Research Center for Conservation of Cultural Relics (RCCCR): From Past to Today

 | Post date: 2018/02/8 | 
Research Center for Conservation of Cultural Relics (RCCCR): From Past to Today
By: Rasool Vatandoust
How were conservation and restoration of Iranian cultural propertied in the past? More significantly, how have conservation and restoration measures evolved and what objectives are sought? Are their essential roots in the same house grounds which evolved in other parts of the world, especially Europe and more especially Italy? Although origins of thoughts on beauty, art, heritage and even restoration in their general denotations accessible in eastern culture and literature, it is vivid that restoration and conservation as they are currently addressed are derived from viewpoints and thoughts of those who live abroad. In western countries, restoration is mixed with aesthetics, philosophy and art. Later on, the term conservation with the new knowledge, as its basis, emerged to deal with this subject. One could daresay that restoration in Europe is derived from history of art. Initially and currently, but to a lesser degree, the artists and art historians are those who define restoration, its limitations and dos and don'ts. From ancient Greek to Renaissance and during the modern times, these philosophers and artists address intervention or non-intervention in what has remained from the past and they do what they suggest in practice. The two opposing approaches, namely non-intervention in historic materials and conservation of remaining ruins of the past and intervention for their better maintenance, are primary subject of cultural heritage and conservation of it in early 19th century. In Iran, numerous poets, philosophers and thinkers have reminded the public of attention and reference to past. They even talk about the way(s) of restoration and maintenance. During this era (i.e. mid-19th century), natural sciences especially chemistry in its current meaning started contributing to conservation of predecessors’ monuments. Although it is commonly believed that the first museum laboratory for conservation and restoration of historical monuments was founded by Rathgen in 1888, some major figures before him such as Louis Pasteur had used chemistry and physics to get to know the materials used in making of artistic works or cleaning them up. From earliest moments, similar to what we have today, excessive cleaning of artistic works has been a major subject of discussion.
In Iran, restoration and preservation of historical works generally date back to non-scientific excavations (Qajar era) and scientific excavation (contemporary era). In fact, French travelers and archeologists in Susa were the first people to do protective and restorative measures because of their need to know their discovered items. In 19th Century (1880 to be exact), they established the first restoration workshop in Susa Castle[1]. Establishment of basis of National Museum of Iran (1917) in one of the rooms of Dar ul-Funun School as well as Office of Antiquity (1918) which consequently led to establishment of Central Office of Archeology in 1929 along with Law of Antiquity (1931) led to attention to the subject of conservation of historical remains. The official opening of Iran Bastan Museum was followed by start of restoration works in Pasargadae, Persepolis and Chogha Zanbil, training of Iranian restorers by IsMEO and establishment of National Organization for the Conservation of Antiquities (1966). Finally, the preparatory measures for making laboratory and workshop of conservation and restoration of historical properties were done. During the same years, a number of laboratory materials, instruments and tools such as flame photometer, optical microscope, electrical balances, and humidity measurement instrument were provided by UNESCO to archeological survey and experts of Iran Bastan Museum. As a result, the first steps of development of a conservation laboratory were made. Between 1973 and 1978, Dr. Firuz Baqerzadeh was the management director of Iranian Center of Archeology (Center of Archeological Studies and Excavation and History of Art). For some time, he was concurrently running the Iran Bastan Museum during which he made a laboratory of restoration. In 1973, the restoration laboratory and workshop started operating by employment of two chemists, an expert of physics and two pottery restoration experts in basement of the building of Iranian Center of Archeology. The basement was made of five small and large rooms, namely expert’s unit, physical unit, chemical unit, photographic unit and restoration workshop (figure 1).
One could state that 1974 to 1979 was tantamount with busiest and most versatile period of archeological studies in Iran. The activities of the laboratory expanded continuously and number of its employees rose exponentially. The period, which might be called a trial and error period of conservation and restoration of historical monuments in Iran and the world, was not premised on minute attention to theoretical basics of conservation of remnants of the past. Either out of the laboratory and restoration workshop (i.e. during archeological excavations) or inside of the unit, cleaning of archeological discoveries, collection of information of works, dating and archeological studies were emphasized. As mentioned before, in those days this trend was common among most of countries of the world. It was at the same time, some foreign universities classified conservation and restoration major into the group of technical units. Meanwhile, art critics and artists started opposing the use of highly effective materials. As a result, technical and archeological studies were separated from restoration and conservation. In conservation laboratories, pathological studies were expanded. Later on, conservation, understanding and preventive conservation along with preventive conservation were replaced for unnecessary interventions and mere restoration.
Fig 1. Departments of laboratory and conservation and restoration workshop since its establishment in 1973 to 1991.
Fig 1. Departments of laboratory and conservation and restoration workshop since its establishment in 1973 to 1991.

