Recovery of unbacked mosaics from a storage depot fire at the Sardis excavations, Turkey

Kent Severson, Stephen Koob, Perry Choe, Stephanie Hornbeck and Sarah McGregor

Abstract

On the night of July 18, 1997, the on-site mosaics depot at Sardis, Turkey, burned, entirely destroying the wooden roof and frame. Two stacks of lifted mosaic sections, already faced with animal glue and cotton were stored in the depot and were covered by the resulting debris of charcoal, ash and exploded ceramic roof tiles. Each stack consisted of 4 large mosaics lying on top of each other, separated only by plastic sheeting and layers of paper, which had burned and melted on the top and sides. The fire was put out but re-ignited because one tanker truck full of water did not completely extinguish the embers, and the truck had to be refilled.

Initial recovery of the damaged and buried mosaics was undertaken by the large team of conservators and conservation students already on-site (for the regular excavation season at Sardis). Damage assessment, documentation, structural integrity, physical conditions, and safety precautions were all elements taken into consideration in the recovery planning stages.

Removal of large and small debris was carried out by alternating teams, and periodic reassessments were made to decide the final methods of cleaning and separation of the damaged mosaic layers. Other considerations included off-season protection and eventual disposition of the salvaged and damaged mosaics, still undecided.