My blog post this week is broken into two parts: 1. Our first presentation / practical with the local Shaulder Museum and 2. An impromptu visit to a local school.
1. First presentation and practical with the local Otrar Museum
Our first official organised day of presentations and practical workshops for the conservation staff at the museum!
Maria has done an amazing job so far of communicating with all the museum staff speaking very good Russian (which Im sure will continue) and I have done ok by communicating with my hand gestures and miming my thoughts and ideas, but mainly Maria has been translating for me which is great. Due to Maria’s great language skills we have been able to get a really good insight into the way this museum works and have been able to discuss the issues that the Fonds (collections care) and Conservation team are facing. They seem to be really warming up to us and have accepted that we are here in an advisory and supportive capacity and that we are in no way here to critisise their collection care.
Our first presentation / workshop covered; ceramic theory, ceramic types, manufacture, deterioration problems along with adhesives and fills. This was accompanied by a practical session in the afternoon. Here we intentionally smashed a glazed ceramic pot plant (not archaeological, but very kindly donated by our resident chef) and then demonstrated; identification and relocation of pieces, drawing components in an exploded view, initial holding together with tape and finally adhering using Paraloid B72 (a non-yellowing acrylic resin).
Maria and I agreed that this was really important to show the conservators / restorers as the current adhesives / fills that are being used for their ceramic repairs appear to be yellowing and could be considered as unsightly. We though that this might be an appropriate alternative as an adhesive and hope that they may take something from our demonstrations of it.
2. Our visit to the school
The evening before our visit: It was Tuesday evening and our camp manager and general all round nice guy, Gai approached Maria and I and asked if we would like to visit a local primary / high school the next afternoon. The idea was that we would be part of the panel to give a presentation about HwB, conservation and the work we are doing in Kazakhstan. We both jumped at the opportunity and then spent the next few hours brain-storming and problem solving how we could communicate all that is conservation in a condensed 3min / 3slide powerpoint presentation to a group of 6-16 year olds - slight panic ensued, with many ideas thrown back and forth.
Finally we agreed on the idea of burying some objects in shallow buckets of soil where the students could then do a mini excavation with archaeological tools, trowels and brushes. We assigned each box a dig site number and the students could then bring their ‘finds’ to the microscope station to be viewed under magnification for identification and then move onto talk with the archaeologists about real objects they have been excavating.
The afternoon of our visit to the school in the Village of Kogam: We arrived in two van loads and all quite excited to see the school and chat with the students. A few in our party were actually teachers themselves or had previous professions in public outreach programs and teaching English. I myself have experience in these areas, so I was looking forward to using these skills in a new cultural and language situation.
We were initially shown the school museum - there is a museum inside the school!!! I thought this was great and really interesting, although unfortunately I couldn't quite get it confirmed to see if the students had much involvement. The school is named after Seitkasym Ashirov a WWII soldier from this local area. Naturally the displays were therefore mostly military based and dedicated to Kazakh soldiers and their involvement in WWII. Jackets were on open display, representing uniforms with original ribboned medals pinned on. These all had protective plastic sheeting covers which is great as it shows they are caring for their displays.
There were some nice colourful background paintings and a corner which appears to represent traditional crafts and paintings, this part Im told the students have contributed to.
After our museum tour we were ushered through to the assembly hall and given a performance of traditional Kazakh guitar and traditional Kazakh dance. This was lovely and so colourful and the students seemed really happy that they could perform for us.
Our collaborative party was introduced; Kazakh Institute of archaeology, the AE team, UCLQ, UCL and HwB with our successful explanation of conservation / restoration in 3 powerpoint slides. Then it was time for the excavations!
The excavations and finds processing was a huge hit with everyone, although I felt a little guilty that we inevitably made a bit of a mess of the school assembly hall. The students really enjoyed themselves as did the teachers. It was great to see their reactions when viewing materials under the 10x microscope and even though there was the expected language barrier, I really believe we managed to inspire an interest in this area of their cultural heritage and our collective professions.
The school director made some really nice comments afterwards saying that he really liked our ideas and that the children seemed really interested in what we were doing. He was also very interested in our involvement with Otrar and commented on how with our work investigating and studying their cultural heritage, we have the potential to change history as we see how things truly were. And one day we could teach the world about Kazakhstan and make their history known. I thought this was rather touching.
After many photos and excited kids, a group of us stayed behind by request from the teachers who had travelled from local schools to see us. We had a sort of round table discussion where the teachers also had the opportunity to practice their English with us and ask us questions. There was general interest in what our impressions of Kazakhstan the people and culture are and there was discussion on different teaching modes from a western perspective compared to the Kazakh model, especially English. They are aware that the current structure of one lesson of 45mins a week is not enough to teach English and were questioning us to see what we thought they could do. I suggested some sort of internship programme or competition. These initiatives seem to be in place, however they don't seem to be really accessible for the local, more remote schools. I feel they want the opportunity for more interaction with English speakers and it seemed like they wanted us to do something about it. Things got a bit tricky as we are here for the purpose of archaeological investigation and conservation, not necessarily to teach English, but I was frustrated that there was this whole group of us here, speaking English and we couldn't offer them anything.
I gave this some thought and came up with the idea thatthe teachers select five of their students to come to the camp and help us do archaeological finds processing while at the same time getting the opportunity to practice their english. We decided it would be a good way of introducing what we do and a way of setting up potential future collaborations. Jonathan one of the UCLQ MA students seemed really keen on this too and we decided to take a lead on this mini project.
Hopefully they will turn up on Saturday!
In closing, I find it unfortunate that it seems the students don't really have access to their own cultural heritage. The school we visited is situated right next to the Otrar Tobe archaeological site, yet it seems they have no access to it and they are not informed of what professionals are involved with studying and making it available for public access.
I feel that as a foreigner to Kazakhstan, where I am exposed to these archaeological sites and objects, it is my duty to share the information that I have learned with those who are less able to access it themselves. However right now I just don't know how I can achieve that, but Im working on it!