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As the international preservation field has matured from years of ICOMOS and World Heritage learning experiences, monitoring site conditions has assumed an increasingly prominent role. It is understood that the preservationist's ultimate task of ensuring the conservation of the material cultural heritage hinges not only on treatment but also on the documentation and monitoring process.

The tasks involved in monitoring are variable, depending on the needs of the site, and the specific objectives of the effort, but the underlying foundation for the entire monitoring process is documentation. Documentation and monitoring are often treated as the same activity or as being inextricably interwoven, when in fact they are complimentary but separate. Driven by different goals, each one requires different skills and results in a different product.

Documentation is subjective, in that it is undertaken from a particular point of view, but it is most importantly a descriptive, non- interpretive process that gathers and records observable facts in order to establish a base-line against which to assess change. On the other hand, monitoring is an analytical and critical process of comparative evaluation of conditions existing at a point in time with the base-line data acumulated in the documentation process, with the objective of determining physical evolution in the historic fabric.

Documentation can help define the significance and integrity that contribute to official recognition of a site's importance. At its best and most useful, documentation is more than that: it is an ongoing process that periodically records the physical status of the site in accordance with consistent methodology.

Site stewards are handicapped without this type of documentation when diagnosing existing site conditions, and may be led to the wrong conclusions and diagnosis, leading to overly aggressive or inappropriate treatments. For example, if a surface condition appears suddenly and worsens daily, one approach may be correct; if the condition has been completely stable for 20 years, that approach may be disastrous. Only good documentation can support this analysis. A well-planned photographic archive spanning fifty years is an unbeatable monitoring tool for clearly identifying types of deterioration and their progression over time. Linked to other methodical recording (regularized intervals, fixed observation posts, testing procedures, etc.) of climate, treatments or visitation, the documentation archive provides the firmest base for sound monitoring interpretation of condition and diagnoses.

Monitoring guidelines are beginning to be formulated and tested for World Heritage sites by various regional consortia around the world. A prototype was developed by the UNDP (Southern Cone), and a model mission was designed and commissioned by ICOMOS Sri Lanka. While the process of monitoring varies depending on the objectives or the type of information sought, the process of base-line documentation in this context more easily lends itself to standardization. Because of its perceived similarity to "auditing," monitoring by outside experts can be perceived as threatening to the owners, who may view monitoring suspiciously -- as foreign intervention with a potential for making local administrators appear negligent or incompetent.

Documentation work, however, has not yet been the subject of good, economical and straightforward guidelines within the World Heritage context. While each site or site type may require specific adjustments to the "perfect site archive," the best process of periodic observation and documentation is often most effective and user-friendly when it is low-tech and relies on relatively inexpensive recording methods, such as black-and- white photography, simple measurements and standardized field forms.

Developing such a set of guidelines is the point of a collaboration between the Getty Conservation Institute and the World Heritage Centre. They are starting by examining the range of needs on site, identifying a set of interested test sites, creating a set of recording strategies, and discussing with Earthwatch the possibility of their support for a set of low-cost, well-organized recording projects. The intended results are well-described, economical, responsive, tested options for recommendation to the World Heritage site managers interested in creating useful documentation archives to support site management and conservation.

Margaret G.H. Mac Lean
Director of Documentation, Getty Conservation Institute


Estudio de Museología Rosario... ...un sitio especializado en museología....visítenos...