RECOVERY OF UNBACKED MOSAICS FROM A STORAGE DEPOT FIRE AT THE SARDIS EXCAVATIONS, TURKEY
KENT SEVERSON, STEPHEN KOOB, JULIE WOLFE, PERRY CHOE, STEPHANIE HORNBECK, SARAH MCGREGOR HOWARTH, & ANTHONY SIGEL
5 5. CONCLUSIONS
Once the damaged mosaics are lifted and separated, this project will be back where it was in 1992, although on a somewhat reduced scale. When the mosaics were first removed from their bedding, there was a general plan to develop a rigid backing system that would permit reinstallation in the excavated area within three or four years. Development of such a backing system was in progress when the disaster occurred, but owing to a variety of other pressures within the expedition, the project had been delayed. This event dramatically demonstrates how vulnerable mosaics are when they are separated from their rigid substrates and held together by temporary facings. Storage conditions for faced mosaics should be given as much consideration as plans for more permanent disposition and should include factors that will ensure stability of the facing reinforcement and adhesive. Ironically, the room in the Bath/Gymnasium complex was a good choice for a temporary storage depot: the heavy masonry walls provided good physical protection and were certainly fire-resistant, and the tile-and-timber roof was very well constructed and watertight. Applying this lesson more generally, the fire should remind all those working on archaeological sites of the dangers of leaving projects partially completed for long periods of time.
Finally, this fire demonstrates the need for some kind of firefighting plan in all storage situations, particularly in isolated areas like the small village of modern Sardis. Along with a plan for fighting fires and routine maintenance of firefighting equipment, there needs to be a certain amount of training in the use of that equipment. In the Sardis depot fire, one of the senior archaeologists at the site, Andrew Ramage, ran to the site with an old carbon dioxide fire extinguisher from the excavation house. Through his heroic efforts, an important marble inscription located outside the door of the depot was saved; but, in the process, his hands were severely burned by the icy handle of the device.