Join us to explore as we explore the material cultures of the ancient world and learn more about up-to-the-minute methods of uncovering the past. Journey from Central Asia, via the Mediterranean, to Egypt through objects that are in the collection of (or have been displayed at) the Fitzwilliam Museum. Papers include:

Saltanat Amirova – Gold on iron: Saka technologies of decorating iron with gold, preliminary results

Gold decoration of iron objects was widely practised by Iron Age Eurasian steppe cultures. Lavishly and skilfully gold decorated iron daggers, scabbards, horse harnessing and jewellery were found in elite Saka and Sarmatian tombs during the last 30 years. However, the manufacturing technique of such decoration is insufficiently researched and debatable.

During my presentation, I will show preliminary research results of two Saka gold decorated iron objects, a bracelet and a horse harnessing artefact. Both objects were part of the Gold of the Great Steppe exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Mirjam von Bechtolsheim – The lost context of the schematic figurines from central Italy in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum: a speculative exploration

The topic of my research are Umbrian schematic figurines, a stylistically-defined sub-group of pre-Roman (roughly 6th-4th c. BCE) bronze votive figurines predominantly associated with votive deposits in open-air sanctuaries on the summits of mountains in the modern region of Umbria. While they are ubiquitous in the local museums of central Italy and many of them have ended up in museums all over Europe and North America — including in the Fitzwilliam Museum —, they have historically not received much attention in scholarship. As part of my research project, I am currently investigating the range of sites at which these figurines have been found. In my presentation, I will apply my findings to the schematic figurines in the Fitzwilliam Museum, and explore the extent to which it is possible to re-construct their original find contexts.

Caterina Zaggia – New analytical protocol for the analysis of Egyptian pastes: the case of study of Pakepu

Different kind of pastes are present on Egyptian coffins as key components of cartonnage, for casting, gap-filling and modelling, and as a substrate for painting and gilding. However, even if some studies on architectonical pastes had been performed, a detailed examination, analysis and description of their use on objects, as structural and supporting components, is very limited.

In this study, we will try to build an analytical protocol for the systematic analysis of these different pastes, taking as example the case of study of the coffin set of Pakepu (based at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge). This funerary set is from Thebes and it belongs to the Third Intermediate Period. Moreover, it is composed by a particular material, defined by the team of the Fitzwilliam Museum “pseudo-cartonnage” after the first preliminary observations. Several layers with different pastes characterize the latter and we will focus particularly on the differentiation between white pastes and pink pastes present inside. Finally, a thick layer of fibrous glue had been observed amongst these strata and more analysis are required to understand its origin and use.

The new protocol will be based mostly on non invasive and non destructive techniques, so OM, SEM and XRF, will be employed. To acquire a better understanding, some samples will be analyzed with destructive techniques, as FTIR and XRD when possible.

Moreover, to evaluate the binders and the unique nature of the fibrous glue present between the layers, paleoproteomic techniques will be employed.

This Research Workshop is part of the Fitzwilliam Museum’s series of the same name. These events provide scholars with an opportunity to reflect and receive feedback on ongoing research projects. Three fifteen-minute presentations will be followed by an opportunity for dialogue and Q&A. This event will be followed by a wine reception and is open to all.

Speaker Biographies

Saltanat Amir

Originally from Kazakhstan, Saltanat obtained her bachelor and MSc degrees in Archaeology at UCL, Institute of Archaeology. Her MSc thesis is dedicated to copper and tin bronze metallurgy on the Late Bronze Age site of Semiyarka, Kazakhstan.

She is a Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholar and a Research Assistant at the CAAL project, UCL. In 2021-2022 she was involved as a Project Curator in the Gold of the Great Steppe exhibition, hosted by The Fitzwilliam Museum.

She has an MA degree in Economics and work experience in telecommunication and financial spheres in Kazakhstan. She was a General Director of a Central Asian office of an American telecommunication company, Coriant, 2013-2017.

She has worked as an advisor to the Prime-Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Mirjam von Bechtolsheim

Mirjam received a BA in Classical Archaeology and Ancient History and an MPhil in Classical Archaeology from the University of Oxford, and is currently reading for her PhD in Classical Studies at the Open University. She is interested in understanding the lived experiences of the people of pre-Roman Italy, and in particular the interplay of material culture with ritual practice, identity, and ideology.

Her research project focuses on schematic bronze figurines from pre-Roman Umbria, and seeks to offer new insights into their use and development across time and space, as well as their social and cultural significance. Her project draws on a range of techniques and theories, including metallurgical and stylistic analysis, as well as theories and methods developed in the fields of phenomenological and sensory studies. She is working with a core body of figurines from the collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum. Her supervisors are Eleanor Betts and Phil Perkins at the Open University, and Anastasia Christophilopoulou at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Caterina Zaggia

Caterina did her undergraduate studies in Technology for Conservation and Restoration, at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, focusing on the chemical analysis of cultural heritage materials. She then completed her Master’s in Science for the Conservation-Restoration of Cultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. For her thesis project, she used optical coherence tomography to evaluate the feasibility of a new green nanogel for the removal of damaged terpenic varnishes on easel paintings, at the Physics Department of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland.

Currently Caterina is a PhD student in Archaeological Science at the University of Cambridge University (UK), working under the supervision of professors Marcos Martinon-Torres and Matthew Collins at the Department of Archaeology, with Helen Strudwick and Julie Dawson from the Fitzwilliam Museum as advisors.

Her PhD project is focussed on the analysis of true plasters and other pastes on ancient Egyptian coffins, taking advantage of the collections at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and building on previous research carried out as part of the Fitzwilliam’s Egyptian Coffins Project. The core aim is to chart the evolution of techniques from the Old Kingdom until the Roman Period, and compare the information from coffins to that from plaster used elsewhere, prioritising the use of non-invasive or micro-invasive techniques such as XRF, SEM-EDS and µCT scanning.