Sunday, March 25, 2012
3:54 PM No comments
Week 5: Stone, Caesarea, and the Western Galilee
What an exhausting week! This week, Saving the Stones spent 3 days in Caesarea, a beautiful coastal site about 70km south of Akko, learning about the conservation and maintenance of archaeological sites. This got us thinking more about our final projects, what we are interested in now that we’re spending more time in the field, and tuned us into the real-life issues site conservators must face. Our time in Caesarea was bookended with a stone cutting workshop and a tour of Rosh haNikra!
The week began with a stone cutting workshop in which our whole group made a simple window arch. We all came away with a new appreciation for stonecutters, that’s for sure! I think the mostly common phrase Jonny, our instructor, used that day was “slowly, slowly!” Most of us had mishaps with the sandstone, such as breaking in the wrong direction, but at the end of the day, no one was hurt and we had an arch! (Just don’t look at the back of it!) I posted more photos on the STS facebook page, which you can check out here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.261816057226201.60942.123743164366825&type=3&l=6e37643dd5
Monday through Wednesday, we hopped on the 5:49am train to be at Binyamina station by 7:00. From there we rode to Caesarea where we met in the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) offices before walking to the archaeological site. Caesarea is a Roman (1st century BCE-2nd century CE) and Byzantine (2-6th century CE) capital that was uncovered in the 1990s, thanks to a single pillar that was sticking out of a sand-dune. The site contains several building complexes, both public and private, all of which were very posh in their day and age. The columned rooms, seaside residences and courtyards, 100s of mosaics, fine plaster work, and countless slabs of marble all attest to the grandeur of the Roman Empire. Once the site’s importance was established, Caesarea became a sort of conservation laboratory. For the first few years, the massive project of conserving Caesarea was directed by David Zell, one of the main instructors at Saving the Stones who also works for the IAA.
Most of our time at Caesarea was spent learning how to work with mosaics and plaster, and how to do joint filling (that is, replacing mortar in walls). We paired up then rotated through the 3 different “stations” where we were trained by senior staff. Tamara and Yakov have been doing conservation work at Caesarea for 20 years, since the project first began in the early 1990s. They are at home in the walls of the ancient city as they mix mortar, clean small tesserae with dental tools, and replace worn building materials. Of course they also serve as living exhibits for wandering tourists, but that is part of working on an archaeological site. It serves as a reminder that the goal of excavation and conservation is to uncover and maintain buildings, architectural features, and objects so that people can experience them.
It was great to be on-site and work with our hands. I have been on 3 archaeological excavations in Israel (Dor, Megiddo, and Khirbet Qeiyafa) and it is always satisfying to uncover buildings and objects no one has seen for 1,000s of years. I love archaeology because it is a hands-on examination of the past that, for me, triggers a meaningful reflection on the present. Conserving a site adds another dimension to that experience. Conservation is not just about the past, it is equally, if not more so, about the future. The present is a brief moment in the life of an ancient building or object, but how we treat them now determines whether their memory lives on, whether they are available to future generations to study, enjoy, and appreciate.
One of the reasons I have chosen to do my final project at Caesarea is that very little of the conservation work that has been done there has been published, including building conservation techniques. This information is important because it explains what was done to the site. Of course this is valuable from a professional standpoint, but it is also philosophically important because such a publication testifies to the state of the materials before and after conservation. It explains the mechanics behind connecting the past to the future. Furthermore, formal publication is often the only record of the pre-conservation state of materials and what techniques were applied to them that is publicly accessible.
One of the best parts of our time in Caesarea was on Wednesday, when we toured the site with Yoam Sa’ad, Director of Implementation for the IAA Conservation Department. Yoam knows what conservation procedures have been carried out at literally every site in Israel. His tour was designed to familiarize us with the practical and philosophical issues involved in conserving an archaeological site. We must consider everything from “Which mortar is best suited for these remains in this climate?” to “How will our choice of mortar affect the visitors’ experience? How do we go about producing the most authentic experience possible without giving false impressions about the actual state of conservation?” Of course we could rebuild the site, but tourists are not interested in new buildings. They want to see remains. So, there is much discussion of what to do with a site and, afterward, whether what was done was a good idea or not.
We ended the week with the next installment of our community photography project (more information to come!), a tour of Western Galilee College, where a new B.A. program in Conservation was launched 3 years ago, a workshop in challah baking (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.261816057226201.60942.123743164366825&type=3&l=6e37643dd5), and a relaxing trip to Rosh Hanikra for hiking and a picnic (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.280152012059272.65103.123743164366825&type=3&l=16930f13dd)!
By the way, more photos of Caesarea can be viewed here, on the Saving the Stones facebook page. Enjoy!!!
Sunday, March 18, 2012
12:10 AM No comments
Week 4: The Tangible and the Intangible: From Section Drawing to Social Value
After three days of rain and cold, it is nice to sit in the sun and recall the events of the past week while looking forward to the next. All of us Saving the Stones participants agree that this week was densely packed with information and exercises, but passed quickly nonetheless. We took part in a wide variety of exercises and discussions, as usual, but this week it was all tied together with an exploration of “Tangible and Intangible Heritage”.
