Piazza Armerina, Sicily; Knossos, Crete; and Ephesus, Turkey—that illuminate the challenges of management and conservation faced at sites the world over. Additional chapters discuss such topics as the management of cultural sites, the reconstruction of ancient buildings, and ways of presenting and interpreting sites for today's visitors.

The following article was adapted from the book's introduction.

As we build what will one day become the remains of our society, we destroy what has come down to us from earlier times. The surviving remains of the past are finite and vulnerable. The Mediterranean region contains the vestiges of the ancient civilizations that shaped our own societies. If these are destroyed by overuse, neglect, or failed intervention, tangible evidence of the past will be erased. The only way to ensure the survival of these heritage sites is to find ways of caring for them that do not deplete them. These sites must be managed and used carefully as unique, nonrenewable resources. The lack of long-term conservation plans in the Mediterranean region is leading to the irreversible degradation of the physical fabric and cultural value of many archeological sites.

The factors that threaten the survival of the Mediterranean archaeological heritage are complex and varied. Often, archaeological remains foster growth by attracting visitors and, along with them, people who come to pursue the economic opportunities created by the demand for services and infrastructure catering to the tourist trade. Population growth and its accompanying infrastructure can encroach upon a site and damage it permanently.

The enormous rise in archaeological tourism in the region has put services for visitors in confiict with the care of the sites. Such conflicts can often be mitigated through collaborative management and maintenance schemes that involve those who have a stake in the survival of these resources, including cultural officials, scholarly institutions, and commercial tourism organizations.

The Importance of Sites
Cultural heritage sites can have aesthetic, historic, social, scientific, religious, economic, educational, and other values. How these values are prioritized by various segments of society depends on the benefits each group derives from a certain value. Thus, opinions about what is significant in a site can vary and sometimes pose conflicts. Those who are responsible for the archaeological heritage must ensure that these places are used by society in ways that do not sacrifice the values that make the sites significant. This is one of the most difficult challenges facing stewards of the heritage.

To care effectively for a place, one must understand and articulate its values. Value can be equated with usefulness, if a site can be utilized for productive purposes (such as the education of citizens), or it can be equated with significance, if the site stands for something that transcends the physical remains. The benefits derived from a site can be understood to be the positive effects on the community, culture, national image, and so forth.

Sites can also have potential benefits, such as the knowledge that can be obtained through further scientific investigation, or educational opportunities that can be created through the presentation and interpretation of the site to visitors. Both current and potential benefits should be taken into consideration in the care of a site.

Educational value is the common ground among most constituencies. A site can provide lessons in history, cultural expression, art, architecture, societal development, and conflict. However, throughout most of the world, the interpretation and presentation of archaeological sites to the public are woefully underdeveloped in both theory and practice. Sites that lack information for visitors are not easily understood by nonspecialists.

Interpretation and presentation must be accepted as obligations to the visitor, not just as a means of attracting more tourists. In recent years, some countries in the Mediterranean region have begun to use funds derived from tourism for the study, conservation, and presentation of heritage sites. Cost-effective approaches, innovative methods, and planning techniques are being tested and evaluated. The dissemination of the results of such experiments would be an important contribution to everyone in the field.

Both natural and cultural sites have become important economic resources in many parts of the world, with their economic potential almost always realized through tourism. While the degradation of both natural and cultural resources in the presence of large numbers of visitors is inevitable if a situation is unmanaged, there is a greater awareness of the dangers that affect the natural habitat than of those that imperil archaeological sites.

The conservation of the values of such natural sites as beaches, forests, and landscapes is known to be closely tied to their long-term economic value. That this phenomenon does not seem to be acknowledged in the case of archaeological sites is perhaps due to critical differences in visitors' perceptions of value. While everyone prefers beaches with uncluttered space, clean sand, and clear water, it does not seem that crowds, lack of maintenance, and erroneous reconstructions in any way diminish the attraction that archaeological sites have for many tourists. The appeal of archaeological sites is so strong that even those that are poorly kept and virtually unexplained attract large numbers of visitors.

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Balancing Protection and Tourism
If a site attracts crowds, it becomes a must-see for all tour organizers, creating an even greater influx of tourists. (This has the odd effect of flooding a few sites and leaving other, nearby sites almost deserted.) In many countries, the separate national agencies responsible for tourism and for the cultural heritage pursue their objectives independently. This disjunction often creates serious conflicts. Cultural heritage professionals have begun to advocate a more coordinated and thoughtful approach to archaeological resource management. However, attempts to impose limits on the number of people allowed at a site at a given time often elicit immediate negative reactions from other interest groups.

Archaeologists continue to excavate without providing for the presentation and interpretation of sites to the public. National authorities promote sites without consulting local populations. Tourism operators show sites without considering the physical impact of large numbers of visitors. Dams are built without any study of their effects on archaeological sites. Hotels spring up around sites, and disposal of their water and waste contaminates and erodes the archaeological remains. The list is long, but little is learned from tragic examples.

Very few studies have been done of site management and the economics of conservation—whether on the subject of the relationship of visitors and deterioration, the impact of a deteriorated site on visitor interest, or the appropriate allocations in national budgets for various archaeological sites. Nevertheless, there is an increased awareness of the need to conserve the "goose that lays the golden egg." This awareness must be accompanied by research and study to further our understanding of the dynamics of managing these irreplaceable resources.

