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Department of Archaeology

Friday, 26 April, 2024 - 13:15
Event speaker: 
Caterina Zaggia, University of Cambridge

Title: Paste not Plaster: new analytical protocol for the characterisation of the coffin set of Pakepu (680-664BC, Thebes)

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Abstract: Ancient Egyptian artefacts often feature an intriguing assortment of plaster-like materials. These range from authentic plasters derived from heated lime and gypsum to mud, calcium carbonate and calcium sulphate-based pastes bound with organic media and sometimes integrated with clay minerals and plant fibres. We consistently use the term 'paste' to avoid any specific chemical or technological bias. Prominent applications of these materials include the manufacture of cartonnage (a free-standing composite material crafted from layers of linen, glue, and paste) as well as object casting, gap-filling, modelling, and as substrate for painting and gilding. Although architectural plaster use in ancient Egypt has received some attention , a gap remains in the intricate analysis and precise characterization of the materials applied to objects. Understanding their composition can shed light on technological changes, provide contextual insights and support provenance studies - avenues largely unexplored so far. Building on previous studies by the Fitzwilliam Museum’s team, our research aims to establish a comprehensive analytical framework for these multifaceted materials.

Our analysis currently focuses on the two coffins of Pakepu (Fitzwilliam Museum, accession number E.2.1869), a funerary ensemble from Thebes dating back to about 680–664 BC. Each coffin has a different surface construction over its wooden carcass with the inner one exhibiting complex layering reminiscent of cartonnage.  We aim to delve deeper into identifying the origin and composition of these pastes, with a particular emphasis on an enigmatic, dense fibrous glue layer within the decoration strata of the inner coffin. Our investigations of both coffins are being carried out using OM, SEM, FTIR and paleoproteomic techniques, to have an insight on both the inorganic and organic components. Unheated calcite was detected for all the pastes, however differences in the distribution of trace elements in the inner and intermediate coffin were recorded.



Event location: 
McDonald Seminar Room
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