The Herculaneum Conservation Project was conceived in the summer of 2000, following a visit to the archaeological site of Herculaneum by David W. Packard, President of the Packard Humanities Institute and Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, then Director of the British School at Rome. On that occasion, David Packard agreed with Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, then Archaeological Superintendent of Pompeii (in March 2008 his organization became the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei) to launch a major collaborative project for safeguarding Herculaneum. The project was formalized with a memorandum of understanding in May 2001 and the Herculaneum Conservation Project was set up as a collaborative project between the Packard Humanities Institute and the Soprintendenza in order to conserve and enhance the ancient city of Herculaneum.
Between 2001 and 2004 a team of mainly Italian consultants was brought together and a series of studies, surveys and trials were carried out in order to understand the nature of the problems affecting the site, with particular attention given to one particular urban block, the Insula Orientalis I, In parallel, urgent conservation works already planned by the Soprintendenza were reimbursed by the Packard Humanities Institute. In July 2004 the project benefited from new cultural heritage legislation (known as the Codice Urbani) that allowed the direct involvement of private organizations and foundations in the care of cultural heritage (this had previously been carried out exclusively by the public administration). Within this framework, a sponsorship contract was drawn up in which it was agreed that the British School at Rome, with the support of the Packard Humanities Institute, would have management, administrative and financial autonomy to carry out a series of site works for the conservation of the archaeological site, supervised by the Soprintendenza.
Thanks to this sponsorship contract, the Herculaneum Conservation Project’s approach gradually shifted towards a series of coordinated initiatives that have had a radical impact on the conditions of the archaeological site. In fact, thanks to direct management of site works, and parallel research and works launched for the Insula Orientalis I, it has also been possible to tackle those works planned by the Soprintendenza for the rest of the site, which could previously only be reimbursed with donations. This led to an ambitious campaign of emergency conservation works across the site, both for archaeological structures and decorative features.