MANAGING CHANGE: THE ROLE OF DOCUMENTATION AND CONDITION SURVEY AT MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK
FRANK G. MATERO
Once the Mug House project was established as a model for future conservation at Mesa Verde National Park, the next step was to develop a comprehensive survey program for recording the surface finishes in the more than 600 alcove sites. In 1998 a priority treatment assessment program was initiated by park conservators to establish a prioritized treatment schedule for the remedial care and long-term preventive conservation of these neglected components in select front- and backcountry sites. The program also was designed to provide a management strategy for parkwide planning and budgeting for future conservation work. This survey builds on previous surveys conducted in the 1980s (Silver 1985; Fetterman and Honeycutt 1989; Bohnert 1991) by numerically ranking each room/space and unit for proposed treatment according to detailed physical condition, relative importance or significance, and public accessibility. Data are entered into an Access database where architectural, condition, and treatment information can be queried.
From 1998 to 1999, nine alcove sites with more than 760 walls were assessed and assigned a treatment priority rating based on the criteria above. Ninety-one walls, or nearly 12% of the elevations surveyed, at an approximate total of 375 square meters, have a high priority for treatment. Treatment priority location maps for each site and treatment schedules based on the Mug House pilot program have been made for each of the high-priority walls. In addition to this parkwide finishes reassessment program, the Mug House pilot program was applied to study and ultimately treat the most-at-risk architectural surface finishes and mortars of Cliff Palace, one of the best known and largest cliff dwellings in the United States. Remedial treatments for detached finishes and temporary site protection methods were developed according to a parallel research program based on the analysis of the condition survey, finishes characterization, and environmental monitoring.
Mesa Verde is public heritage whose care and interpretation are entrusted by law to the National Park Service, and future research and continued public enjoyment of this park must be guaranteed. Given its uniqueness and world-class significance, any conservation measure considered must be evaluated against the physical changes that will result from its implementation now and in the future. To this end, continued site investigation and survey, environmental monitoring, and judicious treatments based on an easy, accurate, and reproducible system of conditions recording can be recommended as the most responsible and appropriate method toward developing, implementing, and modifying, over time, a cultural resource management plan.
Many graduate students and consultants participated in the Mesa Verde documentation and conservation program. Those contributing to development of the documentation process included Maribel Beas, Claudia Cancino, John Fidler, Kecia Fong, Rynta Fourie, David Myers, and Jeanne Marie Teutonico. The photodocumentation method was developed and executed by Katherine Dowdy, documentation archaeologist, specifically for the project, and the parkwide survey was developed and conducted by Kathleen Fiero, Ann Oliver, and Angelyn Rivera for Mesa Verde National Park.