Fitzwilliam Museum

Cambridge, United Kingdom

Fitzwilliam Museum

Cambridge, United Kingdom
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Fiddyment S.,University of York | Holsinger B.,University of Virginia | Ruzzier C.,Catholic University of Louvain | Devine A.,University of Pennsylvania | And 16 more authors.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America | Year: 2015

Tissue-thin parchment made it possible to produce the first pocket Bibles: Thousands were made in the 13th century. The source of this parchment, often called "uterine vellum," has been a long-standing controversy in codicology. Use of the Latin term abortivum in many sources has led some scholars to suggest that the skin of fetal calves or sheep was used. Others have argued that it would not be possible to sustain herds if so many pocket Bibles were produced from fetal skins, arguing instead for unexpected alternatives, such as rabbit. Here, we report a simple and objective technique using standard conservation treatments to identify the animal origin of parchment. The noninvasive method is a variant on zooarchaeology by mass spectrometry (ZooMS) peptide mass fingerprinting but extracts protein from the parchment surface by using an electrostatic charge generated by gentle rubbing of a PVC eraser on the membrane surface. Using this method, we analyzed 72 pocket Bibles originating in France, England, and Italy and 293 additional parchment samples that bracket this period. We found no evidence for the use of unexpected animals; however, we did identify the use of more than one mammal species in a single manuscript, consistent with the local availability of hides. These results suggest that ultrafine vellum does not necessarily derive from the use of abortive or newborn animals with ultrathin hides, but could equally well reflect a production process that allowed the skins of maturing animals of several species to be rendered into vellum of equal quality and fineness.

Aceto M.,University of Piemonte Orientale | Agostino A.,University of Turin | Fenoglio G.,University of Turin | Idone A.,University of Piemonte Orientale | And 6 more authors.
Analytical Methods | Year: 2014

The use of ultraviolet and visible diffuse reflectance spectrophotometry as a preliminary technique in the investigation of illuminated manuscripts is discussed. Because ancient manuscripts are amongst the most fragile and precious artworks, characterisation of the materials used in their decoration should be performed using non-invasive analytical methods. Ultraviolet and visible reflectance spectrophotometry with optical fibres (FORS) allows non-invasive identification of several colourants used by ancient illuminators, causing no damage or mechanical stress to the artworks subjected to analysis. Identification is usually based on the comparison of analytical data with a spectral database built from painted areas on parchment, created by preparing paints according to ancient recipes as described in medieval technical treatises. Such database and the spectral features of the colourants analysed are discussed, along with the benefits of extending the spectral range of analysis into the shortwave infrared (to 2500 nm). FORS can be best appreciated as a rapid preliminary tool that offers an overview on the main colourants employed and guides the selection of painted areas of manuscripts on which more selective techniques, such as X-ray fluorescence or Raman spectroscopy, can be employed for a more complete and accurate identification. © 2014 The Royal Society of Chemistry.

News Article | May 12, 2016

The youngest mummified human fetus from ancient Egypt to date has been unearthed in an archeological discovery, showing the preciousness of the unborn child at that time, according to British experts. Fitzwilliam Museum researchers in Cambridge, United Kingdom, used a special CT scan method to gauge the age of the unborn baby, estimating that the pregnancy lasted 16 to 18 weeks. The 44-centimeter-long (about 17 inches) coffin was excavated at Giza back in 1907 by the British School of Archaeology. The museum’s conservation head, Julie Dawson, said that the groundbreaking find is telling of how precious unborn children were in ancient Egypt. “The care taken in the preparation of this burial clearly demonstrates the value placed on life even in the first weeks of its inception,” she explained of the fetus housed in a coffin that’s a miniature of those used from 664 to 525 B.C., the late period of the ancient civilization. According to the museum, the small mummified package was carefully wrapped in bandages, and then poured with molten black resin before closing the coffin. The coffin’s contents were previously mistaken to be mummified samples of internal organs, which were removed during standard embalming procedure. But scientists thought it was important to be sure after X-ray results proved to be inconclusive, so they employed a micro CT scan and eventually discovered a tiny human body inside the coverings. The fetus’ pelvis and skull have collapsed but its fingers, toes, and long bones in the arms and legs remain viewable from the scan. The fetus has its arms crossed over the chest – a factor that, combined with the complex composition and decoration of the coffin, clearly indicated the burial’s importance in the society, the museum added. This mummified fetus, however, is not the first to be found from ancient Egypt. Two small ones placed in different coffins were previously retrieved from King Tutankhamun’s tomb, both significantly older than the Fitzwilliam Museum fetus at 25 and 37 weeks of gestation. Tutankhamun’s own tomb still holds secrets despite being extensively studied for almost a century now. Its first infrared scans, for instance, indicated that it could be sheltering a hidden chamber – potentially the lost burial site of Queen Nefertiti, the king’s stepmother who died 14th century B.C. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Rozeik C.,Fitzwilliam Museum
Journal of the Institute of Conservation | Year: 2011

