The vision of PaleoMIX is to bridge humanities and natural sciences by bringing together experts from the Eastern Baltic and Western Europe to implement top-notch bioarchaeological research methodology for conducting a more effective and respectful study of tangible heritage. The project builds on the transfer of knowledge on bioarchaeology and leadership skills by the internationally-leading consortium members University of York (UoY, UK), University of Copenhagen (UCPH, DK) and University of Burgos (UBU, ES) to University of Tartu (UT, EE) to establish a Research-Innovation Hub on Tangible Heritage Studies at UT (R&I Hub), Estonia. The R&I Hub will ensure sustainable handling of tangible heritage in the Eastern (hereafter E) Baltic region (geographically includes Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and significantly improves the access to the excellence of heritage sciences in the region. The main challenge of the project is to demonstrate the potential of tangible heritage in telling intricate stories about the past, and its value for developing novel analytical techniques and methods. Archaeological heritage is a finite resource, often the only tangible evidence of past human groups that have perished or relocated. Recent advancements in analytical techniques (including machine learning) enable us to access the intangible dimensions of ancient cultures with minimal destruction of the objects while maximising their informative value. These modern omicsbased applications (genomics, lipidomics, proteomics, and isotope analysis) move to the cellular and molecular level of ancient communities and can target the health, diet, migration, and lifestyle of past people. This know-how is however centred around relatively few labs in Europe with excellent analytical capabilities but without the contextual knowledge needed for profound interpretations of the analytical results. By contrast, regional academic or curatorial institutions familiar with the heritage lack the analytical and methodological knowledge and infrastructure. What is more, archaeological heritage is not only a potential source of information about the past. Samples of various archaeological materials and remains have enormous potential in analytical method development, the applications of which are not limited to studying cultural heritage materials but can be exploited in environmental sciences, material sciences and forensics. Currently however, biomolecular methods are used to study tangible heritage without their potential informative usefulness in method development being regarded outside the narrow disciplinary limits of archaeological sciences. Thus, the uneven distribution of expertise in the EU in the study of our shared pasts has currently led to simplistic interpretations based on the measurements per se, disregarding the cultural background of new analytical discoveries and neglecting the potential of tangible heritage as a departure point of method development. Another challenge that the PaleoMIX addresses is strengthening the linkages between academia, business, and other governmental organisations by offering improved services through the R&I Hub. New bioarchaeological methods and technologies used will take the services offered by the R&I Hub to a new level. The creation of an online database of bioarchaeological findings (PaleoMIX O.A.D.) and the implementation of Machine Learning Algorithms will reduce future research time and improve the efficient use of funding for future international projects. PaleoMIX will lead the way to a multidisciplinary approach that promotes STEM subjects, strengthening the role of Higher Education in research and innovation.
The project is funded by the European Commission’s European Horizon program, with additional support from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).