Endangered Archives

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EAP816: Selective digitisation and preservation of the photographic archive of the ‘Vasile Parvan’ Institute of Archaeology, Bucharest, Romania

The ‘Vasile Parvan’ Institute of Archaeology’s photographic archive contains about 12,000 glass-plate black-and-white negatives and positives, 5,000 black-and-white rolls of film negatives, 100 color rolls of film negative, 10,000 colour film-slides, 1,000 aerial photographs, and more than 10,000 black-and-white and colour photographs on paper. The archive also contains a partial card-index, with about 10,000 index-cards. The information provided by the cards is rudimentary and in most cases there is no connection between the registration number on the card and the photographic items. The rest of the archive is inadequately stored, has no inventory, has never been scanned and is in the process of active decay. Rapid action is needed to preserve the collection and to make its contents available for national and international research.

The archive’s importance for the history and archaeology of Romania is immense, providing a unique source of information for archaeological research and monument recording and restoration between 1880 and 1925. Large numbers of archaeological sites and monuments, then surviving across Romania, are represented in a vast array of excavation, exploration and restoration photographs, covering all periods from the earliest farming communities to the pre-industrial centuries of the last millennium. Many of the archaeological sites and landscapes represented in the photographs, along with a host of medieval churches and many villages, were totally destroyed during and after the two World Wars.

The emphasis of the project will be on the photographic material dating from 1880-1925, approximately 4,000 items. Although the archive contains photographs from all over Romania, the majority of the earliest material focuses on the Romanian Black Sea area, a region called Dobrogea, the richest region of Romania in terms of its archaeological heritage. It also used to be the most ethnically diverse region of Romania and until the end of World War I was one of the most rural and arid. Many of the photographs shed light on the ethnic diversity of the region, nowadays hugely different, and on the unaltered landscape of the area, much changed due to the huge communist agricultural programmes of the sixties and seventies, which included erasing to the ground entire villages along with their churches and traditional field systems.

Thousands of archaeological artifacts – pottery, sculptures, metal objects – are also represented, along with other items of major historical importance: objects of religious art, paintings, sculptures and fabrics, many of them subsequently destroyed or lost, sometimes plundered by German, Russian or other troops during the wars that have affected Romania in the past 150 years. The on-site images include extremely beautiful local ethnographic photographs and rural landscape images depicting a world long gone, especially in the Black Sea area, populated by a wide mix of differing nationalities in the period before WWII (Greeks, Turks, Tartars, Italians, Germans, Macedonians, Bulgarians, Circassians, Lipovans, Russians, Jews and Gypsies).

Until 2013 the Institute had no photo-archivist and for more than a century the archive was sadly neglected, moved from one venue to another with the records being kept in totally unsafe conditions. As a result most of the glass-plates are affected by dirt, dust or mould, heat or water; many are cracked or broken. The prints are for the most part in similarly poor condition. None of the material is stored in archival-standard enclosures. In the last two years there have been major improvements at the Institute, including the designation of a special room for the archive, the gathering of most of the photographic material in a single venue, and the appointment of a Curator of the photographic archive.

This project will start to rescue this very important body of images. The plan is to clean and put in standard archival enclosures all of the glass-plates and prints from 1885-1918 and to digitise them, thus ensuring their safeguarding for future generations. The Institute will also provide funding for the permanent exhibition of photographs that is planned to be opened in the last month of the project.

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EAP816/1: National Museum of Antiquities

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This collection has 3 main parts. The first is represented by a large lot of glass-plates negatives and glass-plates slides. The negatives are a result of the activity of Institutes archaeologists, topographers and photographers. The slides were certainly aquired from various sources or made by commercial photographesrs at the request of the Institute. Some of the slides were used as teaching materials. The vast majority of this materials are dated in the first quarter of the 20th century and relate tot the archaeological reseraches of the Institute in the Romanian BLack Sea region. The second part of the collection is represented by a lot of albumen prints, all dated in the last quarter of the 19th century and most of the related to the archaeological researches of Grigore Tocilescu, former director of the Institute at Tropaeum Traiani - Adamclisi, located in the Romanian Black Sea region. All the albumen prints are made by commercial photographers, based in Romania, Austria and Russia. The third part of the collection is represented by a lot of gelatin silver prints and probably few salted prints, all being dated in the last quarter of the 19th century, some being possibly even older. The prints are related to the archaeological researches from various archaeological sites in the Romania Black Sea region, while a fair number of the document various civil and religious monuments form Southern Romania. The prints show a large number of monuments and sites, still standing or in ruins, form inside and outside, sometimes with details of inside decorations or paintings. In all, the collection represents an important source of imagery for the practice of archaeological excavations in Romania around 1875-1925. A fair number of images have a distinct ethnographic character, showing the members and way of life of some of the ethnic groups of Romanian Black Sea region.

All the photographic materials belong to the ""Vasile Pârvan"" Institute of Archaeology. This large body of imagery comes from the former National Museum of Antiquities. Most of the photographs were taken by the Institute's own photographers, but also by the archaeologists themselves. Commercial photographers were often commissioned by the Institute, especially in the inter-war period. Some of the images come from the exchange of photographic material with similar European institutions.

Most of the glass-plates negatives, if not all, were the result of the museums own photographers activity. Some of the negatives were processed in house, some by commercial studios. The slides were almost all aquired and with the negatives were a part of the photographic archive of the department of archaeology from the University of Bucharest, where the Museum was for a good number of years located. The albumen prints, dated all before 1900, come from commercial photographers, one from Constanța, one from Vienna. A small part of them were made by the Museums director assistant around 1890. The gelatin silver prints have an unclear origin, they might originate from the Comission of Historical Monuments. In any case, all of these materials were housed in the building of the Museum, starting with 1930. They remined there after 1947, being however moved from one room to another, and in the end dispersed in several ocations and neglected. A short initiative to put some order in the archive took place around 1970, but the archivist, a former political prisoner was soon fired after initiating the work. After 1989 they all returned to the main building, still in a state of neglect and decay. Around 2004 most of the photographic materials were finally brought in the new building of the Institute of Archaeology where I found them in 2014, in a terrible state of neglect and decay.

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EAP816/1/6: Adamclisi 2

Extent: "233 TIFF images, 3,8GB"
Level: File
Scope and Content: "A lot of 197 albumen prints, most of them with images of the monument of Tropaeum Traiani from Adamclisi, Romanian Black Sea region. Most of the prints are were made by commercial photographers, Anatole Magrin in Constanta and Brand in Vienna. 233 items"
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