When the conservators show up on site, the expectation of dramatic change is in the air. It’s as though the original Roman mosaic artisans have returned to polish up their work to appear just as the day they first laid the mosaic nearly two thousand years ago…
Alas, we are not the Romans who crafted the mosaics, nor are we the people who lived in these rooms and viewed them everyday when they were fresh and new. Not a single person on this planet is alive who saw these floors in their original glory; all we can do is guess. But we’re not in the business of guessing in conservation. We are here to ensure that you see what is real and that it lasts for as long as possible. With that said, there are still some choices to be made:
Do we relay the mosaics to make them flat like new?
– That would add modern material to the Roman flooring system, destroying the underlying context and giving a misleading appearance to the mosaic. Conservation is about preserving what is present and taking care not to destroy any original material.
Do we replace missing tesserae with other ones we find loose?
– Well, it is original material, but once they’ve been moved out of place, how would anyone know for certain where exactly each one belongs? Sure, maybe one missing red tessera can be replaced with one loose one that is the right size found very near that spot, but when do you draw the line? Do we redesign the whole North end because we THINK it is supposed to be a certain pattern? There is just too much guessing. We don’t like to guess.
What do we KNOW?
– The state of the mosaics is certain at the point when they have been uncovered by the archaeologists. We know what state they are in at this moment of freshly exposed from the ground after over a millennia of burial. The moment that we can most accurately capture is that freshly excavated state. Our job is now to stabilize the mosaics so that they appear as you see them today, newly uncovered, for many generations to come.
Stay tuned for a step-by-step look into the process of making that happen!