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Unlocking the Mysteries of Ancient Andean Wooden Boards: A Multidisciplinary Journey at the Museo delle Culture of Milan (MUDEC)



CyI researchers from STARC and APAC Labs are participating in an important project for the multi-modal analysis of Ancient Andean Wooden Boards, conserved at the Museo delle Culture of Milan (MUDEC). The project involves analysis of two pre-Hispanic Andean wooden boards, artefacts made around the 14th century and whose area of origin is not precisely known. They belong to a wider corpus of compartmentalized boards made of stone, wood, and clay often termed “yupanas” or “maquetas”. They are characterized by standardized features, which include the symmetrical opposition of two halves with a recurrent number of compartments that converge in a differently shaped hole/compartment in the centre. However, their precise forms and layouts also show great variability, giving rise to debates about their function (e.g., scale models of pre-Hispanic architecture, counting devices or gaming boards).
These items have been found as far away as Cerro Baúl, Moquegua, in southern Peru and Chordeleg, Azuay, in southern Ecuador, arguably making them some of the most widespread pre-Columbian artefacts and crossing several cultural and linguistic boundaries over a large span of time. Only a handful of the known examples were discovered in controlled excavations and the original context of most of them is unknown. Only a few known boards are made of wood and the two analysed boards constitute some of the best-preserved examples.
The two important pieces are now exhibited and conserved at the Museo delle Culture of Milan (MUDEC) whose facilities are at the site of an old factory, born out of a salvage operation of industrial archaeology. Today, it is a meeting place for cultures and communities, hosting a multi-cultures permanent collections’ museum.
The multidisciplinary research aims at investigating the archaeological artefacts through a set of analyses that will provide the opportunity to see them in a new light. The 3D documentation of these ancient boards will be significant for conservation and preservation purposes. It will allow for the monitoring of structural changes on the basis of environmental changes, and investigate the deformation and fracture mechanisms in order to evaluate the structural condition and plan conservation actions. Dendrochronological analysis will complement previous analysis which focuses on the radiocarbon dating of these two boards. Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) and biomolecular analyses will shed light on wood degradation and bio-deterioration, and the possible presence of microorganisms, as well as help the researchers to learn more about the type of wood utilized to make these boards.
This research is conducted as part of the European project IPERION HS (Integrating Platforms for the European Research Infrastructure on Heritage Science), the University of East Anglia (PhD research topic of Samule Tacconi, under the supervision of Prof. George Lau), the Museo delle Culture of Milan - MUDEC (under the direction of Dr Carolina Orsini, senior curator of MUDEC) that also provided the logistics and local support, the Institute for Technical and Macromolecular Chemistry of the RWTH Aachen University (Prof. Alina Adams), the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department of Evora University (Prof. Ana Teresa Caldeira and Prof. António José Estevão Grande Candeias), in collaboration with The Cyprus Institute (Assoc. Prof. Sorin Hermon, Assoc. Prof. Nikolas Bakirtzis, Dr Valentina Vassallo, Dr Rahaf Orabi and Mehmetcan Soylouglu).



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