A biomolecular revolution is taking place in archaeology!

Opening day of the IBSA 10th meeting at the Estonian National Museum (Photo: Peeter Paaver)

Although archaeology has been inherently interdisciplinary from its early years, recent decades have seen changes referred to as the third scientific revolution in archaeology. Innovative methods enable us to answer previously unanswered questions and pose new ones about the past. 

Biomolecular archaeology brings together archaeologists, historians, biologists, and chemists. From September 13th to 15th, the tenth International Symposium of Biomolecular Archaeology (ISBA10) took place at the Estonian National Museum in Tartu. The conference provided a comprehensive overview of the field, covering various research topics, from the domestication of different species to ancient diseases and migrations, as well as the methods employed. The conference abstracts are available here. 

The material heritage studied through biomolecular archaeology methods is an irreplaceable resource. Therefore, it must be treated sustainably – obtaining maximum information with minimal damage. For example, it is possible determine the species of a bone to simply by rubbing its surface with an eraser (ZooMS). Still, we must continually justify the use of human remains as research resources, and ask whether the scientists’ perspective aligns with the institutions curating collections, as Rita Peyroteo-Stjerna reminded us. When analysing ancient materials, it is important to leave a mark. The field of biomolecular archaeology is increasingly recognizing the need for data standardization and accessibility, as demonstrated by James Fellows Yates in his presentation on a community-based approach to data integration. 

Ester Oras putting up her poster (Photo: Peeter Paaver)

Genetics, one sub-field of biomolecular archaeology, is rapidly evolving. It no longer focuses solely on major migrations. New technologies offer insights into ancient diseases, the environment, and even the presence of people where their remains are absent. For example, today we can obtain information about people from ancient chewing-gums or worn jewellery.  Also, social structure and kinship is analysed in collaboration with archaeologists.  

The molecules of lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates have been preserved in various ancient objects as burnt food crust or by being absorbed into pots, in animal and human bones, and other tissues, as well as in plants. While stable isotope analysis of bulk collagen provides a general picture of the diet, stable isotopes of individual amino acids allow distinguishing between terrestrial and aquatic origin of proteins. 

Biomolecular archaeology cannot be the domain of nerds quietly working in the lab. Both keynote speakers at the conference, Anne Stone and Carl Heron, provided a broader insight into the developments of biomolecular archaeology. The former focused on one catalyst of the revolution, ancient DNA research, the significance of which for society was highlighted by the Nobel Prize awarded to Svante Pääbo in 2022. Carl Heron provided an excellent framework for the history of biomolecular archaeology and urged the community to think more about bringing scientific results to the public. 

Over 400 participants attended the ISBA 10th meeting (Photo: Peeter Paaver).

The conference was organized by: the University of Tartu and the Geenikeskus Foundation. 

The organization of the conference was supported by: the Collegium for Transdisciplinary Studies in Archaeology, Genetics, and Linguistics of the University of Tartu, the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, the Faculty of Science and Technology; the International Society for Biomolecular Archaeology (ISBA); the city of Tartu; the European Union through the PaleoMIX (No 101079396) and cGEM (No 810645) projects. 

ASMS 2023 – Conference on mass spectrometry and allied topics

During June 4-8, 2023, Signe Vahur and Anu Teearu-Ojakäär attended the 71st ASMS Conference on Mass Spectrometry and Allied Topics, held in Houston, USA.

Signe and Anu presenting their poster

At the ASMS conference, Signe and Anu presented their poster “MALDI-MS for the analysis of cultural heritage materials” during the Monday (June 5) poster session.

On Wednesday evening (June 7), Signe was an invited panelist (along with Dr G. Asher Newsome from Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute, USA; Prof Paul Haynes from Macquarie University, Australia; Dr Aleksandra Popowich from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, USA; Assoc Prof Enrico Cappellini from University of Copenhagen, Denmark; and Assoc Prof Troy Wood from University of Buffalo, USA) in the workshop “Art, Museums, and Archaeology” and had a very interesting discussion with approximately 70 attendees.

