Submitted by Sammy Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The classic rule in preservation is that you can’t preserve something until you know you have it.
—Timothy P. Whalen, Director, Getty Conservation Institute*
This basic fact about heritage management is the reason that laws require archaeological survey—that is, the search for archaeological resources—prior to ground-disturbing development, including roads, buildings, and other infrastructure. The survey is a research step that is intended to locate hidden or previously unknown resources (in practice, surveys often also check records and files for known resources).
Of course, once you know the resource exists, managing it is another tricky undertaking.
The Whalen quote comes from Randy Kennedy’s article in the New York Times online titled “In History-Rich Region, a Very New System Tracks Very Old Things,” and dated 24 August 2010. The article focuses on:
…an ambitious Web-based system that will allow archaeologists and conservators…, for the first time, to gain access to decades’ worth of records about Jordan’s sites and to monitor the condition of those sites much more easily.
This pilot monitoring system, called the Middle Eastern Geodatabase for Antiquities, has been developed for the country of Jordan. The MEGA-Jordan system is essentially an electronic inventory system that includes locational data; it may well be expanded for use in other geographic areas. The ease of access to Web-based mapping tools and open-source software increasingly make such systems possible, updatable, and cost-effective.
Preservation is an issue with many scales. The above is discussing what is involved in managing resources scattered across large land areas. Preservation and conservation are also an issue at a smaller scale—for instance, what museums, other institutions, and even individuals do to conserve collections and ancient objects.
The online resources of Whalen’s Getty Conservation Institute include a PDF titled “The Nature of Conservation: A Race Against Time” authored by Philip Ward (1986). Ward notes on page 64:
Conservation will necessarily evolve into different forms. It is possible that the two major activities, prevention and restoration, may become separated in some institutions.
Clearly, both at the national scale, and at the scale of the collection, prevention of vandalism and destruction, and maintenance of the resources are key issues.
* The Getty Conservation Institute is a branch of the J. Paul Getty Trust.