Herculaneum Conservation Project
The cities and villas buried by Vesuvius in AD 79 were gradually revealed by excavation campaigns in modern times and represent archaeological heritage of exceptional importance, not only as a testimony to Roman ways of life but also for the history of their discovery, restoration and visitation from the Grand Tour until today. However, exposed to the elements of every season, they are subject to the forms of active decay that afflict all such open-air sites. The conservation problems in the case of Herculaneum are all the more acute. The very features that make this little town such a vivid evocation of the past – the survival of houses to several stories with decorative features intact, and the astonishing preservation of organic matter like wood, cloth and papyrus – also render the site exceptionally difficult to preserve for present and future generations.
The BSR’s long-term commitment to the Vesuvian area evolved from solely academic research at Pompeii in the 1990s to research, conservation and management in Herculaneum in the new millennium. This was thanks to it being a partner in the Herculaneum Conservation Project (HCP) over a ten-year period (2004-2014) to augment the scope and effectiveness of this pioneering public-private initiative instigated by the Packard Humanities Institute and the local heritage authority. Indeed, HCP has now been working at the archaeological site of Herculaneum since 2001 to protect, enhance and manage this unique place and its relationship to the surrounding area. The team is made up of public heritage officers with a wider team of specialists who work together on site all year round.
The BSR also used its role in HCP as a springboard to help local partners secure public funding and launch the Herculaneum Centre in 2007 for a five-year programme dedicated to harnessing the potential of Herculaneum’s heritage to build social cohesion and draw in new forms of support for its future.
None of this would have happened if it were not for the long-sightedness and generosity of the Packard Humanities Institute and the commitment to partnership of the local Italian heritage authority which was unprecedented in that era.
One of the BSR’s most significant contributions in its decade-long involvement in Herculaneum, mirroring its core business as a leading research institute for the humanities, was that of helping consolidate a network of national and international partners around the Vesuvian archaeological sites and facilitating dialogue on approaches to heritage and its role in the 21st century.
To find out more about the Herculaneum Conservation Project visit the website
To see Herculaneum for yourself take our virtual tour of Herculaneum
To read a range of project publications visit our academia.edu page
Protective Shelters for Archaeological Sites: proceedings of a symposiusm
Among the many initiatives that have used Herculaneum as an ‘open classroom’, a symposium was organised in September 2013 on the issue of Protective Shelters for Archaeological Sites. In this case, the British School at Rome and the Herculaneum Conservation Project partnered with the MOSAIKON initiative to develop a week-long symposium which included heritage professionals from thirteen countries around the southern and eastern Mediterranean, as well as a group of international specialists with relevant expertise regarding shelters. The participants represented a cross-section of disciplines including conservation, archaeology, architecture and engineering, and a range of experiences in the conservation and management of archaeological sites with mosaics.
The participants presented relevant case studies from their countries. This was key to rooting the symposium discussion in the real challenges raised by day-to-day management at a site level. The group also engaged in practical work over several days to develop a conservation proposal for an area of Herculaneum that is currently protected by a problematic temporary shelter but requires a more permanent solution. By working together to develop an effective and integrated approach to a complex problem, the participants shared experiences and explored alternative ways of thinking, returning to their own sites with new perspectives that were to then benefit future practice at their own sites. Moreover, the network of peer learning created by such a symposium extended beyond the scope of the days spent together in the Bay of Naples to become a genuine ‘community of practice’ as part of the MOSAIKON network of professionals that rely on each other for advice and support. The voices of the participants from the southern and eastern Mediterranean region in the resulting proceedings of the symposium, Protective Shelters for Archaeological Sites, capture this increased awareness, as do the background papers from the international specialists brought into diversify the sphere of reference within the symposium classroom sessions and site visits.
It is hoped that this symposium and the resulting publication which the BSR delivered will further the discourse regarding protective shelters for archaeological sites and offer heritage practitioners some guiding principles when faced with sheltering decisions.
This partnership experience is also homage to the BSR as a catalyst for learning environments for practitioners, not just academics. This community building for practitioners demonstrates the important contribution which the foreign academies in Rome and elsewhere in the Mediterranean can bring through their networks and capacity-building agenda to advancing approaches in the field of conservation and heritage, and is part of the British School at Rome’s continuing commitment to this field of research.
The symposium and the associated proceedings were organised by the British School at Rome, as part of its ten-year contribution to the wider partnership between the Packard Humanities Institute and the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei, known as the Herculaneum Conservation Project. This project dedicated to Protective Shelters for Archaeological Sites was completed as part of MOSAIKON. MOSAIKON is a joint initiative of the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) and the International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics (ICCM) to improve the care and preservation of ancient mosaics in the greater Mediterranean. Major support for this publication was provided by a grant from the Getty Foundation. Local support was provided by the Herculaneum Conservation Project team and also the Herculaneum Centre, the latter a local association that worked with great effect over a five-year period to augment community engagement in heritage in Herculaneum.