Cultural Objects worked in Skeletal Hard Tissues

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bradford
Department Name: Sch of Life Sciences

Abstract



From earliest times, people have used the hard skeletal parts of other animals as a source of raw material, from simple bone tools to subtle and evocative works of art. Worldwide, and throughout the human past, skeletal tissues have been valued for their range of material properties, their appearance and their versatility. Some, such as bone, antler and ivory, are hard, resilient tissues. Others, such as horn, tortoiseshell and baleen, are natural plastics that could be re-shaped by heat and pressure. These materials, and others such as feathers and hoof, were worked into everyday objects, tools and artworks, or symbols of power and affinity. Originally a valuable and sustainable by-product of hunting, some of these materials, such as elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn, have been highly valued, leading to targeted intensive extraction, at a high cost to populations of some species. Even at the beginning of the 20th century, objects such as bone-handled tooth brushes, shoe-horns, tortoiseshell combs, baleen corset stays (confusingly known as 'whalebone' corsets) and bone gaming dice would have been familiar domestic items. Today these materials have been replaced by alloys and synthetic plastics, and animal conservation concerns have made some (ivory, tortoiseshell) unavailable and unacceptable. With the passing of the raw materials, familiarity with their characteristics and properties has been lost, posing a challenge for those who work with historic and prehistoric artefacts made from them.

This research programme aims to advance our knowledge of the use of skeletal hard tissues as raw materials, showing how materials were harvested, selected and worked, by enhancing and validating our confidence in their identification. Although some materials survive burial in a greatly altered state, if at all, items made in skeletal tissues make up a significant proportion of archaeological finds and cultural objects in all kinds of museum collections. Correct and confident identification of raw materials is crucial. The choice of raw materials will reflect their physical properties and their availability, but not all choices will have been strictly utilitarian. Choices can reflect cultural tradition and social identity, belief systems, status, wealth or power, and changes through time can indicate social changes. Correct identification of materials is thus central to artefact research, and a more detailed understanding of the harvesting and use of these materials will shed light on past human impact on some of our most iconic and vulnerable animal species.

The research will be based at the University of Bradford, which has a long record of bringing the study of historic and ancient artefacts together with cutting-edge analytical science. Partnership with The Henry Moseley X-Ray Imaging Facility, University of Manchester, will provide high-resolution 3D imaging. Other project partners include a number of major museums (Leeds, Horniman, Hull Museums, Hawley Collection, York Archaeological Trust) that hold collections rich in hard tissue objects, such as objects from the early days of the Sheffield cutlery industry, objects from the days of whaling, and archaeological objects from times when rare and exotic materials held great significance. Together, Bradford and the project partners bring together an exceptional range of scientific skills and equipment and an unusually diverse range of cultural objects. By allowing the raw material specialist to spend time working in museums alongside curators and conservators, the project will ensure an effective and direct exchange of information and ideas between scientists and practitioners, and that information can then greatly enhance the presentation of these fascinating materials to the public through special presentations permanent exhibitions.

Planned Impact

A significant and lasting impact beyond academia is inherent in this project. Heritage practitioners and curators at the project partners and those attending the two workshops will benefit directly from skills and knowledge transfer. Small bursaries will be offered to increase the range of those able to attend. These workshops will be a mix of illustrated lectures and practical sessions with comparandum specimens and objects of known and unknown materials.

As a consequence of work undertaken by the PI during the project, through the proposed publications aimed at conservators and other museum professionals and the enhanced skills of collections curators, accession records and catalogues materials identifications will be updated. This will also improve the information value of display labelling and graphics and communicate enhanced understanding of the collections to the public. In addition this will revise our understanding of the significance of objects or assemblages of objects. These newly revealed aspects of the collections may then inspire new museum displays or entire exhibitions.

The proposed publications and workshops will also be aimed at practitioners working outside academia, such as object handlers and museum assistants, specialists working for antique auction houses, and conservators working in heritage institutions and the private sector. This will have a positive impact on the recognition, authentication, care and curation of cultural objects in both public and private collections.

It is proposed to continue CPD courses beyond the life of the project in conjunction with the University of Bradford and partners such as Leeds Museum Discovery Centre, tailored to the needs of different groups such as Police, furniture restorers, archaeologists, and HM Revenue and Customs. The project will enhance the value of these subsequent CPD courses in the range of materials covered, by improving confidence in the identification criteria and techniques applied and in the applicability and delivery of the courses.

The project will also have impacts on the identification of forensic evidence for UK police forces and the detection of illegally trafficked materials through consultancy services and KT work offered by the University of Bradford, building on work previously undertaken on skeletal hard tissue identifications for West Yorkshire Police in CITES-related cases.

