Takamatsuzuka ancient murals must be preserved at all costs
A delicate issue has been brought to the fore again regarding how to ensure that a cultural property of immeasurable value is handed down to posterity while guaranteeing its integrity.
After studying preservation methods for such brightly colored murals as “Asuka beauties”—which depicts a group of female figures—at the Takamatsuzuka ancient burial mound in the village of Asuka, Nara Prefecture, an expert panel of the Cultural Affairs Agency has decided to take care of the wall paintings outside the mound for the time being, even after the current preservation work on them is complete.
In 2007, the murals were dismantled along with the stone chamber housing them, and their restoration has been under way outside the mounded tomb. As the mural paintings were initially scheduled to be returned to the Takamatsuzuka burial mound once the preservation work is completed, which will be as early as fiscal 2017, the panel’s decision effectively marks a change in its basic preservation policy.
According to the panel, the reason for the policy change is that the murals, if returned to the stone chamber, “could not be prevented, without question, from being subject again to damage from microorganisms like mold due to a lack of established technology.” The panel has also said the strength of the Takamatsuzuka stonework and the condition of the wall plaster in the stone chamber would be unlikely to withstand a major earthquake in their current state.
If it is technically impossible to safely restore the murals within the stone chamber, the change in preservation policy is unavoidable.
At the time of their discovery 42 years ago, the murals, which date back to the early eighth century, were deemed “one of the most important discoveries” in the history of the nation’s archaeological research, setting off an ancient history scholarship craze. They have been designated a national treasure.
To ensure the murals do not deteriorate further, finding a fail-safe preservation method must be made top priority.
But how did the murals fall into such a state in the first place?
No mention of specifics
This is primarily because the way the Cultural Affairs Agency handled the task of the murals’ preservation was extremely sloppy.
Following the murals’ discovery, the environment inside the stone chamber was drastically changed due to such factors as the use of chemical substances to repair the murals and a large volume of human traffic moving in and out of the stone chamber, which eventually led to the growth of a massive amount of fungi inside.
Despite being aware of the growth of mold and fading of the wall paintings in an early stage, agency officials in charge of the conservation work continued to neglect the need to implement adequate countermeasures. It was even brought to light that they had covered up an accident in which the murals were damaged.
The government must take this series of lessons to heart in the future administration of cultural properties.
The report by the expert panel, however, does not make reference to specific steps that should be taken to preserve and maintain the wall paintings and stone chamber, as well as how and where they should be shown to the public.
During the course of discussions, an argument was reportedly made that called for the murals and stone chamber to be preserved in a facility in the vicinity of the Takamatsuzuka burial mound.
Regarding archaeological finds in ruins, there is a notion that they should in principle be restored on site. It is easier to understand the historical background and significance of ruins by visiting the site where the discoveries were actually made. Opinions during the discussions of the expert panel may have stemmed from a perspective that gave this principle as much weight as possible.
Colorful wall paintings from the ancient Kitora tomb, about one kilometer south of the Takamatsuzuka tomb, which are also being repaired outside the tomb, are scheduled to be shown to the public at an exhibition facility to be built near the ancient tomb, starting from fiscal 2016. The murals will not be returned to the tomb.
It may be a good idea for the Takamatsuzuka wall paintings to likewise be made accessible to the public in a way that expands opportunities for exposure to our cultural heritage of historical importance.
Due attention should also be paid to the custom of showing cultural properties to the public while specifying an end date, on the premise of taking solid measures to ensure their preservation.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 30, 2014)
2014年03月30日 01時32分 Copyright © The Yomiuri Shimbun