Modified Methods for Species Identification of Archaeological Skin-based Objects: Dealing with Degradation and Improving Standards

Lucy Skinner*, Rebecca Stacey, Anne Lama, Krista McGrath, Caroline Cartwright, Barbara Wills

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to Book/ReportConference Contributionpeer-review


Skin-based artefacts survive, from tombs, graves and settlement sites in Egypt and Sudan dating back to the 3rd millennium BC. A PhD research project, based at the British Museum and University of Northampton, has used traditional microscopy and analytical techniques to identify (ID) the animal origin of leather and to investigate the processing methods used by ancient craftspeople in the Nile Valley. Traditional techniques used for taxonomic ID, such as comparison of skin grain and recognition of hair follicle pattern, are quite well understood within archaeological and conservation fields but the results are subjective and techniques are not standardised, nor are they always applicable or easy to use on degraded archaeological material which may originate from animals living in different climatic zones from the reference material.

This paper will describe the workflow and methodologies adopted to identify taxonomy of ancient Egyptian and Sudanese leather and skin objects, incorporating traditional microscopy-based methods and biomolecular methods, namely protein mass fingerprinting ZooMS (Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry), to generate robust, reliable and well-corroborated results. The artefacts studied in this project are held in museums and archaeological collections at the British Museum, Egyptian Museum in Turin, and the National Museum of Sudan. The paper will also describe and illustrate the types of degradation exhibited which can impede the research and the challenges encountered when working on this material in diverse heritage environments.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 11th Interim Meeting of the ICOM-CC Leather and Related Materials Working Group
PublisherInternational Council of Museums – Committee for Conservation (ICOM-CC)
Pages14 - 25
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)978-2-491997-05-2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


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