The project also aims to deliver information and ideas directly to the interested public. For example, at Leeds Museum Recourse Centre, a project partner, public access and interaction with the collections are actively encouraged providing the potential for talks both to schools and adult groups and also for providing identifications of objects they bring with them. This will impact on the public's understanding of the past and possible future use of a range of natural materials once commonly used but today so unfamiliar. University Open Days also offer an opportunity to deliver research outcomes directly, and the project will take full advantage of such opportunities as arise. Another valuable means of public impact is the annual Science Festival run by the British Science Association. The PI has previously engaged in this Festival, speaking on the role of radiography in the detection of fake artefacts at the 2009 Festival, and will seek opportunities to present the proposed research in future Festival sessions. Further public impact will be managed through magazine, broadcast media contributions and through the University of Bradford website.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description This research has evaluated, developed and validated non-destructive techniques for the identification of animal hard tissues, such as bone, antler, ivories of different species, horn, baleen, rhino horn and tortoiseshell, used in the production of worked contemporary, historic and archaeological object. These techniques are of interest to all those working with cultural materials and in the detection of illegally trafficked, CITES protected animal tissues.
Exploitation Route By producing a book/manual bringing together all the findings from this research to enable others to undertake identifications with confidence.
Sectors Education,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

URL http://www.3dbones.org/visual/preview/index.php.
 
Description These findings show the power of low magnification microscopy as a non-destructive tool for the identification of cultural objects worked in animal hard tissues. Most chemical analytical approaches to identification fail to provide such a clear distinction of materials and many require destructive sampling. The exception to this is proteomic analysis of collagen or keratin. These techniques can be minimally destructive but need to be coupled with visual evidence to provide both taxon and skeletal element identification as proteomics alone cannot distinguish, for instance, between bone, antler and tooth or between horn or hoof. These findings have been used as the basis for a successful bid for funds to develop a 3D web resource for animal hard tissues identification aimed at a wider audience, including the public. These findings have greatly improved our ability to correctly identify raw, worked and decayed materials and better understand their cultural significance. The results have been disseminated in the academic literature, via the internet, through identification workshops for heritage professional and public engagement events. Results from this research also informed the identification that were core to the successful police prosecution in a case involving the illegal trafficking of CITES protected animal tissues.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Bonhams identification course 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A specially tailored two-day course on skeletal hard tissues identification for staff of Bonhams Fine Art Auctioneers and Valuers. Ten staff attended from UK branches of Bonhams whose specialisms included fine art, antiquities, Islamic, Indian and Asian art. All materials were covered but with particular emphasis on distinguishing ivories, tortoiseshell and rhino horn from their imitator. The course was supplemented by talks on plastics, caring for bone and ivory and CITES and other legal requirements. The course was held at the Horniman Museum and two of their staff also attended.

Excellent feedback from participants and request for a future course for their other staff
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description British Science Festival: Exploring New Archaeological Worlds project exhibition 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The British Science Association's British Science Festival was held at the University of Bradford from Sept 10th to 15th. As part of the half-day session 'Exploring New Archaeological Worlds' I provided an exhibition display show-casing the work of this project. This included text and displays exploring the macro and microstructure of the materials, a handling collection of raw materials, a picture quiz and an hands-on object quiz.

The half day session was a great success with between 250 and 300 people passing through the exhibition hall during the afternoon (c 50 per hour over 5 hours). The hands-on elements of the exhibit proved particularly successful in engaging the public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Confessions of a Conservatrix 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An after lunch talk to a public audience, the 'Ladies Who Lunch'. This is a humorous talk designed to entertain but also inform the general public about archaeological conservation and heritage science by presenting projects I have been involved in, including aspects of my current research.

An invitation to speak to another group
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Cultural Objects Worked in Skeletal Hard Tissues Two-Day Materials Identification Workshop 1 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This hands-on course covered the identification of animal hard tissues used in the

production of cultural objects, such as bone, antler, ivory, horn, tortoiseshell and rhino horn.

The emphasis was on visual identification techniques and covered the characteristics of

the raw materials, worked and decayed surfaces. The course comprised of a series of

lectures interspersed with material handling sessions and identification practical sessions.

Feed back from participants showed an improvement in materials identifiction skills
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Cultural Objects Worked in Skeletal Hard Tissues Two-Day Materials Identification Workshop 2 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This hands-on course covered the identification of animal hard tissues used in the

production of cultural objects, such as bone, antler, ivory, horn, tortoiseshell and rhino horn.

The emphasis was on visual identification techniques and covered the characteristics of

the raw materials, worked and decayed surfaces. The course comprised of a series of

lectures interspersed with material handling sessions and identification practical sessions.

Feed back from participants showed an improvement in materials identifiction skills
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Horniman Musuem: Identification Course 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was an intensive one-day course on the identification of skeletal hard tissues for the curatorial and conservation staff of the Horniman Museum and was also attended by a member of staff from the Mammals Group, Department of Zoology, The Natural History Museum, London. There were 14 participants in all.

Improved confidence in identifications made of materials in the museum's collection and improved quality of information in collections database and public displays
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description ICON Ethnographic Group ID course at OUNHM Oxford 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Delivery of an workshop on worked animal hard tissues identification.The emphasis was on visual identification techniques and covered the characteristics of

the raw materials, worked and decayed surfaces. The course comprised of a series of

lectures interspersed with material handling sessions and identification practical sessions. The participants were 50/50 conservators and curatorial staff.

