UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


UCL ISH March Guest Lecture 'Molecules at the Museum'

16 March 2017, 5:45 pm–8:00 pm

Preparing samples in the Department of Scientific Research, The British Museum

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UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


G01, Central House, 14 Upper Woburn Pl, Kings Cross, London WC1H 0NN

On Thursday 16 March, UCL ISH will be hosting a Guest Lecture to be delivered by Carl Heron, Director of Scientific Research at The British Museum.

'Molecules at the Museum: the impact and implications of molecular investigation of museum specimens'

A wide range of scientific approaches can be applied to study archaeological and historic finds housed in museum collections. In particular, the last 20 years has seen remarkable advances in the study of ancient DNA, proteins and lipids giving rise to a vibrant area of research known as biomolecular archaeology. There are multiple targets for the molecular study of samples in museum collections. This includes diverse artefact types, tissue samples and even unprocessed deposits from the base of excavated coffins. Nevertheless the majority of analytical approaches are destructive and care must be taken to ensure that the integrity of the sample is not compromised for display or future study. Museums have developed explicit policies to ensure the care, conservation, documentation and study of their collections. In this lecture, Carl Heron will highlight the impact of recent molecular investigations of museum samples in terms of their contribution to the study of the past. The implications of these studies, from the viewpoint of sustaining collections for future generations, will also be explored.

Carl Heron is the Director of Scientific Research at the British Museum. He took up this appointment in 2016 after spending most of his career in academia at the University of Bradford. He was head of the Department of Archaeological Sciences from 1999-2001 and 2010-2014, and Dean of Archaeological, Geographical and Environmental Sciences from 2001-2006. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Archaeological Sciences, also from Bradford, a PhD from University College, Cardiff and was a post-doctoral research assistant at the University of Liverpool. Carl’s research focuses on the molecular and isotopic analysis of trace organic matter associated with archaeological materials. Among his current projects, Carl is researching the innovation, dispersal and use of pottery among hunter-gatherers in northeastern Europe (European Research Council advanced grant, 2016-2021). During 2014-15, he was a Humboldt Research Fellow at the Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel and the Zentrum für Baltische und Skandinavische Archäologie, Schloss Gottorf, Schleswig, Germany. Carl has published a number of research papers in archaeological and scientific journals and he is co-author of Archaeological Chemistry (Royal Society of Chemistry 2016, 3rd edition) with Mark Pollard and Ruth Ann Armitage.

© Image: Preparing samples in the Department of Scientific Research, Trustees of the British Museum