The Condition of Cultural Stones in Norman Sicily, ca. 1061-1194

Authors: Gregory A. Pope*, Montclair State University, Joseph P. Hayes, Adaptly, Dawn Marie Hayes, Montclair State University
Topics: Physical Geography, Historical Geography, Geomorphology
Keywords: stone conservation, historical geography, cultural resources, weathering, Sicily
Session Type: Paper


The Norman Sicily Project is a digital conservation project detailing the physical cultural heritage, the structures and monuments, from Sicily’s 11th and 12th centuries. This era is important in the island’s development, notable for the blending influences of Norman, Greek, and Arab cultures. In addition to photographs, maps, and other documents of the many monuments and structures, the project now includes a scientific assessment of the condition of the building stones used in the construction of these sites. While evocative in their various states of ruination as well as modern usage, the structures continue to weather the impact of human contact and natural hazards. Data collected on the degree of these impacts can be used to assess the vulnerability of the structures, and thus their sustainability and conservation in cultural heritage. A summer, 2017 pilot study assessed six Norman structures. We employed two methods to attain data on the condition of the cultural stone with a field triage: 1) the durability of the stones by means of Schmidt hammer surface hardness tests; and 2) the Cultural Stone Stability Index (CSSI), a visual scoring assessment including stone deterioration and both natural and human hazards present. Stone durability and CSSI reveal a range of decay, from badly deteriorated sandstone to relatively solid volcanic rock and limestone. However, in structures employing more than one type of building stone, the vulnerability rests on the weakest component. Hazards including human impact, seismic activity, and slope failure present challenges to the conservation of the stone structures.

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