Exploring the use of animal products in Late Bronze and Early Iron Age Costume.

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Exploring the use of animal products in Late Bronze and Early Iron Age Costume.

December 3, 2020 @ 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm



Changing Skins: Exploring the use of animal products in Late Bronze and Early Iron Age Costume.

Lecture by Dr Peter Hommel, V. Busova (IIMK (RAS) and Grabar Conservation Centre), S. Brown (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History) and  T. Emmerich (University of Exeter) 

Paper will be delivered by Dr Hommel.

The turn of the first millennium BC marks a period of significant change for the nomadic communities of the Eurasian steppe. Within a few centuries, new forms of portable material culture—the first flush of the ‘Animal Style’—spread rapidly through expanding networks of cultural contact. Local shifts in mortuary practice—from modest community graveyards to richly furnished individualizing monuments—were set against transformations in diet and craft production with wide-reaching impacts on pastoralist society.

Archaeological attention in this period has traditionally focused on elites—the occupants of the gold-strewn burial chambers which so capture the popular imagination. However, an extensive programme of rescue excavations has offered a rare chance to explore the wider social sphere. In particular, thanks to careful excavations and unusally favorable preservation conditions, it has been possible to investigate contemporary costumes in some detail.

This project funded by the Society of Antiquaries of London (Janet Arnold Fund) and supported by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History,  the Institute for the History of Material Culture (RAS), State Hermitage Museum (St Petersburg), and State Historical Museum (Moscow), applies the technique of peptide mass fingerprinting or Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS) to extend the study of skin/leatherworking traditions at the burial grounds around Arzhan, Amyrylyg, Eki-Ottug, Sausken, Bai-Dag, and Saryg-Bulun in the Republic of Tuva (8th–4th centuries BC). These results were compared with new reference samples, and other composite leather garments, costume accessories and ornaments from across the Sayan-Altai. The data obtained in this study remains provisional—with primary analysis interrupted by the recent pandemic—but initial results indicate at significant complexity in the use of animal products at this time. They highlight the skilled choices of contemporary leatherworkers, they hint at structured correlations between particular animals and particular artefacts, and offer some unexpected surprises. This lecture, presented on behalf of our research team, provides a summary of our results and the role of animal products in the expression of human identity in the Early Iron Age of the eastern steppe.

The lecture builds on interest in the so-called ‘Scythian’ cultures of the Early Iron Age. It includes samples from the famous burials at Arzhan II and Pazyryk as well as the more representative graves excavated by colleagues at the Institute for the History of Material Culture in St Petersburg and a range of other comparative materials. The initial project was financed by the Janet Arnold Fund Society in 2019, but significantly extended with laboratory and analytical support from the Max Planck Institute in Jena.

Please note that due to COVID 19 restrictions this event will be online only. 

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December 3, 2020
5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Event Category:


Society of Antiquaries of London
Burlington House, Piccadilly
London, W1J 0BE United Kingdom
020 7479 7080


Society of Antiquaries of London
020 7479 7080
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