Altogether, the ASMS 2023 conference had more than 6300 attendees from all over the World. During four days there were 384 oral presentations (that ran in 8 parallel panels) and 4 presentations by invited speakers; 2939 poster presentations (more than 700 posters per day) and 178 corporate members presenting their products – instruments, labware, sample preparation, software solutions, etc. In addition, there were 50 evening workshops, 49 breakfast seminars, and 16 daily corporate hospitality suits.

All in all, the 71st ASMS Conference was a great experience with a lot of new connections, great discussions, and networking opportunities. Thank you to the organisers of the 71st ASMS Conference for delivering such a high-level event!

Signe talking during the panel session
Signe in the main conference hall

Conference on Phosphorus, Boron and Silicon

From the 22nd to the 24th of March, Marta attended the 4th International Conference On Phosphorus, Boron and Silicon (PBSi2023) in Berlin.
PBSi2023 brought together a wide range of scientists from all over the world who love these three elements and want to share the advances they have made in PBSi chemistry. It was Marta’s (presenting on the picture) first conference and she had the pleasure of giving an oral presentation about her current work on benzophenoneiminyl-substituted novel organophosphorus bases.
In her words, it was a great experience from the perspective of science, but it was also exciting to meet new people in her field and create lasting memories, and she hopes that there are many more conferences to come.

3rd Iberoamerican Conference on Mass Spectrometry

Ernesto and Larissa

Larissa and Ernesto attended the 3rd Iberoamerican Conference on Mass Spectrometry from the 10th to the 15th of December in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

Larissa: “The excellent scientific program provided a wide range of topics, but the topics metabolomics and proteomics in biomarker discovery were of most interest to me. Besides, it was interesting to learn how mass spectrometry is playing a role in unraveling Covid-19. The companies held interesting workshops about their latest instruments and their applications too.

The conference also had amazing after-hours activities. For instance, attendees were able to watch a performance by “Mangueira” (famous Samba school from Rio), a capoeira (Afro-Brazilian martial art) performance as well as a party with live pagode (Brazilian style of music). Moreover, the conference was held in the beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro. It was a pleasure to attend an international mass spectrometry conference in my home country.”

Rio de Janeiro
Conference venue

Ernesto: “There were very good talks during the conference, even though the use of mass spectrometry usage in the medical field (including COVID-19 detection) was one of the main topics, the conference also offered excellent presentations in a varied range of areas such as metabolomics, proteomics, natural products, etc.

The new trends and applications of new instrumentation were also shown by the different instrument providers companies during the workshops.
Something that I really liked were the social activities held every day after the conference, for example capoeira performance, live music, etc.
The fact that the 3rd Iberoamerican Conference on Mass Spectrometry took place in Rio de Janeiro, also allowed to the participants to discover a bit of the beauty that a big country like Brazil has to offer.”


Larissa and Ngan at the IMSC 2022 conference

From the 27th of August to the 2nd of September, two members of our Chair of Analytical Chemistry – Ngan and Larissa – attended the 24th International Mass Spectrometry Conference (IMSC 2022) in Maastricht, The Netherlands. They both presented their posters under section B: Instrumentation and methods. All abstracts of the posters can be found in the abstract book

Larissa: “The topics that stood out the most to me were proteomics and metabolomics, especially in the field of single-cell analysis. Overall, the talks were very interesting because there was a huge variety in what kind of investigated samples. Besides, vendors were able to present their latest products, mainly focused on LC-MS/MS instrumentation.”

Ngan: “The conference program had so diverse topics. Personally, I loved the talk by Livia S. Eberlin – a Curt Brunnée awardee about Guiding Medical Decisions with the MasSpec Pen Technology. Different workshops were held in the end of each day, for example: FeMS (females in MS), Forensics, and Career workshops in which professors, vendors, and recruiters gave speeches to inspire students to do internship, to find balance in work-life, or to connect mentees and mentors. The first day of the IMSC 2022 conference coincidentally happened to be on my birthday which made this experience very special and memorable to me. I had a chance to open my eyes and see the world through the MS glasses.”


