Group Director, Information and Communications

Conservation image

Neville Agnew spent his early years in South Africa and studied at the University of Natal. There he earned degrees in chemistry and geology, followed by two years in London working on his Ph.D. He taught chemistry for 10 years at Rhodes University, but in the mid-1970s, dismayed by the strife engendered by South Africa's apartheid system, he moved his family to Australia, taking a research position at the University of Queensland.

Since childhood, he'd been fascinated with nature and conservation, the result of safaris taken with his father to some of the last unspoiled areas in southern Africa. This, combined with his background in the sciences and his interest in museums, prompted him to apply for a job heading up the newly formed conservation department of the state's Queensland Museum. Starting in 1980, he initiated conservation of the museum's natural history, archaeological, and industrial collections. His work included the preservation of rock art, dinosaur fossil footprints, the wreck of an 18th-century British warship sent to capture the Bounty mutineers, and the ruins of a 19th-century penal colony.

In late 1986 he spent three months at the GCI researching adobe conservation. Over a year later he accepted the deputy directorship of the Institute's scientific program, welcoming the opportunity to develop further his interests in conservation. He became scientific director in 1990 and then special projects director in 1991. In 1994 he was appointed associate director for programs.

Dr. Agnew has led many Institute conservation projects—the Mogao and Yungang Buddhist grottoes in China, the historic city center of Quito, Ecuador, and the Laetoli hominid trackway in Tanzania—and participates in research on adobe preservation and on-site preservation, working with the National Park Service (NPS) at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, and on the GCI's site reburial project. He heads the Institute's publications department, writes for the GCI newsletter and other journals, and serves on the board of the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training of the NPS, the editorial board of the journal Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites, and the advisory board of Cornerstones, a preservation organization in New Mexico. During his 10 years with the GCI, he's enjoyed being part of its evolution as an intellectual institution, exploring the philosophy and practice of conservation, particularly the relationship between cultural and environmental heritage.