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Preservation in Israel-Summer Abroad

August 12th, 2013

Preservation in Israel-Summer Abroad

Chelsea Freeland        

Israel was #19 for me.  The more countries I visit, the easier it is to think I’ve seen everything at least once.  Israel has Roman and Hellenistic ruins, like Italy and Greece.  It has international wars in its recent past, like Serbia.  Like Morocco, all the signs are trilingual.  But I found Israel to be a stand-out trip: somewhere I couldn’t group with my other experiences.

Israel is a good country to visit to learn about history: Israel’s history, world history, and your own story.  I saw the world’s first piece of artwork.  I went to the Holocaust Museum.  I stood at the Western Wall with women from every country imaginable.  Overall, it was an immensely entertaining, educational, and memorable trip.

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Author at Western Wall, Jerusalem.

(Photo by Samantha Sheffield)

 Because the purpose of the study was conservation-oriented, I also learned about Israel’s cultural heritage in a way not usually presented to the public.  There’s something to be said for seeing Islamic glass in a museum, and actually meeting the conservator who attempts to piece the vessels back together.  I found that conservation in Israel is a somewhat developing field.  Most conservators we met at the Israeli Antiquities Authority are not academically trained as conservators, but rather as chemists or artists.  Those who do receive formal degrees do so in other countries, notably Italy.

I don’t envy the task of the Israeli Antiquities Authority conservators who work with everything from the recent past to some of the oldest human remains in the world.  The pottery assemblage alone is simply mind-blowing.  Because the IAA receives and records all artifacts found during excavations in Israel, they are responsible for the documentation, conservation, and storage of thousands of artifacts each year.  The amount of talent present in that office is amazing, particularly given the volume and variety of artifacts.

Our field experience in Ruhama gave me my first taste of an on-site lab set-up.  Strikingly different than my sterile chemistry labs, it gave me the first-hand knowledge that you do the best you can for the artifact with the materials given.  The experience convinced me that rescue conservation, with limited resources and a quick turn-around, is extremely important, even if frustrating.  Equally as important, I know now that I have a good understanding of the variety of conservation conditions and can be prepared for new experiences throughout my career.

As I write this, I’m sitting in my airplane seat, about to land in Chicago.  While also craving Israeli chocolate cake and some strawberry mango juice, I look forward to the next time that I can visit Israel.  Of all my travels, I think this will be the hardest to catalogue, hardest to document, and hardest to share when I get home.  How can I explain what it felt like looking at the Dome of the Rock from the Mount of Olives?

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Mount of Olives, Jerusalem.

(Photo by author)

How do I explain how badly an invasive-species jellyfish sting hurts?  How can I look at Caesarea and just say, “I went snorkeling and we saw some columns?”  My pictures do justice to nothing, but certainly not to the splendor that is the “Holy Land.”

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Caesarea Harbor.

(Photo by author)

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