06.03.2018 - UNESCO Office in Beirut

Five-day Training on Preventive Conservation: Emergency Response Techniques for Museums and Collections

In the light of the current crisis in Syria, archaeological sites, museums and collections, have suffered indeterminable levels of destruction. Attempts to document, protect and preserve this heritage are increasingly failing. In response to these developments, the University of Applied Sciences Berlin (HTW-Berlin) and UNESCO Beirut office support measures to strengthen UNESCO’s action in preserving Syria’s cultural heritage, prioritizing advanced training for professionals in antiquities management and object conservation.

In this context, UNESCO Beirut office, hosted a 5-day training on preventive conservation and emergency response techniques for museums and collections proposed by HTW-Berlin, from February 26 to March 2, 2018.

The training course, funded by the German Gerda Henkel Stiftung, is part of the “Stunde Null Project – A Future for the Time after the Crisis” of the Archaeological Heritage Network (ArcHerNet), which aims to support Syrian Cultural Heritage professionals in capacity building. It is also supported by the European Union, in the framework of “The Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Cultural Heritage” project.

The aim of the training course was to provide participants (12 Syrian conservators and museum technical staff) with necessary knowledge and skills for proper transport, storage, and documentation of collection items in museums that are in need of evacuation. These techniques will ensure long-term protection and conservation of Syria’s cultural heritage.

The training was interactive, and included a mix of theoretical and practical sessions. Participants were introduced to modern techniques for documentation, monitoring and preventive conservation of objects and museums collections. It also included exercises for the participants to immediately practice their learnings such as an exercise on basic photography and packing techniques. The two experts from HTW-Berlin also presented principles of preventive conservation, storage management, climate conditions, pollutant control, just to name a few of the topics that were covered.

Participants were asked to share their experiences on how they have been preserving museums collections during the crisis. Some participants used already existing expertise within the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums to properly conserve and pack objects, while others had to use whatever was available to them to pack their items in a haste and transport them to safe places. In some areas, and due to the dire conditions, items were evacuated hurriedly, on emergency basis.

Participants have now acquired the necessary knowledge to improve the storing and packing conditions. Mr. Obeida Al-Bitar, assistant curator of Homs Museum, said that “once he is back in Homs, he will include a recommendation in his report to use alternative ways to properly pack and store the collection items of the museum”.

He also said that thanks to the training he now has a better understanding on the museum items’ composition materials and on how to properly pack and store the collections knowing which equipment and materials to use.

One of the experts, Prof. Dr. Alexandra Jeberien, from HTW Berlin, said that it was very important to introduce international standards of conservation and preservation to the participants, even if such standards might be difficult to achieve, especially in a country in crisis. She therefore proposed alternative ways for preventive conservation, that they can practice whenever possible.

Mrs. Randa Sharaf, curator of Islamic Art at the National Museum in Damascus said that “while the information and the knowledge we acquired during this training is invaluable, we will still face the problem of availability of conservation equipment and materials”. She added that now she has acquired knowledge and new skills that will help her in the future to properly preserve important heritage items.

At the end of the training, each participant received a toolbox containing some of the equipment and material that were used during the training to be used once back in Syria.

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