Dialogues in Heritage Science: Conservation of Earthen and Stone-Earthen Composite Architectural Heritage in Seismic Areas

Untouched part of Machu Picchu that was partially destroyed after an earthquake in 1650
September 11, 2014

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2014 at 1:00 PM

Yale West Campus Conference Center

800 West Campus Drive, 2nd Floor, Conference room 218

Conservation of Earthen and Stone-Earthen Composite Architectural Heritage in Seismic Areas

Earthquakes divide the world into two distinct geographic areas: seismic and non-seismic. As we are experiencing globally an increase in natural disasters, this has caused an urgent need to adapt conservation strategies to better protect vulnerable architectural heritage. This adaptation is particularly relevant for the most vulnerable constructions, earthen and stone-earthen composite historic structures. Seismic forces can be too strong for vulnerable constructions to withstand, leading to their irreparable loss.
Research into the conservation of architectural heritage shows the need to improve the existing conservation charters which do not make a distinction between conservation in seismic and non-seismic areas (Lima declaration for disaster risk management of cultural heritage, 2010). The effect of seismic activity on the stability of stone-earthen materials has been studied for the past 50 years at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru.

Respecting the spirit of the respective UNESCO principles, researchers have tried to establish effective conservation guidelines aimed at achieving the best structural performance using minimal yet reversible reinforcement. Although this may impact to some extent the appearance of the object, it also allows for a better protections of human lives and buildings. Illustrated  by case studies on the Peruvian World Heritage Sites of Caral and Machu Picchu some conservation principles will be outlined  which aim at better protecting earthen and stone-earthen constructions in seismic areas.


Julio Vargas-Neumann is a professor of civil engineering at the Pontifical Catholic University in Lima, Peru. He has a background in civil engineering and researches the effect of seismic impact on earthen structures. He has been awarded the National Culture Award on Science and Technology (Ministry of Education, Peru) 1985-1986 and serves on 4 International Scientific Committees of ICOMOS.