The Site Conservation Project at Tell Mozan
  taking care of the past

     - The Palace
     - The Stones
     - Maintenance and monitoring
     - Most recent conservation work on the site
     - Bibliography about the topic "conservation" at Tell Mozan/Urkesh

before storm
a storm approaches the Palace

after storm
the Palace after the storm

storm: effects
the effects of the storm inside the Palace

an unusual snowfall on Urkesh

     In Tell Mozan, we have always been aware of the importance of conservation: the idea that always led the work of the archaeologists was that conservation must be concurrent with the archaeological process, and we pursued an integrated approach, with the cooperation of both curators and archaeologists helping each other for the best interest of the structures and for the items emerging from the ground.
     The Site Conservation Project at Tell Mozan represents a coherent system which includes written observations, drawings and photographs (see e.g., the section "Conservation" of Palace AP on Urkesh website [click on the left-hand side: Palace AP > CONSERVATION]).
     Our commitment to conservation dates back to the very beginning of the excavations, and it has evolved in an increasingly systematic manner season after season. Ever since its beginning, the project has always aimed at: the protection of the archaeological remains from the atmospheric agents (particularly heat and rain), the construction of a protective structure designed to be non-invasive in respect to the stratigraphy or the general architecture, the conveying of the real perception of the original walls and an overall view of the complex in its constitutive elements, the creation of an easily removable covering system that could allow the monitoring of the state of conservation on a regular basis.
     The project took its own shape year after year, through an accurate analysis of the results gained with the different devices adopted, a continuous research for the best solutions, and the cooperation of different specialists and assistants who succeeded each other in the task.
     The observations, photos and drawings were collected at the end of each season and a report was written, that allowed the monitoring of the various activities and helped to ensure continuity when the people in charge changed: thanks to this, the Project can now be considered efficient and fully successful. Nevertheless, researches for even better solutions are always going on.

The Palace
     Inside the Palace, the Conservation Project operates through interventions on the architectural complex (e.g. the superimposed metallic covers that shield it) and sometimes directly on the walls themselves with non-intrusive, natural materials (such as the application of a reinforcing mud in the fissures).
     The procedures followed in the Palace depend mainly on the conditions of the archaeological remains. When no wall is extant, the missing structures have been reconstructed, and marked with a painted hatched pattern to highlight the fact that they are not original. If only the stone foundations of partition walls are still in situ, their outlines are marked with white rods, in order to give back the perception of the ancient volumes, without covering or intervening on the existent ancient remains. Finally, wherever the mudbrick walls are extant, independently of how tall or in which state of conservation, they are protected with localized shelters.

sector A
outlines of ancient walls marked with white rods in Sector A
sector C
walls protected by localized shelters in Sector C

     At Urkesh, the concept of shelter has been materialized through the use of single metallic frames, that have the advantage of considering and protecting each wall as a sole unit, and of being easily removable and changeable in toto or only in some of their sections, according to the needs and to the development of the excavations. The grate-like metallic structure is covered by a piece of canvas covered in its turn with a layer of mud: this seems to be the best solution both in terms of efficiency (being natural, the materials allow the transpiration of the mudbricks) and appearance (avoiding unaesthetic, intrusive materials). The sides of the covering structures are made out of tents of a natural, local material: these are arranged in sliding panels attached at the top to the metal frame with curtain rings; therefore, they can then be opened or closed easily using ropes placed at the side.

Curtains protecting a wall in room C5...

...can be easily opened to grant access to the wall

     Thanks to this efficient system of protection, direct interventions on the walls are kept to a minimum, and applied only if the structure is endangered. Should ancient plaster or the external surface of mudbricks become partially detached, a layer of new plaster is applied to the wall, to contain and avoid any loss. If the detachment concerns an entire portion of the wall and its stability is at risk, the bisacce are then used: this term (italian for "saddle bags") refers to elongated sandbags, sewn in loco with a natural material and placed astride at the top of the walls. By virtue of their own weight, they manage to keep together the parts at risk: they have the advantages of being very cheap, they can be produced rapidly and in a high number by the local collaborators, and are non-intrusive.
     For the horizontal surfaces within the Palace backfilling is used, i.e. the exposed original floors are re-covered, thus reconstituting in some way the original situation before exposure. Over the backfills some tiles are then placed, both to avoid vegetation and to provide a firm pavement floor.

The stones

the monumental stone staircase in spring

the staircase after the cleaning

the ābi

     The stone architecture at Mozan is also extensive, and while the individual components (the stones) do not deteriorate due to the weather, their joints do, and the most impressive stone walls may collapse as a result. Strong rains in the autumn and winter wash away the mud that keeps the stones of the revetment walls and the monumental staircase together, while small bushes and weeds grow in large number in spring thus affecting the overall stability of the structures.
     In this case, we proceed with two low-cost, unobtrusive yet very effective techniques.
     On the one hand, every spring we remove all the shrubs between the stone joints, while at the end of the summer we protect each individual ancient joint (which was in origin made of mud) with a stripe of burlap covered by a new layer of mud. A simple technique, which has given very good results.
     Because of the very sizable exposure that we have obtained (some 550 square meters), this work requires considerable attention and time. This we need to continue doing, as well as facing potential problems which may unexpectedly arise.
     To mention the most recent major issues that we had to face, in 2013/2014 we have devised an entirely new metal structure to cover the ābi - the subterranean building, a marker of identity for Hurrian culture made of massive stones, with a distinctive plan characterized by a circular and deep main room, which one could access only through a narrow and steep stone staircase. More recently, in 2019, we intervened on the revetment wall (in particular in the area known as J1), to ensure the stability of the structure which had been severely affected by the strong winter rains.

Maintenance and monitoring
     Since 2008, some interventions to preserve both the archaeological remains and the whole protecting system are carried out throughout the year, mainly against wild plants and to repair or replace possible broken tents; the local workers also intervene in case of emergencies like unusual weather conditions and collapses of the structures.
     Maintenance is in fact a constituent part of the Project: in order to have the situation under control during the whole year, a regular protocol was set up in 2010 that avails itself of the collaboration of different individuals in Syria (both Tell Mozan and Damascus), Italy and the USA.
     Since 2002 until today, photos of every wall face in the Palace are also taken systematically (see section "Conservation" of Palace AP on Urkesh website [click on the left-hand side: Palace AP > CONSERVATION]). The attention at the beginning was mainly turned to particularly critical situations or walls potentially in danger; year after year, however, the number of the views increased, and the set of photographs includes now all the façades of the Palace.

Stefania Ermidoro, 30th January 2019

Most recent conservation work on the site
     Here is a list of recent activities carried out at Urkesh under the supervision of Amer Ahmad, to protect its ancient structures both in case of emergency situations and for current maintenance work.
     Click on the link to find out more, from our "Events" page:
Bibliography about the topic "conservation" at Tell Mozan/Urkesh
     In the e-Library of Urkesh website, there is an entire section collecting bibliography pertaining the topic "conservation" at Tell Mozan; here you can find several papersand publications about this topic.