Fig 2. Physical unit, laboratory and restoration workshop during 1970s.
Fig 2. Physical unit, laboratory and restoration workshop during 1970s.

Fig 3. Restpration workshop during 1970s picturing Mr. Akbar Andalib.
Fig 3. Restpration workshop during 1970s picturing Mr. Akbar Andalib.
 
During those years, University of Farabi was seeking to offer a master’s degree of restoration. It cooperated with National Organization of Conservation of Ancient Monuments as well as other institutions and individuals to start the first restoration training course in Pardis Faculty of Isfahan. After the major started since 1977, the university started the academic course.
Although the use of certain sciences such as physics, chemistry, biology and botany started before the course by establishment of restoration laboratory and workshop in Iranian Archaeological Center so as to enable better understanding of historical monuments and their conservation, it was the first time that this group of sciences, especially chemistry, was used in academic system for dealing with historical monuments. The newly established laboratory inside the department along with relevant devices and experts working in there enabled the students to get to know the applications of modern science in their area of expertise (figure 4).
Fig 4. Laboratory of Pardis Faculty of Isfahan in its early years of establishment
Fig 4. Laboratory of Pardis Faculty of Isfahan in its early years of establishment
Meanwhile, another major plan was being followed in cultural heritage department of Ministry of Culture and Art as well as Iranian Archaeological Center. In early 1970s, the plan of establishing a research laboratory for study and conservation of museum objects in a piece of land opposing to the current building of Museum of Islamic Period was passed and a schedule was developed on the matter. The intended laboratory was to be housed in the basement and it was connected to museum hall through a passageway. This design enabled carriage of certain items which needed to be carried on the group to the lab. After study and conservation measures were done, the experts could send the items back to their original location. It took some years and lots of efforts before the land could be quite prepared for construction of laboratory. However, the plan was left without progress until early 1980s.
The approval of Law of the Establishment of Cultural Heritage Organization (1986) and its statute (1989) which recognized study, conservation and presentation of historico-cultural works as its responsibility led to significant attention to conservation and restoration of cultural properties more extensively. At the same time, Art University Complex started revising the academic program of conservation and restoration of cultural properties and buildings. Consequently, the complex established a master degree in Pardis-e Isfahan (figure 5). Once more, the educational system was supporting the executive system of cultural heritage so as to train the experts of the research/executive field and to enable them to offer their services.

Fig 5. Entrance of Pardis Faculty of Isfahan in early 1980s.
Fig 5. Entrance of Pardis Faculty of Isfahan in early 1980s.

 
During the same period and before operation of Farabi University, it was endeavored to unite the terms conservation and restoration with each other so as to highlight the point that experts of the field are supposed not only to treat and restore historico-cultural objects but also to protect them. Following the main presumptions of establishing a laboratory in the basement of the building located in front of Islamic period Museum, the plan of establishing a center or unit which could organize the procedures, theoretical aspects and actual realization of conservation and restoration of tangible historico-cultural property based on the new approaches of National Organization of Cultural Heritage was being implemented. One should not neglect the fact that around the time the Iran Bastan Museum and later the National Museum of Iran started restoring historical objects proactively so that in 1986 the restoration workshop of the museum restarted its activity by adopting a more extensive plan. The Cultural Heritage Organization had deficient executive and research personnel (e.g. employees engaged in archeology, conservation and restoration of historical buildings, conservation and restoration of cultural property, anthropology, museum management, traditional art, guidance of museums and historical buildings).This made the organization establish the higher education center of cultural heritage. The center issued associate degrees in above fields to young applicants. This program was intended to address deficiency of executive personnel in those fields.
At early days of establishment of Cultural Heritage Organization, the plan of establishing a laboratory of conservation and restoration of historico-cultural property was developed and delivered to the organization. Following the approval of the plan by organizational managers, multilateral cooperation for supplying some of the necessary equipment and tools and allocation of the same laboratory and workshop in basement of two-floor building of Center of Archeology (i.e. current Archeological Research Center) as primary center. Later on the organization of laboratory started and it was temporarily expanded to two floors on northern corner of the building owned by Museum of Islamic Period (figure 6a-b). This event occurred in January 1991 by invitation of Professor Mahmood Hesabi (figure 7). At the time, to previous units the departments of x-ray florescence spectrography, metallography and metallurgy, C-14 dating, thermoluminescence, and library were added to the laboratory.
 
Fig 6. Facilities and departments of central research laboratory for Conservation and Restoration of historico-cultural property (1991-1996); (a) old laboratory and workshop with basement at northern corner of building of Museum of Islamic Period (b) first floor at northern corner of building of Museum of Islamic Period.
Fig 6. Facilities and departments of central research laboratory for Conservation and Restoration of historico-cultural property (1991-1996); (a) old laboratory and workshop with basement at northern corner of building of Museum of Islamic Period (b) first floor at northern corner of building of Museum of Islamic Period.

