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!!!