The world’s archaeological remains constitute humanity’s collective memory, comprising the physical evidence of our journey on the planet—from the bones and tools of our earliest ancestors millions of years ago to the ruins and artifacts of more recent history. Preserving these manifestations of the past is critical for understanding not only how human civilization developed but also who we are today and the historical forces that shaped us.
The Getty’s engagement with archaeology originated with J. Paul Getty himself, who was fascinated with the ancient Mediterranean. His interest initially manifested in collecting antiquities, and it culminated with building what is today the Getty Villa, modeled after the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, Italy. For the Getty Conservation Institute, the conservation of archaeological places and material has been central to its mission since its founding over thirty years ago. The GCI’s first two field projects, begun in the 1980s, were at significant archaeological sites—the ancient Egyptian tomb of Queen Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens and the Roman Orpheus mosaic at Paphos, Cyprus. Since then, we have gone on to invest time, expertise, and resources toward advancing archaeological conservation practice through research, training, field projects, workshops, conferences, publishing, and dissemination. Recent research on archaeological material has included the GCI’s Athenian Pottery Project, which is studying the materials and techniques employed by artisans in antiquity to create the iconic red and black figure pottery of ancient Athens.
That enduring interest in archaeological conservation prompted this edition of Conservation Perspectives. We lead off with a feature article by Tim Williams, a member of the faculty of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, who provides a twenty-year perspective on advances and changes in the conservation of archaeology, as well as the challenges still confronting the field. The feature is followed by two articles describing recent major collaborative archaeological conservation projects undertaken by the GCI. The first article, authored by GCI staff members Jeanne Marie Teutonico and Leslie Friedman, sums up the objectives and outcomes of the ten-year MOSAIKON initiative, focused on the conservation and management of archaeological mosaics in the Mediterranean region; it also describes the opportunities now created by that work. The second, written by the GCI’s Neville Agnew and Lori Wong, offers an overview of a project at the tomb of Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings, where the Institute has partnered with Egyptian authorities to conserve the tomb and its wall paintings. The last article is by Robert Bewley, director of the Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa project, who describes the project’s efforts to document archaeological sites in the region with the aim of improving conservation of cultural heritage by providing reliable information for decision-making. This edition closes with a thoughtful and insightful roundtable discussion on archaeology and conservation education with three professionals long involved in teaching—Chris Caple, Ioanna Kakoulli, and Clemente Marconi.
Preserving our archaeological heritage remains a priority for the GCI. In our programmatic work, we are committed to forging a sustainable future for the world’s archaeological heritage, recognizing that humanity’s fullest understanding of itself depends on it.
Timothy P. Whalen