The Promise of Planning
While not all conflicts can be solved to everyone's satisfaction, much could be advanced by a coherent planning process involving broad consultation of concerned groups. No single management solution is applicable to all situations. Conditions vary from site to site and from country to country, as do values, administrative environments, threats to sites, conditions of remains, numbers of visitors, and available resources. Specific solutions must be found for each site.

Many countries and international organizations have developed management approaches to cultural heritage. Successful cultural management generally starts with a planning process that results in a management plan to guide major policy decisions as well as day-to-day operations. A management plan will not provide answers to every question that might emerge. Rather, its usefulness lies in its articulation of policies for different areas of activities—for example, excavation, conservation, visitor management, interpretation, and maintenance—that are in accordance with the significance of the site and with the values to be conserved. These policies provide the framework for all decisions that must be made, in both the present and the future, in each of these areas.

Experiences in some parts of the world have shown that the responsibilities of site management can be effectively assumed by individuals with a range of professional backgrounds, including archaeology, architecture, and conservation. Site managers should have both an interest in management and the skills necessary for managing. Possessing these qualifications is more important than having a background in a particular profession.

New managerial positions will need to be created, and in almost all cases the individuals hired to fill these positions will need to be trained in new skills. In the future, such management skills will become part of the education of professionals who are likely to be responsible for heritage sites. Until then, managers could be trained through specially designed short courses organized at either the national or regional level.

Site management constitutes a new approach to the care of sites in the Mediterranean region. If it is to be adopted successfully, the decision-making process must be evaluated. Successful implementation of this approach will require coordinated management at the level of the national authorities, as well as the education of the various groups with vested interests in the region's archaeological heritage.

Open, negotiated management is new to many places and is often rejected a priori as impracticable or as not being feasible for certain cultures. The shift toward a participatory process of systematic decision making is never a simple step. In most cases, agencies or interest groups need to relinquish a degree of authority to which they have been accustomed or entitled. The implementation of inclusive management approaches can take place only if policy makers see potential advantages in such a change and if resources are allocated to put them in place.

The archaeological heritage of the Mediterranean enriches not only our view of the past, but also our vision of the future. The physical remains of the ancient world still have much to reveal about the human experience. Every effort should be made to ensure that as we move toward the future, the monumental legacy left to us is protected and passed on for the generations to come.

Marta de la Torre is director of the training program at the Getty Conservation Institute.

Margaret Mac Lean is director of the documentation program at the GCI.


A Mediterranean Site: Ephesus
Prepared by Martha Demas, GCI Special Projects

Conference Conclusions

The intrinsic importance and finite nature of archaeological resources have been recognized in various international charters. The participants in this conference support these charters and urge their implementation. In recent years, various forces have increased the threat to these sites: among others, rapidly increasing urbanization, environmental degradation, natural disasters, violent conflicts, and, in many countries, a lack of resources for their maintenance. The extraordinary growth of mass tourism in the last few years has brought about a change in the way archaeological sites are used. Archaeological sites are nonrenewable resources, however, and, as such, must be managed and maintained.

There is now a need to define more fully the values that archaeological sites hold for all humanity, present and future, and to develop processes to manage and present these sites. The conservation of a site's cultural values is the paramount aim of these processes. In the realization that archaeological sites are important economic resources and in view of increasing public interest, an organized approach to decision making would assure the conservation and preservation of the various values of the archaeological sites, including their educational and economic potential.

The participants of the conference on the Conservation of Archaeological Sites in the Mediterranean Region in their discussions came to the following conclusions:

  1. Archaeological sites hold values for a variety of groups (archaeologists, tourists, students, national and local communities, and others). These groups value the sites in different ways, and their values have a direct effect on the ultimate fate of the sites.

  2. Since decisions taken regarding the different uses of a site affect its values, a systematic and comprehensive approach should be adopted in the process of making decisions about sites.

  3. An interdisciplinary group representing the various constituencies of the site should participate directly in the decision-making process. The management process must begin with thorough research and consultation with all those concerned, leading to a statement of significance of the values of the site, followed by the setting of management policy and strategies for its implementation.

  4. This management process should be led by specially designated individuals. Their role and responsibility must be defined according to the needs of each site, as well as to the structures and laws that govern each site.

  5. Additional training should be provided for the preparation of specialists (archaeologists, architects, art historians, and others) who might become responsible for the management of sites. Such training should be extended to those already responsible for archaeological sites by means of courses developed by the appropriate international and national organizations acting in concert.

  6. The uses of a cultural site often evolve in the course of time. Therefore, the requirements for its management may change accordingly.

  7. The director of a proposed excavation should guarantee from the beginning of research the presence of various specialists required for an interdisciplinary approach, and acknowledge in the plan the fair representation of the interests of different constituencies. The granting of permits for excavation should depend on compliance with this requirement as well as with national laws.

  8. It is recognized that many archaeological sites can be important economic resources. Mass tourism offers an opportunity to utilize these sites for economic benefit, but at the same time it increases the risk of decay and destruction. The management process should take this into account.

  9. Archaeological sites can also be educational resources. Plans for the presentation of such sites should respond to this potential and involve appropriately qualified professionals. Continuing evaluation should be an integral part of these plans.

  10. The participants recommend that governments and other national and international agencies recognize and support this new concept of sites and their management.

Athens, May 12, 1995