“SAHC seemed like a dream”
A year on from the beginning of my SAHC experience, I was speaking to some of the amazing friends I made during my adventures in conservation, and we all agreed on one thing: SAHC seemed like a dream. None of us could quite believe that the experience was over – that all of those adventures and learning experiences and spectacular laughs had really happened and were really now over. But in many ways, they are not over, for we have all built a worldwide network of close friends and colleagues, and we are all carrying our experiences onwards into our future careers.
Following the coursework in Portugal, I and four of my colleagues travelled to Prague to complete our dissertations. Arriving in April, we had a bit of a shock as we remembered what winter really felt like, but we quickly adjusted and thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful city as it bloomed from the quaint markets of Easter into a busy summertime metropolis. We marvelled at the friendliness of the people, the ease of the public transportation, and the complexities of the Czech language.
Within the first week we took a trip to Plasy Monastery, north of Prague – a unique complex of buildings dating from the 17th century which rests on timber foundations that are preserved by being completely submerged in fresh water continuously routed through the site from the nearby river. It was a once in a lifetime experience to be able to walk within the thickness of the walls of the monastery, through the elaborate maze of ventilation tunnels, bent over to avoid bumping our heads on the low brick vaulted ceilings. Considerable work is being completed on the structures today as, for many years, the secrets of the foundations were forgotten, and the timbers were allowed to degrade, allowing damp to permeate the ancient stones.
Back in Prague, I began my dissertation studying the composition of salts in the stones of the archaeological sites beneath Prague Castle. I was able to take numerous trips to the archaeological areas, which are a maze of ancient building foundations made of a type of sandstone local to Prague called opuka, to observe the crystallisation of the salts in the closed environment beneath the castle and to collect samples for analysis in the laboratory. Different salts will crystallise at different temperatures and relative humidity levels, so it was my job to determine how the environment of the site was affecting the crystallisation of the salts, and thus how much damage was occurring in the stones.
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Prior to the project, I would never have said that material science was a comfortable area for me to work in, but the work for my dissertation allowed me to work in many new areas and push the limits of my understanding far beyond anything I would have imagined.
Currently, I am carrying on my SAHC learning in a master’s study programme at the UK. I am able to focus my SAHC experiences on my new dissertation topic, which will study the development of cathedral vaults and the methods we use to analyse the behaviour of existing vaults.
My experience with SAHC provides a perfect background from which to begin exploring this topic. So, while my time with SAHC may be complete and my friends dispersed across the world, the knowledge and experiences will remain with me and focus my future work in preserving and protecting our heritage structures.
And if I ever have any conservation-related doubts, all I have to do is pick up the phone and one of my colleagues is sure to have some invaluable insight, whether they are two time zones or ten time zones away.
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