Fig 7. Official opening of the Central Research Laboratory in presence of Professor Mahmood Hesabi, late Dr. Baqer Ayatollahzadeh Shirazi, Mr. Iraj Hesabi and some of the employees and managers of Cultural Heritage Organization and Central Research Laboratory.
Fig 7. Official opening of the Central Research Laboratory in presence of Professor Mahmood Hesabi, late Dr. Baqer Ayatollahzadeh Shirazi, Mr. Iraj Hesabi and some of the employees and managers of Cultural Heritage Organization and Central Research Laboratory.
 
Concurrent with first conference for development and equipping of conservation workshops and laboratories in 1991, the development of technical and theoretical network of conservation of historico-cultural property drew attentions to itself. Dr. Ayatollah Shirazi who played a significant role in supporting conservation programs, especially establishment of Central Research Laboratory and building of Research Center for Conservation of Cultural Relics (RCCCR), suggested in the first day of the conference that supply of laboratory materials and devices is as necessary as supply of construction materials. In addition, he signified that conservation of existential and intuitive values during restoration and attention to traditional knowledge are primary duties of restorers and conservators (figure 8). As a result, the two subjects of continuous conservation and restoration are approached along each other. At the time, the program for master level training of conservation and restoration of historical property was developed and ran again in Pardis Faculty of Isfahan. Considerable efforts were put into enabling theoretical discussions to find their true place in training program of this period.

Fig 8. Late Dr. Baqer Ayatollahzadeh Shirazi making speech in opening session of first the conference of development and equipping of laboratories and workshops of conservation and restoration.
Fig 8. Late Dr. Baqer Ayatollahzadeh Shirazi making speech in opening session of first the conference of development and equipping of laboratories and workshops of conservation and restoration.

 
After a while and because of necessity, more equipment was supplied to the laboratory and more experts and specialists were employed. Addition of some other departments such as x-ray diffraction, electrochemistry, gas chromatography Fourier transform- infrared spectroscopy (GC/FT-IR), inductively coupled plasma (ICP), microscopy and international affairs enabled qualitative and quantitative development of the laboratory. Because of its added responsibilities, in 1996 the laboratory was renamed “Research Center for Conservation of Cultural Relics”. At the time, change of organizational status of Cultural Heritage Organization to a research institute was followed by division of the RCCCR into three research groups of public policies and supervisory affairs, identification of materials and technology, and dating and environment. The laboratory became one of the five research sub-institutions in which the essential and settled approach of attention to cultural heritage and conservation and restoration of cultural remains was being followed. The primary task of the Center or research institution was primarily promotion of the culture of identification and perception of cultural heritage so that higher awareness of the public and experts draws their attention to necessity of conservation of remaining heritage of the past, and using internal and external potentials of cultural excellence and economic-cultural development as endeavors. In such a case, conservation of cultural heritage is regarded as a public affair. As a result, not only Cultural Heritage Organization but also different social strata will consider these measures as their own duties. Only in this way the culture of conservation of artistic and cultural property will be promoted and these remains might not need restoration anymore.
The group of public policies and supervisory affairs sought to develop the software and hardware of conservation and restoration laboratories and workshops in and out of the organization so that dos and don’ts of conservation of cultural property could be identified based on national requirements and priorities. In this case, a perspective will be obtained which does not prioritize intervention in historical materials (i.e. treatment and restoration) over understanding. Therefore, conservation will become the behavioral model of everybody especially restorers and protectors. The two other research groups follow the same objective. Dating and awareness of past technology and knowledge of creation of historico-cultural property enable further understanding and perception. In this case, perfect perception is either impossible or difficult to achieve.
Fig 9. Different departments and units of Research Center for Conservation of Cultural Relics (1996-1998).
Fig 9. Different departments and units of Research Center for Conservation of Cultural Relics (1996-1998).
 
During the whole period (i.e. since 1979), establishment of Cultural Heritage Organization enabled follow-up of the idea of establishing the center of conservation of cultural property. Finally, the official announcement of construction of a building for the Center was done in winter of 1998 and constructional operations started afterward (figures 10).

 


Fig10. Start of constructional operations and early stages of making the building of Research Center for Conservation of Cultural Relics in Presence of Seyed Mohammad Beheshti.

