Conservation and Site Management ProjectAs soon as the first monuments on the site of the Anglo-Dutch excavations emerged from the sand, the expedition has been aware of the risk of degradation of the pharaonic remains. Unfortunately, this is an inevitable corollary of any archaeological work. The most significant threats are:
- wind erosion, particularly of mudbrick elements
- ultra-violet degradation of carved and painted surfaces from exposure to harsh sunlight
- acid rain, caused by the presence of polluting industries on the opposite bank of the Nile
- the growth of moulds and the loss of colour due to high humidity levels, common in Egypt since the construction of the Aswan High Dam
- earthquakes, which occur sporadically (last in 1992)
- the aftershocks of explosive charges from the quarries west of the Saqqara plateau
- damage caused by animals: dogs destroying mudbrick walls, birds defecating on relief blocks, termites eating organic materials
- theft or vandalism of relief blocks or other finds.
The first efforts directed at conservation took place in 1977. In general, the interventions made up to 2004 favoured the reconstruction of the architectural ensembles rather than their straightforward preservation. This is most visible at the tombs of Horemheb and Maya, where components were either rebuilt in mudbrick, limestone or concrete, or dismantled and moved to a new location. Significant areas of surviving limestone reliefs were rendered inaccessible by building blocking walls in front or placing temporary plywood facings. All these interventions created new problems: concrete roofs were too heavy to be supported on the ancient walls, blocking walls impeded proper ventilation, and plywood panels led to abrasion of the reliefs behind them. Moreover, all these ad hoc solutions gave the site a ramshackle appearance not in keeping with its architectural and aesthetic importance. Nobody had taken into account the possibility of opening the site officially to tourism, or presenting it to visitors.
Therefore, the need was felt to develop a proper Conservation and Site Management Project. This was entrusted to the able hands of the British architect Nicholas Warner, who had already designed the protective shelter over the tomb of Meryneith in 2004. A series of relatively small-scale interventions were designed for each of the six major tombs on the site that could be carried out over a number of years according to available finances. The plan was approved by the Supreme Council for Antiquities in 2005 and has since been executed, thanks to the support of the Culture Fund of the Netherlands Embassy in Cairo, the Society of Friends of Saqqara, the Friends of the Leiden Museum, and various other sponsors. The philosophy behind the interventions was to protect vulnerable elements in situ, to have a consistent architectural vocabulary, and to be entirely reversible. They included the provision of lightweight steel-framed protective shelters covering major areas of exposed reliefs and opening ventilated timber cupboards with galvanized sheet metal roofs for smaller groups of reliefs or individual blocks. Exposed mudbrick and limestone walls were capped where necessary with new mudbrick or limestone courses. Finally, all tombs were provided with bilingual illustrated visitor information panels etched on sheet aluminium.