The week began with Sunday’s exercise in engineering for conservation. After David’s introductory lecture, we all paired up for some hands-on documentation work which involved problem areas of nearby buildings. The section of wall Asia and I were assigned is a prime example of what not to do when attempting to fix an old building. What a mess! Not only was the craftsmanship appalling, but the enthusiastic use of concrete caused further deterioration of the natural sandstone. We made section drawings of a portion of the wall, then wrote a description of the materials used, causes of deterioration, state of preservation, and a proposal of how to conserve the wall. In the process, we literally stepped back from our small section to see what the real problem is - the original design had engineering flaws that were later compounded by the insertion of a large metal door. The problem with our wall was not just the cement the owners used as a sort of band-aid, but the construction and adaptation of the building as a whole. Oops!
We spent Monday with Ram Shoeff, architect and head of the IAA Planning Department. Half of the day was dedicated to furthering the documentation skills we started developing the day before. We took photos of our “choice” walls and used multiple layers of tracing paper to identify building materials and problems. For Asia and I, this underscored just how bad the damage to our wall is and how it could have been avoided if the owners knew how to properly repair and maintain their building. The second half of the day was dedicated to a lecture on the importance of proper recording and documentation, as well as how to document properly.
For many of us, Tuesday’s survey exercise with Faina Milshtein (IAA architect and Akko’s surveyor) acted as a transition between what is called “tangible” or “built” heritage (i.e., buildings, artifacts) and “intangible” heritage (i.e., social and cultural values). After a lecture on the role of survey in documentation, we were paired up and put to the test. Dagan and I surveyed a central courtyard house by the sea, which was built on foundations dating back to the Crusader period (13th century). Much of the exterior was original (or at least preserved evidence of original features) but the interior had been completely altered with a few exceptions.
Yes, we went into people’s homes. No matter which building we went to, we were all greeted with utmost hospitality - a defining characteristic of the Arab world. The family Dagan and I visited knew very little English but happily practiced what they knew as we sipped the “exotic” (aka: fruit punch) flavored soda the 12 year old girl offered us and watched the end of Terminator 2 (in Arabic) as her father insisted. Of course we remember the building we examined, but what we will remember for years to come is awkwardly sitting on that family’s couch as they spent their afternoon together.
We finished the survey exercise on Wednesday morning, before we were introduced to one of Akko’s Arab residents and social activists. Sami is a textbook sceptic who spends his efforts fighting on behalf of his people. His point of view is helpful for understanding the different opinions in Akko’s Old City. He is also sensitive to the social and political issues that Arabs, particularly Arab children, face in this city, such as underrepresentation in government, housing problems, and lack of quality education. Sami’s voice was challenged by our next speaker, Tzili Giladi, the IAA Supervisor for Akko, who countered many of Sami’s extreme positions. Next up was a discussion of antiquities law and legal bodies led by Radwan Bdachi, a legal consultant for the IAA. Our long day ended with a Hebrew lesson and a quick bike ride home, in hopes of missing the rain that threatened to pour all day.
Thursday brought everything together under the heading “Evaluation & Intangible Heritage”, courtesy of the ICC’s own Shelley-Anne Peleg. We talked about so much that day that it would take another day to recount it all. We spent some time looking at the historic, aesthetic, scientific, and spiritual values of Akko, but the question that guided our discussion (and will continue to guide our studies) was “Could there be other social values in the cultural heritage of Akko?”
To prompt our thinking on a deeper level, Shelley invited one of her favorite visitors, an elderly, 3rd generation Akko resident who shared his family history, his memories of the way things were, his perspective on the present, and his hope for how things will be. We then visited the family who lives in the “10/50” house, a traditional central courtyard house that was part of a pilot program to show the local residents what proper treatment of their historic homes can do for them and their community. The house is beautiful, but that was not the focus of our visit.
The couple are 4th generation Akko residents with 15 children, 7 or 8 of which are married with children of their own - the father had lost count! Of course, we were greeted with traditional Arab hospitality - coffee strong enough to keep you awake and chatting for hours. We talked about many of the same things we did with our visitor and saw the past, present, and future of the people of Akko through the eyes of a generation that has seen much change.
One of the themes that came up in both of these visits was the importance of guiding children, of intentionally passing traditional values on to young people in hopes that they will live healthy, happy lives that are true to their cultural heritage and identity. Both families recognize that certain traditions have to be recreated in response to an ever-changing environment, but they also recognize that it is the spirit of tradition that truly matters. For example, the mother of 15 children recounted how she and the women of her community went to the hamam, the traditional turkish bathhouse, the week before her wedding for pampering and women-only festivities. The hamam was closed in the years between her own wedding and that of her daughter, but instead of abandoning the tradition altogether, the women had a henna party instead.
Yes, both of these traditions center on the beautification of the bride, but it is community and shared experience that matters. The woman did not recount the specifics of her beauty treatments, but recalled the women in the community cooking, sharing food, and sharing their time with one another in celebration of the good fortune of one of their own. The experience was important because it was shared and bonded the women in their community.