 
For design of the building, numerous studies on similar global instances, national requirements, long-term perspective of conservation and restoration of historical property of Iran and location of the research center in historical texture of Tehran City and its closeness to Iran Bastan Museum and Museum of Islamic Period were conducted. In this design, the historical context of the region, adjacent old buildings, limitations of height and executive requirements were taken into account and a building with total area of 8 thousand square meters was built. The Research Center has a central court and it is made of four floors. Two floors of the building are underground and the two others are above the ground. The building was designed in a way that it can easily host restoration, documentary production, survey, and analysis as well as conservation measures through best possible theoretical and practical methods. The required facilities of the building (i.e. electricity and gas among others) were designed and built specifically for the laboratory. All of the laboratories were designed based on findings of numerous surveys and their required technical facilities were designed in a way that they enable the relevant experts do their jobs efficiently. A major part of the building was allocated to technical, laboratory and workshop sections such as XRD, XRF, FTIR, metallography, petrography, and thermoluminescence dating, workshops of conservation and restoration, pottery and glass, textiles, paintings, paper and metal as well as their supporting units. Only a small part of the building namely southern corner of second floor of the building was used for management and administrative requirements of the Research Center.

 
Fig11. Southern door (a) and southern façade of building of Research Center for Conservation of Cultural Relics (RCCCR) after official opening in 2005.
Fig11. Southern door (a) and southern façade of building of Research Center for Conservation of Cultural Relics (RCCCR) after official opening in 2005.


 
The construction operations took 8 years. Transportation and installation of equipment and systems started in 2004 and ended in the same time as construction of the building was over. Finally, in December 5th 2005, the new building of the Research Center was officially opened in presence of the organizational authorities and some cultural figures (figure 11). In fact, one should suggest that a design and a though originated from late 1970s were finally realized after 35 years and it took a lot of efforts. In the day, the Research Center was introduced as “National House of Restorers” and Office of World Heritage Inscription was housed in the same Research Center.
Increase of public and private awareness regarding the importance of conservation and restoration of cultural property, promotion of the subject in cultural heritage as contributing to theoretical and technical understanding by enabling better knowledge of the property, and finding better scientific methods of conservation and restoration of artistic, historical and cultural materials were among major objectives of the Central Research Laboratory, Center for studies on conservation and restoration of historico-cultural property and Research Center for conservation of Cultural Relics. From the beginning, namely 1980s, up to last days of establishment of the Research Center, the term conservation always followed the term restoration which implied superiority of conservation over restoration. That was why each workshop had a laboratory next to it and the workshops arrange different training courses either at academic or public level.
During those years, namely 1970s to 2009, development of training and communication activities was one of the primary objectives. Holding different domestic, regional and international conferences such as annual conferences and then biannual conference of conservation and restoration, international conference of conservation of earthen heritage, regional meetings, international conference of ancient metallurgy, international conference of biodeterioration, contribution to world campaign on recovery of Bam heritage after the devastating earthquake of 2003 and which drew global attention to the event along with the organization of different educational courses in cooperation with significant institutes such as UNESCO and major Iranian and international universities (e.g. training courses on adobe Choghazanbil, and stone conservation in Persepolis) all contributed to better understanding of cultural heritage and better interaction among those parties who play a role in conservation and presentation of cultural property. This is why ICCROM introduced the Research Center as the secretariat for coordination of activities in Central and Western Asia. In all of this activities, different publications helped in communication of necessity of attention to preventive conservation, increase of public and specialized knowledge and more significantly perception and understanding of cultural heritage.
In sum, the past of Research Center for Conservation of Cultural Relics and in fact the past of conservation and restoration is about 130 years. This period starts from establishment of the first restoration workshop in Shusa in 1884 and ends in establishment of the Research Center in 2005. From the very beginning, the interaction of theoretical aspect (whyness and whatness) and practical aspects (howness and extent) of this intellectual field showed their active presence. This point is observed both in regulations (e.g. Law of Antiquities) and evolution trend of the field as well as training of the subject. From the very start, the question that which term (i.e. conservation or restoration), or combination of terms (i.e. conservation-restoration or conservation/ restoration) should be used to communicate essence of the profession and to prevent the restorer, protector or audience from perceptual ambiguity is a subject which could be addressed difficultly. The Central Research Laboratory, Center of Research and Research Center all regarded identification, perception and institutionalization of cultural heritage conservation as their primary duties. They all regard implementation of the duties as dependent on the approach itself is premised on laboratory, treatment and conservation activities as well as many other instructional, research and executive tasks.
In future of conservation and restoration of cultural property, the best restorer is the one who acts like an experienced and wise physician by prioritization of health of his patients over anything else. The future of restoration is based on understanding and perception of cultural heritage, a future which is uniquely assisted by science. Iran, as a country with its rich cultural heritage, requires a long-term plan of conservation of cultural materials. It is a plan in which optimal conservation and presentation are superior to unwanted interventions and retention of internal and external nature of artifacts is prioritized over representation of presence of contemporaries over works of the people of the past.

[1] Madame Diolafa's Travelogue: Iran and Kaldeh, translated by Ali Mohammad Farevashi; Diulafova, Jean, Memories of archeological excavations of Shusha 1884-1886, translated by Iraj Farevashi, 3, Tehran: Tehran University Press.



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