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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Sikellis

Interview with Professor Taco Terpstra

Professor Terpstra currently works as an Associate Professor of Classics and History at Northwestern University. Professor Terpstra is a socioeconomic professor of ancient Rome and he has worked as an archaeologist at Pompeii and Stabiae. In this interview, Professor Terpstra answers questions surrounding cultural preservation. Read the interview below!

1. What do you and your teams do to ensure cultural preservation in your fieldwork?

>>I have not done fieldwork in a while (the last season was 2014), although I hope to do some more in the future. In any case, I used to excavate in a Roman villa near Pompeii where much of the architecture is still standing. We helped the cultural preservation of that structure in several ways. First, through documentation. Wherever we excavated we made sure to photograph the surrounding walls and draw them in detail. Documentation is really important. Even if something deteriorates (all but inevitable over time), there's still a record of it, meaning it is not a hundred percent gone. A second way in which we supported cultural preservation was through checks for damage in the architecture. We would communicate any need for repairs to the site management team, which would then take care of them. Catching damage, no matter how minute, at an early stage greatly helps in maintaining architectural heritage.

2. How important do you think that cultural preservation is? Why?

>>Very important but you probably expected me to say that. I mean it, though. Coming back to that villa where I excavated, if it were to be lost somehow, a part of what gives the area its cultural identity would be gone. People in the Pompeii region are proud of their cultural heritage, and they have every right to be. The fact that they have this incredible archaeological richess in their backyard, so to speak, is important to how they see themselves and think about the place where they are from. Of course, cultural heritage matters on a higher, more global level, too. It matters to people living elsewhere that there are well-preserved Roman villas in the Pompeii region. To me personally it matters that they are there and I am not the only one. Millions of visitors come to see them every year. I always felt privileged for being allowed to work there.

3. What do you think that the average person can do to help preserve culture in their communities?

>>The number one thing is for people to respect and value cultural heritage. Once they do, they will find that there are several ways for them to support cultural preservation. They can inform themselves by reading about it, which will allow them to make others aware of whatever is out there. They can donate money (these do not need to be large sums) to local museums and archaeological sites. They can also do volunteer work at places of cultural significance, directly helping to maintain them. But I return to the point I made at the start: The number one thing is awareness and respect for cultural heritage. When that step has been made, much has already been won. People will not preserve what they do not value, and will preserve what they do value.

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