Improved confidence in the identifications made by the participants
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Investigaing ivories:elephants' are not the only tusks 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact A short talk on the identification of non-elephant ivories, such as hippopotamus, sperm whale, narwhal and walrus, and the historical and archaeological evidence for their use from different period in the UK.

none
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Leeds CafĂ© Scientifique talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Leeds Café Scientifique, is the title of a public talks series held on Sunday mornings at the Leeds City Museum Café. I gave a talk jointly with Prof Terry O'Connor, University of York, entitled 'Archaeology and the Science of Digging things up: The Bones of the Matter', encompassing the identification of skeletal hard tissues and what their study can tell us about past human lives. The very informal talk was attended by an audience of about 20 adults and children. The 30 minute presentation was followed by a very lively question and answer session and and opportunity for the audience to handle the objects and raw materials. Enthusiastic discussions continued over coffee and cakes.

none
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Long in the Tooth 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A lecture to the Olicana Historical Society, Ilkley, UK, about ivories, especially the unrecognised presence of non-elephant ivories in historical and archaeological collections, entitled 'Long in the Tooth'. Topics covered ranged from Bronze Age dagger pommels to 19th century oriental ivories and early dentures.

Further requests to talk to archaeological and historical society
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Material Matters 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An introduction to my post-graduate research project 'Cultural Materials Worked in Skeletal hard tissues', its aims, methods and major outcomes, with particular reference to the archaeological material

none
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Materials ID course IFA Leicester 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact c.20 IFA (The Institute for Archaeologists) members from all stages in their careers attended this 1/2 day hands-on workshop, an introduction to developing skills in animal hard tissue identification. This was part of a training day about organic archaeological finds.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.archaeologists.net/sites/default/files/Presentation_Abstract_&_Learning_Outcomes.pdf
 
Description NatSCA animal hard tissues identification workshop, 29th January 2015. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 20 members of the Natural Sciences Collections Association attended this 1 day compact, hands-on CPD workshop to develop their skills in the identification of worked animal hard tissues. All reported an improved understanding or the materials and identification criteria and increased confidence in making identifications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description NatSCA materials identification course 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact One day course at the Leeds Museums Discovery Centre, on osseous and keratinous materials identification for members of the Natural Sciences Collections Association. This course was an intensive day of lectures, materials handling sessions followed by an identification practical session.

I was the sole course tutor, delivering the lectures and directing the material handling sessions and identification practical.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description North West Region Renaissance Programme: Identification course 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact At the invitation of David Craven, Collections Development Officer, Natural Sciences, at The Manchester Museum, a two-day identification course was delivered to staff from musuems in the North West region as part of the training funded by the MLA Renaissance programme. The course was held at the Lancashire Conservation Studios, Preston, Lancashire, and was attended by 19 curatorial and conservation staff and interns from 9 institutions in the region and by a National Trust conservator based in the Cotswolds.

Feed back from participants showed an improvement in materials identifiction skills
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description One to One: radio interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was a one-hour radio programme for BCB (Bradford Community Broadcasting)along the lines of the BBCs 'Desert Island Discs' This provided an opportunity to talk about archaeological conservation for a public audience and in particular about my post-doctoral research project and the coming events planned for the British Science Festival, which would also feature this project. The programme was broadcast on three occasions (May 5th, 6th and 7th) and was also available as a podcast for 28 days.

A survey conducted by Bradford City Council verified that BCB has an audience of 30,700 listeners per week.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Royal College of Surgeons of England: Ivory identification course 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a half-day course tailored to the needs of the staff working with the various collections within the college, and was offered in lieu of a bench fee for access to their Odontological Collections. The course only covered osseous materials and concentrated on distinguishing bone from ivories as these were common materials in collections, such as the surgical tools and dentures. Six staff attended.

Improved confidence in materials identifications, better quality of information in collections database and public displays
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Whales in Prehistory 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An evening research seminar delivered to staff, students and public at the department of Archaeological Science, University of Bradford, on the archaeological evidence for the utilisation of cetacean material (e.g.bone, teeth, baleen, oil, blubber, meat, skin) and the cultural significance of whales to prehistoric peoples.

none
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Whales, Whaling and Whalers: The Great Whale Emporium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact The Whales, Whaling and Whalers research cluster, at the Department of Archaeology, University of York, was instigated by Jim Symonds, with Matthew Collins,Terry O'Connor and myself. The purpose of this cluster is to produce an integrated study in social and bioarchaeology of the impact of whaling. At the inaugural seminar of this research cluster on the 10th February in York, I gave a talk, entitled summarising what archaeological artefacts can tell us about the use of whale tissues (bone, baleen, ivory etc), particularly before reliable historical records, and how reliable and well-resolved is our identification of those materials.

further collaboration with the York research group
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description interview by BBC Radio Gloucester 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Whilst studying and recording objects in the collections of the Gloucester Museum, I was interviewed regarding the identification of The Frocester Court Roman gaming die. The material of this die had never been fully identified although it had been examined in the past by many specialists, including myself. As a result of my research I was now able to confirm that it was decayed elephant ivory.

none
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012