Meeting Our Kazakh Colleagues

By Miriam Orsini

After spending the first day on excavation with the archaeologists to visit the site and get a sense of the challenges presented by both excavating and conserving mud-brick structures, me and Ciarán went back to covering our conservators’ role. From now on we will be providing first aid conservation for all the objects uncovered on site, an amazing privilege for us.

On the second day of dig, we were brought a selection of exciting objects to work on, ranging from ceramics, including a nearly complete ceramic vessel found on the first day of dig and a glazed lamp that Giles found in a spoil heap from a previous excavation season, to metals artefacts. There was a mix of iron objects and copper alloys, including a copper alloy mirror that two UCL Qatar students, Nurul and Emilio, found and a series of beautiful coloured glass shards. This gave us a sense of the richness of archaeological sites in this part of the world and the abundance of the finds that every excavation season uncovers.

Some of the finds excavated by the archaeologists’ team, by Miriam Orsini

Some of the finds excavated by the archaeologists’ team, by Miriam Orsini

So, we set up a table in the researchers' room at the dig house, got out our indestructible microscope, which has travelled half of the world following conservators in various HWB projects, our scalpels, masks, gloves etc. and started conserving. We were now fully operative!

Aside from conserving the finds excavated by the team of archaeologists, Ciarán and I are tasked with trying to providing training courses on conservation for the staff at local museum of Otrar while we are here. Since this is the first year HWB has been to Kazakhstan, and given the fact that we have no previous contact with the local museum, we thought our chances to be able to run a training course this year were pretty slim, but we felt confident that we could create some links with them in order to be able to offer them our support in the future.

A meeting with the museum staff was set up for us, and when at 3pm our Kazakh fellow colleagues started gathering at the dig house we were delighted to meet them. With the help of the tour guide of the Museum, who speaks some English, we talked about Heritage Without Borders and the previous projects that the organization has run in recent years. They explained to us that they would be very interested in participating in our training course, and in fact they could start at any time, ‘Even today!’, exclaimed Nurseit, our translator.

The five people from the Otrar museum, who will be participating in our training course are the museum’s conservators: Roza, the metals conservator, Saritay and Chanusakh, the ceramic and glass conservators and Ursia, the textile conservator. Assem, an archaeology student at the University of Almaty, will also be joining us, as she expressed interest in conservation when watching us work on objects at the dig house.

Miriam, Ciarán and their Kazakh colleagues, by Giles Dawkes

Miriam, Ciarán and their Kazakh colleagues, by Giles Dawkes

During our meeting, the museum’s conservators showed us some of the ceramics and glass that they have conserved and we were utterly impressed by the level of their skills. With the help of the translator, we were able to discuss their requirements and needs in term of conservation at the museum, and generally assess how we could best support them.

We presented them with a draft of a training schedule, including lectures and practical conservation for the two weeks we will be here, focusing on the materials they are specialised in. Unfortunately, we were not able to accommodate the requests of the textile conservator, as she works on highly complicated tapestry that will require the assistance of a textile conservator. This is however something we may be able to provide in the future! We arranged to meet at 3pm the next day to get started and, as we waved goodbye, I thought that things couldn’t get any better for us here in Otrar.