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Over the years we have become increasingly aware of threats to the material heritage with which we are working.

The condition of the burials in the outer compound at Gännätä Maryam is a cause for concern. Trampling and building works had already caused considerable damage by the time the cemetery was rediscovered in 2013. The local community naturally wants to continue using the space, and the fate of the burials that we were unable to excavate and remove in 2014 has since been the subject of negotiation with the community and the ARCCH.

We have also been monitoring the condition of the wall paintings in the churches. While in most cases they appear stable, there are a number of concerns. These include problems of potential rock collapse, abrasion, candle-smoke damage and infiltration – the last particularly in the cave churches but also in rock-hewn Gännätä Maryam and Bǝlbäla Č̣ärqos, despite their protective roofs. Other serious deterioration may have escaped notice.

We are therefore preparing to carry out a conservation survey with Stephen Rickerby and Lisa Shekede, wall painting conservators, to assess the stability of the paintings and the causes of any deterioration, with a view to addressing the root causes while avoiding the use of aggressive methods on the paintings themselves. The initial survey was planned for May 2020, but it has been postponed until the coronavirus pandemic is under control.

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