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UAlbany Students Become First American Students to Restore Ancient Roman Mosaic in Serbia

ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 12, 2014) -- Lynne Merrihew and Jordan Scott, two University at Albany undergrads from the Department of Art and Art History, traveled to Serbia this summer to work on a pilot internship restoring mosaic pavements from the Sirmium Roman Imperial Palace in the historic town of Sremska Mitrovica. Scott, a sophomore anthropology major from Rochester, N.Y., heard about the internship from Art and Art History Professor Michael Werner. It was Scott’s first trip abroad. “The internship gave me confidence as a future archaeologist,” said Scott, who plans to become a museum curator and an archaeologist.

It was Merrihew’s first trip abroad as well. “I have always loved studying ancient Greek and Roman culture and wanted to experience working on ancient Roman ruins firsthand,” said the Delanson, N.Y.-native.

“I am hoping to obtain a master’s degree in Mediterranean archaeology or art conservation and felt this internship was perfect for getting a little experience in both fields,” Merrihew added.

The UAlbany students worked on restoring a figural mosaic of the Roman god Mercury. They learned how to clean and gently sandblast the mosaic to remove dirt and debris, and how to replace and paint broken tesserae (mosaic tiles).  “It’s so awe inspiring being able to work on an ancient Roman palace that Emperor Constantine once lived in,” said Merrihew, a junior art history major.

Sremska Mitrovica lies on the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Sirmium. Branislav Nedimović Branislav Nedimović The restoration project began as part of the celebration of the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan in this former capital of the Roman Empire. The edict legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire and changed the course of European history.  Its co-signers, the emperor Constantine and the emperor Licinius, both spent significant amounts of time in the Sirmium Imperial Palace. The project is funded by major grants from the U.S. State Department and the Serbian Ministry of Culture.

On weekends and after work, the team from the Preservation Institute showed the students around Novi Sad, taking them to museums, monuments, and a medieval monastery. The students also explored the capital city of Belgrade.

The two UAlbany students met the U.S. Cultural attaché to Serbia, John Giblin, and the Mayor of Sremska Mitrovica, Branislav Nedimović, at a diploma ceremony where Scott and Merrihew were awarded certificates in Roman mosaic restoration.

“We were the first American students to participate in this type of work at Sremska Mitrovica, so the media came and interviewed us,” said Merrihew.

When the work was finished, Werner served as master of ceremonies at the official unveiling of the Mercury Mosaic in the Sirmium Roman Imperial Palace.  U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Michael Kirby participated in the unveiling ceremony.

“The Sirmium Roman Mosaic Internship offers our students a unique opportunity for hands-on experience in restoring ancient art objects under expert tutelage of certified professionals,” said Werner. “Few institutions in the United States can offer their students this kind of access to historic preservation projects on site in an almost 2000-year-old Roman imperial palace.”

Werner’s participation in the project last June was funded through a U.S. State Department Expert Speaker Grant. On June 26, Werner represented the University in the Letter of Intent signing ceremony at the Federal Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments in Belgrade, Serbia.

In May 2014, UAlbany President Robert Jones signed a Letter of Intent, an umbrella document for collaboration between UAlbany’s Department of Art and Art History and the Republic of Serbia Federal Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments in historic preservation projects, including the Sirmium Roman Mosaic Conservation Internship Program.

The internship is expected to continue in June 2015.   

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