Just as astrophysicists and physicists depend on telescopes and particle accelerators which are often shared by several countries to carry out observations and experiments, researchers into cultural heritage are about to share a network of facilities and equipment located across Europe in order to advance their research projects into preservation and restoration. This is the main aim of the IPERION CH project, an initiative made up of 11 European Union countries, among them Spain, through the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), plus the United States. Its ultimate goal is to set up a single infrastructure across Europe for the scientific research of cultural heritage.
"To give two examples, one researcher may need to determine the authenticity of a painting which has been stored in a museum's vaults for many years, whilst another might need access to a particle accelerator to understand the deterioration of a nugget of pre-Colombian gold. IPERION CH makes research much easier, given that its aim is to encourage a new culture of cross-disciplinary exchange and co-operation between cultural heritage scientists" explains CSIC researcher Emilio Cano from Spain's National Metallurgical Research Centre.
The project brings together research centres, museum laboratories, and universities from each participating country. It seeks to establish a network with a plan containing sustainable activities, and which includes access to a full spectrum of high quality scientific instruments which are specially adapted to the study of cultural heritage.
The initiative builds upon the experience and knowledge acquired by the consortium of partners whilst setting up the latest European Framework Programmes, namely Eu-ARTECH y CHARISMA, which laid the foundations for transnational access to scientific infrastructures for the preservation of cultural heritage.
In order to create a stable infrastructure to follow on from THE IPERION CH project, in 2016, the ESFRI (European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures) roadmap was submitted as E-RISH (European Research Infrastructure for Heritage Science). E-RISH was approved in March 2016 and is now it taking the first steps to setting up the mechanisms of the scientific, administrative and political aspects of a robust infrastructure.
A 'unique' resource
"By volume, significance and variety, Europe's cultural heritage one of the most important worldwide. As well as allowing us to understand our past in order to understand the present, it is a unique resource, not only in terms of social development and improving quality of life, but also from an economic viewpoint. Yet it is a fragile and irreplaceable resource which requires continual research to guarantee its preservation, promotion and valuation" notes Cano.
According to the members of the initiative, many cultural properties like The Alhambra or The Colosseum, are delicate, unique and irreplaceable. They are impossible to move and share characteristics that necessitate the development of specific infrastructures which come with the support and knowledge of specialists in cultural heritage. IPERION CH tackles these needs through its three platforms.
Firstly, MOLAB is offering the use of innovative scientific equipment, as well as the scientific research staff to visit and study objects in situ which would otherwise be damaged if moved. Secondly, FIXLAB will allow the use of large scale scientific facilities along with the full support of its staff and development instruments which are specific to cultural heritage.
Finally, ARCHLAB makes available a huge amount of scientific data, technical and restoration reports- as well as individual and unique archived examples from some of the leading museums and preservation institutes from across Europe- available to the scientific community. The majority of these written works, have never been made public and are difficult to gain access to.
23 partners from 12 countries (11 of them European, plus the United States) comprise the IPERION CH consortium which is an initiative under the European Commission's Horizon 2020 programme.
Research groups from the Europe's top scientific councils (CNR, CNRS and CSIC) are highlighted, as are universities and research centres, first-rate museums such as The British Museum and The National Gallery in the UK, or Denmark's National Gallery. Also included are some centres for the conservation of cultural heritage such as Belgium's KIK-IRPA, Italy's Opificio delle Pietre Dure, in Florence, the Rathglen Laboratory from the Museums of Berlin, or The Getty Conservation Institute in the United States.
As for Spain, apart from CSIC, other participants in the initiative include the Prado Museum, as well as collaboration from the Spanish Institute for Cultural Heritage which belongs to the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport.