Huge archeological restoration dig site? Sweet! Shooting in the middle of the day with noon sun and high temps…not as sweet. Whatever the challenge though, the restoration of these 16th and 17 century tombs was easily fascinating enough to keep our students shooting near to the point of exhaustion!
The 36 of us rocketed off campus this morning in a big yellow school bus! For most of us, it was an everyday journey, but for some of the instructors (just mike really) it was a surreal blast from the past. The smell of hot vinyl seats, the way you bounce off the back row seats with every pothole, and the shenanigans of the last few rows were intensely familiar while the landscape scrolling past the windows was utterly unknown. As an added bonus, it was hot and sweaty!
We got to the tombs with the mid-morning sun already strong overhead. Our assignment for today was to tell the story of the craftsmen who restore the tomb compound using ancient techniques. Emulating the original builders, these men and women do everything by hand using rudimentary tools and techniques: including carrying the rocks on their heads! One of the more interesting processes of the restoration is making mortar and plaster out of limestone. First the limestone is collected from the quarry and cooked in a kiln. This creates a substance called quicklime. Once the quicklime is the right consistency, they put it a series of three elevated pools and add water. As we learned, adding water to such a substance causes a violent reaction that produces a ton of heat. After the initial stage, the pools are drained in order to separate out the larger chunks of lime remaining for later use. They then slake the lime mixture in water for two weeks. After a couple more weeks underwater, or even months depending on its intended application, the now putty is mixed to make various mortar or plaster. Here’s where it gets interesting…for the traditional plaster, the lime putty is mixed with molasses. For adhesion, fermented dried tree apple and dried flowers are mixed in which imbues a kind of water proofing quality and coloring. Finally, when making the plaster for carving, marble powder is added to improve the durability while making it able to maintain finely carved details. No wonder these intricate details can last centuries!
We photographed each part of the restoration process from rebuilding to fine finishing work and while the process is obviously slow and painstaking the results are doubtlessly going to be breathtaking. The organization responsible for the restoration estimates several more years of work until its finished…maybe we will make it back in time for our next beginning workshop to document its completion!