Throughout our discussions over the past four weeks, the word “generation” has come up a lot when we talk about the purpose of building conservation. The word is easy to use and its nice to think that we are doing something for future generations, but it did not really strike me until I saw the father of the 10/50 house seated with his eldest son standing behind him. The son looks just like the father probably did about 25 years ago, but with today’s fashion sense. I wish I could have taken a picture because the juxtaposition illustrated exactly what we are talking about - staying the same while constantly changing. Its a fine balance, but one that is necessary for a cultural to survive.
We ended the week by discussing the connection between “built” or “tangible” heritage (i.e., buildings, artifacts) and “intangible” heritage (i.e., values, traditions, rituals). How do we preserve the intangible? How can we protect the social values that are passed from generation to generation? Using the same method we use to conserve buildings: survey, documentation, classification, and performing the necessary work in order to pass what is conserved on to future generations.
This is impossible without the local community, the community that we serve and connect with on a daily basis. Not only are they our priceless archive, but they are the reason we conserve heritage, whether tangible or intangible. In conservation, we often talk about preserving “the spirit” of a place, but where does that spirit come from? Stone and mortar or flesh and blood? Our visitor on Thursday said “If I leave Akko, I will die. It is in my blood.” Here, within Akko’s walls, place and spirit are inextricably linked. There is a reciprocal relationship between stone and soul; to conserve one is to conserve the other, but both must be tended to and are worthy of our attention.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
5:45 PM No comments
Welcome to the Saving the Stone’s first blog entry!
Now that we are all settled into our new environment and active schedules, the time has come to launch “the blog”. So much has occurred since arriving at the Akko train station on February 20 that it is hard to know where to begin. In that case, I shall begin at the beginning...
The first week was orientation week in the true sense of the phrase. It began with a 9:48am arrival at the Akko train station and a round of energetic, yet sleepy, introductions, followed by a quick ride to our new home. Tzipi’s Place is large two story home with studio apartments on the ground floor and a house on the second, where Tzipi lives. Her large garden is a unique place in Akko (and maybe the world) with lots of planters converted from all sorts of items - from tea kettles to toilets. There are benches for enjoying the sun, a multi-color picket fence, peace lilies everywhere you look, and a lot of quiet. The aesthetic is topped off by Tzipi’s Friday morning singing as she tends the garden and greets you with a hearty “hello!”.
The first week was a whirlwind of introductions as we met key people and places in the surrounding community. The week officially closed on Friday night with Shabbat dinner at various host families throughout the city. One of the homes had never spoken English within their walls but thought it was important to welcome us into their home and thoroughly enjoyed our company nonetheless. The families were all gracious, incredibly hospitable, and, fortunately, good cooks!
After spending the first week learning all the “who”s and “where”s, we spent the second week learning “what”. What are we doing here? What is conservation? What isn’t conservation? We were also encouraged to think about our final projects as we move throughout the course and to keep what we are learning in the back of our minds as we develop feasible ideas. When it comes to the final project, (almost) anything goes. You can do anything from developing a children’s program to conserving a grave site, plus the project is not geographically confined, either. For example, I will be working at Caesarea, a coastal site about 70km south of Akko that has been a testing ground for conservation technologies (more details are on the way!).
Week three brought a variety of lectures, exercises, and workshops, including archaeological excavation methods, a tour of Tel Akko from the excavation’s co-director (Ann Killebrew, Univ. of Pennsylvania), a flashlight-guided tour of parts of Crusader Akko that are not open to the public (Danny Syon, IAA), and even a hummus making tutorial from one of the Saving the Stones participants! We also learned about antiquities theft, the organization of the black market, and the legal loopholes of international dealing from Shai Bartura, deputy director of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s (IAA) crime division. Wednesday began with two tours, one of the architecture of the new city and one of the IAA’s ceramic restoration workshop for the northern region of Israel, housed here in Akko. The week was rounded off with a three day weekend for Purim, post-Purim recovery, and general relaxation. After the storm that hit the coast last weekend and made for a rough day Monday, we are all grateful for the sunshine and warmth that finally came to Akko.
In addition to our formal program, we have attended many cultural events over the past few weeks. Let’s see...we went to a MASA cultural event where we saw musician Shlomi Shaban, novelist Eshkol Nevo, and the band Mookie, the local conservatory for an amazing operatic performance by Israel’s own Yaniv D’or (http://youtu.be/Iq509edSi5A), the Akko Auditorium to see the Andalusia Orchestra, and, or course, Akko’s one rock music venue, MED (or, as the bartender calls it, the venue in Akko).
There are many exciting events on the horizon! Oh, yeah...and lots of hard work, too. I will keep you informed on both as we move along. Its going to be an awesome experience!
...and if you haven’t already, please “like” the Saving the Stones page on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Conservation.Program) where I will be posting photos on a regular basis. Tell your friends! All the cool kids are doing it.
Next week: Documentation, engineering, and survey!