Technical cooperation activities during the COVID-19 pandemic: Conservation and sustainable development of Ta Nei temple in Angkor, Cambodia

Study on the reinforcement measures for the foundation structure of the East Gate
The ICC Secretariat visited the restoration work site of the East Gate (courtesy of APSARA)

 Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties provides continuous technical support to the Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA) for the conservation and sustainable development of the ruins of Ta Nei Temple in Angkor, Cambodia. Last year, the restoration of the East Gate began under the Conservation and Sustainable Development Plan jointly developed by APSARA and the Institute. APSARA is responsible for securing the budget for materials and labors, as well as implementing the work. The Institute provides technical assistance on restoration methodologies and procedures, as well as cooperation in architectural and archaeological surveys before and during the work.
 The possibility of our visiting Cambodia has all but disappeared after March this year, due to the global travel bans implemented to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we cannot suspend the restoration work for our convenience, given that COVID-19 has not spread widely in Cambodia and the Cambodian counterpart has been continued regular site duties. From April, we have been benefiting from the advantages of Information & Communication Technology (ICT), actively utilizing interactive networking services with smartphones, besides normal e-mail messaging, to grasp real-time conditions at the site and hold online meetings as needed.
 On the 21st of April, an online meeting was conducted with the East Gate restoration team of APSARA to share the result of the foundation’s geological testing during February and March and discuss restoration methods and structural reinforcement measures, based on the test result. Two of our collaborators, Professor KOSHIHARA Mikio (Structural Engineering) and Professor KUWANO Reiko (Geo-technical Engineering) from the Institute of Industrial Science, the University of Tokyo, joined the meeting. After an in-depth discussion from a scientific perspective, the participants finally agreed on a basic scheme for the restoration and reinforcement with an aim to balance heritage authenticity and structural safety. Under this basic scheme, online meetings were held in May and July to study about treating the foundation and superstructure, respectively. We had interactive discussions and shared ideas, plans, and other useful information, as well as the site’s latest condition, and decided that, at this stage, the concrete restoration/reinforcement method be considered the most appropriate one.
 The Technical Session of the International Coordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor (ICC), organized at APSARA headquarters in June every year, was also postponed, and only the site visit by the ICC co-chairs and the secretariat was done this year. APSARA and the Institute jointly made the progress report and work plan of the project, including the activities mentioned above, and submitted it to the ICC secretariat prior to their site visit. We also held an online meeting with Professor MASUI Masaya of Kyoto University Graduate School, a member of the Ad Hoc Expert Group of the ICC, who supervised and advised us on our recent issues and the project’s work plan and exchanged information about latest information concerning international cooperation on Angkor.
 In this way, we accidentally realized a potential of ICT in heritage conservation. Indeed, there is a natural limit to conservation efforts based on telecommunication and remote information sharing because the universal value of cultural heritage is in its object itself. We hope that the world returns to normal, after overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic, and the days of unrestricted international travel are back soon.

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