New techniques to preserve archaeological finds where they are discovered while allowing them to be visited and observed by the public are being developed by a European Union-funded research programme.
The Eurocare Arch-in-Situ project helps archaeologists display artefacts at the excavation sites. This removes the need to transport them to a museum, where their condition could deteriorate, or bury them under sand for protection from developers, where no one can see them.
The project is led by Swedish and Slovenian specialists, including academics from Goteborg University, Sweden. They are developing technologies such as multi-layer laminated thermo-glazed glass. This contains a membrane that, when connected to a power supply, helps to ventilate artefacts, keeping them free from humidity and protecting them from temperature changes.
The specialists are also looking at structures that house the glass, enabling it to partially support the weight of the artefacts, protecting them from vibration.
They have been particularly successful at Crnomelj, in Slovenia. There experts have designed a glazed and sealed floor and wall structure to preserve the remains of an Iron Age settlement, a Roman defence wall and tower and a medieval settlement with two city walls.
"We want to help save the heritage of future generations," said Milan Kovac, a Slovene architect and the project coordinator. "We hope to be able to set up a team of glass producers, heating and lighting companies and consultants to advise and set up preservation projects all over the world."
He said the €330,000 (£223,200) project, which is drawing funds from the EU's Eureka scheme for novel research and development projects, will look at developing customised conservation techniques for different sites, as all required tailor-made solutions.
The Eureka scheme involves archaeologists, lighting engineers, materials scientists and microbiologists, and will address issues such as climate, acid rain and the impact of tourism on sites.
Other organisations involved include Slovenia's Centre for Restoration and Institute for Protection of Natural and Cultural Heritage.