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Professional conservation training carried on at a Mongolian ancient tomb site

Trainee working on the cleaning of one section of the painting ©Center of Cultural Heritage of Mongolia

Professional conservation training carried on at a Mongolian ancient tomb site

Following previous two successful workshops, the 3rd training workshop to improve Mongolian conservators’ expertise in mural painting conservation was held from 2-16 April 2017 in Bayannuur, Mongolia. Under guidance of international experts, 10 Mongolian conservators in charge of the archaeological tomb site of Shoroon Bumbagar gained more theoretical knowledge and practical skills for further restoration of the beautiful cycle of mural paintings of the tomb dating back to the 7th century AD. These comprised participants from the Center of Cultural Heritage of Mongolia, the Mongolian National University of Arts and Culture, the Kharakhorum Museum and the National Museum of Mongolia, including two women.

The workshop demonstrated the comprehensive progression of preservation work on a sample area of paint layer in the tomb. It encompassed the initial testing and analysis, subsequent restoration and conservation, and the final aesthetic presentation of the painting. Mr Rodolfo Luján Lunsford, the painting conservator and restorer who followed the development of this project since the beginning in 2015, gave a series of theoretical lectures and led practical sessions to let Mongolian conservators familiarize with the whole procedure. Through the workshop, these conservators enhanced their preservation capacities in order to repeat similar work on other archaeological tomb sites in the country.

“I hate fungi, I hate lacunae, I hate the many problems encountered at this site. But I am thankful to this tomb that brought us here together and gave us the priceless opportunity to experience and learn so much, being exposed to the best international expertise” passionately commented Mr E.Batjargal, conservator at the Center of Cultural Heritage of Mongolia, expressing himself in an improving English learnt alongside this project.

Another important topic discussed in the workshop was concerning various issues found in the micro-climate of the tomb which caused proliferation of micro-organisms, water infiltration and degradation of the mural paintings. Ms Alessandra Bonazza and Mr Alessandro Sardella, researchers from the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, National Research Council of Italy, provided detailed lectures and guidelines to inform conservation trainees of ways to assess the environmental/climate parameters causing deterioration processes in the tomb. The workshop raised conservators’ awareness of the impact of climate and pollutants on cultural heritage and encouraged them to protect archaeological sites in a more scientific way.

Mr G.Amarsanaa, lecturer of fine arts at the Mongolian National University of Arts and Culture, first time attending the workshop under the project noted that “in Mongolia there is a misconception about the figure of the conservator/restorer and this is evident in the teaching curriculum we apply at our university”, Actually this university is the only one in the country providing training for this type of profession and from which most of the participants have graduated. “Our approach is purely artistic” continued the professor “therefore we lack all complementary scientific knowledge and skills. This workshop opened my eyes on the need for integration of scientific subjects into our educational offer so that our graduates will become full-fledged professional figures”.

Shoroon Bumbagar and its mural paintings are significantly valuable to exhibit Mongolian history and culture. Professional conservation and restoration will be conducive to historical research and cultural studies on ancient Mongolia. Moreover, once well preserved, Shoroon Bumbagar is anticipated to become a tourist spot that will promote local economy and expand culture dissemination, which echoes with UNESCO’s vision to combine heritage management with sustainable tourism.

“This is the first painted tomb discovered in Mongolia, but just by looking around this area you may notice the many mounds that hint the presence of other tombs. Possibly, several others will be excavated in the near future and they potentially will contain mural paintings as well” observed Mr Luján gazing across the infinite steppe of the Tuul river valley. “We need to use this as a teaching ground for the future so that this group of amazing professionals is well-equipped to face similar situations and also able to transfer their skills to others”. In this regard, UNESCO is planning to develop together with all participants a set of guidelines for the conservation of archeological tombs in Mongolia, building on the Shoroon Bumbagar example.

Since soon after excavation was completed, UNESCO and its partners have trained Mongolian conservators to learn techniques for archaeological heritage protection. These training workshops are generously supported by the Principality of Monaco that is financing the project “Capacity-Building and Awareness-Raising for the Preservation, Conservation, Visibility and Sustainable Management of the Archaeological Site of Shoroon Bumbagar of Mount Maikhan” until 2018. Workshops in 2015 and 2016 included also geology sessions for the study of the stabilization of the tomb conducted by Mr Claudio Margottini and Mr Maurizio Guerra, Italian Institute for the Environmental Protection and Research. As in the past, this workshop was jointly organized by UNESCO Beijing Office and the Center of Cultural Heritage of Mongolia with support from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Sports of Mongolia and the Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO.