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Conservation and Maintenance of Relics

Conservation and Maintenance of relics

It could be thought that the conservation and maintenance of relics are contradictory. Vestiges and relics, before being discovered, remained in a relatively stable situation and stayed buried without many changes throughout several hundred or several thousand years. The best method of conservation might be maintaining the state before excavation. Restoration of the vestige with the goal of opening it to public might not guarantee the best of such conditions. For restoration of the relics and for exhibiting them to public, some degree of damage can't be avoided, and for the purpose of exhibition, totally different environments from those of the original are required. Strong lighting, difficulty in controling humidity and temperature, changes in the air and introduction of microorganism due to being open to public, have become new problems in conservation of relics. From this point of view, conservation and maintenance of relics are definitely in contrast.

Conservation and Maintenance

It may appear to some that the conservation and maintenance of ancient artifacts is somewhat contradictory. Archaeological remains, before being discovered, can lie in a relatively stable environment and remain buried without being disturbed for hundreds or even thousands of years. Thus it might seem that the best method of conservation might simply be to maintain a site's condition as it is and not excavate it. The restoration of artifacts with the goal displaying them to the public might not be the best way to preserve relics. To restore objects and exhibit them to the public, some degree of damage cannot be avoided. Moreover, artifacts must be displayed in environments totally different from their original state. Light, humidity, temperature, and air quality must all be monitored and controlled carefully lest irreparable damage be inflicted upon artifacts. Seen in this way, the so-called conservation and preservation of relics may seem counterproductive and even destructive in some way. Given such problems, why does conservation continue to be discussed in Korea and abroad? Why are national or local conservation projects carried out? Is not the conservation and maintenance of artifacts self-defeating? As will be argued below, this is not necessarily so. Indeed, historical conservation can be highly beneficial. Why, then, should relics be preserved?

Maintenance without Destruction

The maintenance of relics does not always imply perpetual change or the constant display of objects. Remains such as housing sites, village sites and temple sites can retain their original forms underground, if covered with a layer of soil. The maintenance of relics can proceed on site. Some time ago, buried areas were usually uncovered and exposed to air, but more recently the preferred procedure is to leave sites covered with a layer of soil. This method satisfies the aims of both conservation and maintenance.

Positive Conservation

Maintaining relics means preserving them for the future. It is unrealistic to believe that artifacts and sites will always be as safe in the future as in the past. Though materials such as stone walls and stone panels may appear almost indestructible, they experience gradual erosion and disintegration when exposed to the elements. To preserve archaeological remains, thorough and detailed restoration plans must be prepared and implemented. Conservation techniques must be developed to support overall maintenance. While conserving and maintaining artifacts and remains, special conservation and restoration techniques must be developed. When relics are left unattended and proper conservation techniques are not implemented, they may disintegrate and cease to exist. Who, then, should repair and conserve artifacts and sites and what methods should they use? These are important questions, as constant care and attention are necessary to maintain remnants of the past.

Cultural Relics are Public Property

Historical sites and artifacts are preserved to allow the general public to understand their significance. When such remains as castle walls, pagodas and temples are preserved, each individual of the general public can imagine scenes from the past in their own unique way. However, if no proper explanations are provided concerning remains underground--such as, tombs, houses, and temples--even specialists have trouble interpreting sites. Understanding Korean history from such hidden remains as such is virtually impossible. While we should heed the words of archaeologists and historians who ask us not to "over-maintain" remains, an appreciation of cultural assets such as archaeological remains is not the preserve simply of specialists or those with vested interests in history. Academic findings from excavation research and historic interpretation should be revealed and displayed to the public. Furthermore, national or local governments should purchase any land or objects that are slated for preservation and maintenance. It should also not be forgotten that as the tax-paying public pays for land costs; thus nothing is more tragic than a neglected historic site covered and choked by weeds. Not many people can imagine dramatic scenes from history by looking at abandoned objects in a desolate, unkempt environment. However, when ancient artifacts and historic sites are restored, they can induce positive emotions in visitors as well as national pride amongst a nation's citizens.

Cultural Education

Artifacts and sites can educate visitors about the past, but they can also be of direct material benefit to local communities. It might sometimes be more advantageous to leave objects or building sites undisturbed underground, but if artifacts and former areas of inhabitation are properly restored and maintained, they can significantly bolster local tourism. The preservation of cultural assets thus may also have this form of financial return as a goal. In this way, Yoshinogari relics in Sagakenn, Japan were originally excavated to make way for an industrial complex, but the area was instead designated as a national historic park. As a national historic park, the site has brought one hundred times more benefits to the local community than the estimated financial return from an industrial complex. As this example shows, properly preserved historic sites can be not only environmentally sustainable, but also financially beneficial. Moreover, research activities can be partly financed by the proceeds of tourism.

Maintenance and Citizen Welfare

Properly maintained historic sites can serve as recreational areas for citizens. To maintain a site, it is necessary to restore an area to the same state as its ancient environment. This can be done by planting trees and clearing the area of rubbish and other forms of visual and environmental pollution. Restoring an environment to its ancient state expands the amount of green space available to citizens. In this way, historical preservation can support citizens' demands for nature areas, which are diminishing due to development and urbanization. A main reason citizen's groups support preservation projects is that they expect a better living environment through the expansion of such green space. Citizens take delight in strolling through historic parks while enjoying nature and reflecting on the past. As mentioned above, the conservation and maintenance of the past need not be contradictory. Indeed, if properly done, restoring and preserving the past can be progressive. The maintenance of relics should be based on the premise of conservation. Cultural assets, once destroyed, can never be restored. It is better not to restore a site if conservation will prove difficult and if artifacts cannot be passed on to future generations in their original form. Moreover, only advanced methods should be used to restore sites to their former glory and preserve them for posterity. In short, there is no reason to oppose the restoration and public display of ancient objects, but extreme care and meticulous scientific methods should be used so as not to inflict any damage upon or pose any risk to precious artifacts or historic sites.