In September 2004, the National Park Service (NPS), the US/ICOMOS Specialized Committee for the Study and Conservation of Earthen Architecture, and the Getty Conservation Institute, through Project Terra, organized a colloquium at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado on the conservation of decorated surfaces on earthen architecture.

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The colloquium had its genesis in the work of the Gaia Project (the precursor to Project Terra), which in 1990 identified the need for further research and dissemination of information in the specialized area of decorated surfaces on earthen architecture. These surfaces include decorated earth plasters on a variety of architectural supports and diverse decorated plaster materials on earthen buildings in archaeological sites, historic buildings, living traditions, and museum settings. Among the many significant sites with such decorated surfaces are Chan Chan in Peru, Mesa Verde in the United States, traditional Asante buildings in Ghana, and Çatalhöyük in Turkey.

Throughout the 1990s, conservation issues related to decorated surfaces on earthen architecture remained of concern to the field. At a 2001 US/ICOMOS Specialized Committee meeting in Philadelphia, a colloquium on these issues was proposed, leading to the fall 2004 Decorated Surfaces on Earthen Architecture Colloquium.

The event brought together 60 international professionals specializing in the conservation and care of decorated surfaces on earth, and it provided a forum for the presentation of recent work and for in-depth discussion of key issues, challenges, research, and future direction in this specialized area.

The colloquium was organized around five themes: Mesa Verde, archaeological sites, historic sites, living traditions, and museum practice. The presentations on Mesa Verde, which included an introduction to the Ancestral Puebloan architecture and sites at Mesa Verde National Park (and to recent archaeological investigations and conservation work conducted at the site), were used as a point of departure for subsequent presentations and discussions, which addressed a range of research topics and projects worldwide in a variety of contexts, including site management and technical conservation.

In addition to programming for conservation professionals, the colloquium included a special public lecture for the local community, held at the Anasazi Heritage Center. "Space, Time, and Pictorial Art in the Ancient Pueblo World" was presented by J. J. Brody, professor emeritus of art and art history at the University of New Mexico.

Funding for the colloquium was provided by the GCI, the NPS Challenge Cost Share Program, and US/ICOMOS. Financial support for the public lecture came from the Colorado State Historical Fund. Facilities and access to sites were provided by the Anasazi Heritage Center and Mesa Verde National Park.

A book publication by the GCI of the colloquium's proceedings is currently scheduled for 2006.