Al-Ahram Weekly Online   24 - 30 November 2005
Issue No. 770
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Dig days:

Zahi Hawass

Protecting history

By Zahi Hawass

The term "site management" is often used today by Egyptologists and archaeologists, but very few people understand its meaning. They use this term because it sounds good, and also to show that they know it. Site management is a programme designed to protect archaeological sites through conservation and restoration training, and to meet tourist goals. I was fortunate to go on a scientific cruise with archaeologists from all over the world, from Tunisia to Greece, arranged by the Getty Conservation Institute. Site management was the topic of discussion. We explored theories and ideas to ensure that we conserve our historical sites; we debated and heard from the experts and learnt that for the most part they concentrated on the conservation of a tomb or a temple but neglected the surroundings -- the general area of the site. We were left with the important question: how can we protect these sites?

First, we can say that site management must look at the site as a whole and not only focus on a single monument in the area that needs restoration. In addition, site management needs to look not only at the site itself but also at the personnel on the site. Most important is the protection of the site from adverse surroundings, and the establishment of a safe zone. This can easily be achieved by building a wall, unless the site will have natural protection. Then vehicles must be prevented from approaching the site. With safe zoning the parking should be at least five kilometres away from the site. At the entrance of the site we should have a visitors' centre to educate visitors about the history and archaeology of the site and give directions round the site that will enable the visitor to view the site in the proper way.

The site should be easily accessible for tourists, which would entail building a sidewalk that each visitor should follow. If the site is far way, and in order to maintain safe zoning, there should be electric cars to transport tourists to the monument. Furthermore, the site must be provided with popular and scientific publications. Archaeologists, conservators and architects should develop a strong conservation and restoration programme that should be reviewed every year. The most important thing to stress with this programme is that "restoration" is not "renovation". We see this destruction with many sites today. For example, we can examine the site of Ephesus in Turkey, where many reconstructions have been made without authenticity. When an architect works alone without supervision by archaeologists, the site becomes completely new. We cannot allow this to happen. Architects and archaeologists should work together on sites.

The philosophy of site management is that restoration should be based on scientific knowledge, not on imagination. I can see that many reconstructions and imaginations have been allowed a free rein at both the Step Pyramid at Saqqara and Deir Al-Bahri, and on the West Bank in Luxor. This happened because of the absence of a group discussion by qualified people. It is therefore very important to develop a training programme for the personnel on the site, not only the archaeologists, restorers and architects. The training programme should also include security guards, accountants and every person on the site who has a role in the supervision of the archaeological remains. In addition, a conservation laboratory should be built on the site. Furthermore, a rotation system should be implemented on all the sites, closing one tomb at a time for conservation and restoration and opening other tombs. It is also very important to have an ongoing dialogue between governmental departments, especially between the authorities and antiquities personnel so that they can understand the policy of site management and accommodate the needs of tourism and the preservation of the monuments. Without this dialogue, destruction can and will happen because of the lack of a strategy. The site management programme should also include a written strategy that can be followed not only by the tourist authorities, but also by the education departments for schools and others.

There is the question of who can be the supervisor of the site management programme. Many people recommend that the architect should be in charge and should have the final word, but I say that the person who understands the history, archaeology and the meaning of the site should be in charge, so that we can put a stop to imaginative restorations.

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