UCLA/Getty Conservation Program

A graduate conservation training program focusing on the conservation of archaeological and ethnographic materials

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UNESCO mission to assess the condition of wall paintings at Sigiriya (Sri Lanka)

Drs. Ioanna Kakoulli and Christian Fischer were invited as foreign experts on a UNESCO mission to assess the state of preservation of wall paintings at Sigiriya (the Lion Rock), Sri Lanka, a world heritage site. The goal of the mission was to inspect and assess the condition of the 5th century rock paintings and to make recommendations for the appropriate conservation methods and environmental monitoring. Worked focused on examination of the paintings as well as trying to identify the current causes of deterioration. Additionally the history of past treatments and scientific investigations were researched to help assess how effective the treatments were and how they could inform on the present condition and future conservation treatments.

The site of Sigiriya

Area of wall paintings on the site

During this mission, Drs. Kakoulli and Fischer met with experts from the National Fund, the Ministry of National Heritage, the Department of Archaeology and the University of Kelaniya. They visited many important sites that were part of the Cultural Triangle initiative and collaborated closely with local experts, Prof. Jagath Weerasinghe and Dr. Arjuna Thanthilage from the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology (PGIAR) University of Kelaniya, Colombo. They also worked with other conservators from the Department of Archaeology Sri Lanka on issues pertaining to the preservation of the wall paintings at Sigiriya. The trip ended with foreign and local experts presenting their findings to the Minister of National Heritage in the presence of the local press and conservation professionals from Sri Lanka.

Future initiatives have already been planned for a long-term collaboration between UCLA (Material Science and Engineering (MS&E) department and the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program) and the PGIAR on a multidisciplinary platform that will include scientific research and sustainable conservation, archaeology, conservation education, and training. During the mission a pilot project was proposed that would include the following:

  • Non-invasive diagnostic investigations and documentation of the paintings (better understanding of the original technique, physical and conservation history of the paintings)
  • Environmental monitoring and visitors management (RH, temp. and surface temp., continuously for at least a calendar year/monitor flow of visitors)
  • Microanalysis in the Laboratory: Minimally invasive study of the paintings and their condition (analysis of selected microsamples in the laboratory to (1) address questions related to the original constituent materials; (2) environmental causes of deterioration, e.g. salts; (3) effects of previous conservation treatments)
  • Conservation education and management (protocol development for assessment, testing, conservation decisions, preventive, passive and remedial treatments)

This proposed pilot project at Sigiriya will be used as a model for an iterative approach to conservation and can be applied to address conservation challenges in other archaeological and historic places in Sri Lanka for long-term sustainable preservation.