This article describes the investigation and re-conservation of an ancient Greek ceramic sarcophagus (GR.7.1902) in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The sarcophagus is made from coarse orange ceramic decorated using the black-figure technique on a white ground. It had been restored twice since acquisition in 1902 and, by 2008, these repairs were weak, failing and unsightly. Using techniques adapted from organics conservation, twists of acrylic-coated Japanese tissue were inserted into gaps then reactivated with acetone. The paper is strong, flexible and easily removable and even narrow, deep cavities can be supported. Fills were surfaced with Fine Surface Polyfilla. Fills on the decorated upper surface were covered with Japanese tissue and painted using adapted 'visible retouching' techniques. The fills can be distinguished easily but give an overall effect of total visual reintegration. The sarcophagus was mounted on a moveable showcase base that facilitated safe handling, moving and installation.

Ricciardi P.,Fitzwilliam Museum | Pallipurath A.,University of Cambridge | Rose K.,Fitzwilliam Museum
Analytical Methods | Year: 2013

This study explores the use of green pigments and mixtures in manuscript illumination, drawing upon experimental evidence derived from a non-invasive spectroscopic survey of green pigments used in 31 bound manuscripts and 23 manuscript cuttings or single folios in the collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, UK. Analytical investigations were carried out on green-coloured areas by visible and near-infrared fibre optic reflectance spectroscopy (FORS), at times supplemented by X-ray fluorescence (XRF). FORS spectra can easily be acquired in great numbers and without subjecting the manuscripts to any physical strain, making this technique especially suitable for analytical surveys of valuable and fragile objects. Despite some drawbacks, its use in combination with XRF often provides a relatively complete characterisation of pigments and mixtures, particularly when FORS analysis is extended into the shortwave-infrared range (to 2500 nm). The experimental results are examined in light of the recipes for green pigments found in medieval technical treatises. The outcome is a contextualized study with a focus on French illumination between the 13th and the 16th century, but allowing for comparisons with contemporary materials of different geographic origin. © 2013 The Royal Society of Chemistry.

News Article | May 13, 2016

Ever since a group of British archeologists unearthed a tiny, deteriorating coffin in Giza some 109 years ago, the object has remained in the care of a museum in Cambridge. Back then, researchers believed that the bundle inside was nothing more than mummified organs. As it turned out, their conclusion was inaccurate. Now, new computerized tomography (CT) scans have revealed that the remains are actually those of a fetus, estimated to be 16 to 18 weeks old at the time of mummification. This means that for more than two millennia, the tiny fetus — whose gender is unknown — has been resting inside the small coffin. Curators at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge say the unborn child is considered as the youngest Egyptian mummy ever found. As part of an exhibit by the Fitzwilliam Museum, scientists from the Zoology department of Cambridge University CT scanned the remains inside the coffin, believing that they were internal organs. The remains were enclosed in bandages, over which molten black resin was poured before the coffin was finally shut. When the results came out, museum curators were presented with images of the remains of a small human body. "CT imaging has been used successfully by the museum for several projects in recent years," Tom Turmezei, one of the Cambridge researchers, says [PDF]. "[B]ut this is our most successful find so far." The skull and the pelvis have both collapsed, but there were still five digits on the feet and hands of the mummy. The long bones of the small body's legs and arms were also visible. It was noticeable that the unborn child had its arms crossed over its chest. Julie Dawson, the museum's head of conservation, says the discovery of the tiny mummy is an "extraordinary" archeological find because it has provided scientists with proof of how miscarried children were viewed in Egyptian society. Dawson says the care in the preparation of the fetus' burial indicates the value placed on life, even in the early weeks of inception. The miniature coffin wherein the fetus lies is more than 17 inches (44 centimeters) in length. The coffin's box and lid were both created from cedar wood — the perfect example of a wooden coffin in the ancient Egyptian Late period from 664 to 525 BC. Although the coffin is clearly deteriorated, the wood was indeed meticulously carved and painstakingly decorated. In the meantime, the coffin is on display as part of the museum's exhibition called "Death on the Nile: Uncovering the Afterlife of Ancient Egypt" which will run until May 22. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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