Larissa’s poster was about derivatization-targeted analysis, where derivatization with diethyl ethoxymethylenemalonate (DEEMM) was combined with neutral loss scan mode for the detection of amino compounds.

Ngan presented her poster about Coumarin-based derivatization reagent for LC-MS analysis of amino acids. In this study, she reported a first time synthesized fluorogenic derivatization reagent in UT lab named Coumarin151-N-succinimidyl Carbamate (Cou151DSC) using HPLC compatible with different detectors: FLD or UV and ESI-MS/MS. An analytical method for derivatization of amino acids was developed for Kvass (Estonian soft drinks) as a demonstration. The results were compared with a commercially available reagent (6-Aminoquinolyl-N-Hydroxysuccinimidyl Carbamate aka 6-AQC) which has been commonly employed in different applications for 30 years.

Larissa would like to thank the Estonian Education and Youth Board for the Dora+ short-term mobility scholarship. Ngan would like to thank the Chair of Analytical Chemistry for the financial support.

Larissa with her poster
Ngan with her poster


















Conference on functional materials and nanotechnologies

On the 3.-6. of July, a Joint International Conference of the “Functional Materials and Nanotechnologies and Nanotechnology and Innovation in the Baltic Sea Region” FM&NT – NIBS 2022 was held in Riga, Latvia at the House of Science, Academic Centre of the University of Latvia. Our project was represented by Dr. Rünno Lõhmus and PhD student Käthi Niman.

The focus of the conference was dedicated to four main topics: Nanomaterials and technologies, Functional Materials, Green Energy and Environment, and Bioengineering materials and biotechnologies. Several lectures were held in both a larger auditorium and in parallel sessions in smaller groups. On the 4th of July, a poster session on the mentioned topics took place. Altogether there were 79 oral and 120 poster presentations. On July 5th, a panel discussion was held on the topic “From lab to fab. What it takes to make a business out of university research.”, which gave an interesting insight into what it takes to create a start-up in the scientific field.

Over the course of four days, several interesting developments in the field of nanotechnologies, functional materials, and biosensors were introduced, which might prove of use in the field of cultural heritage conservation. From thin film and colored glass solar panels to graphene-based sensors, several topics discussed in the numerous presentations sparked ideas of potential use in art and architecture conservation and restauration. As an example, in one oral presentation, given by Dr. Kestutis Staliunas, laser application widening possibilities were discussed. More in detail, in the talk “Nanostructures for intracavity spatial filtering in microlasers,” the authors proposed an interesting idea to exploit photonic microstructures (such as photonic crystals and micro-modulated thin films) to enhance the quality of spatial quality of emitted radiation in microlasers.

The conference was very useful and created many personal contacts for future potential collaboration.


inArt 2022: International Conference on Innovation in Art Research and Technology

From the 28th of June to the 1st of July 2022, Dr Signe Vahur, Dr Anu Teearu-Ojakäär from our UT Analytical Chemistry Cultural Heritage Investigation group, and PhD student Shidong Chen from the Archemy group attended the 5th international inArt2022 conference in Paris, France.

Anu, Shidong, and Signe

InArt is a conference where professionals from different disciplines (for example, chemistry, archaeology, conservation, biology, etc.) can present and discuss the analysis results using a limited amount of samples or non-invasive approaches and conservation strategies of cultural heritage objects. The conference included altogether 47 oral presentations and three poster sessions with 135 posters, different visit options (starting with the National Centre for Research and Restoration in French Museums (C2RMF) to a walking tour in the historical centre of Paris), and dinner at the hotel The Westin Paris.

Investigations from Fayum mummy portraits to street art

Four days were filled with a wide range of interesting presentations, from hyperspectral imaging and material instrumental analysis of different cultural heritage (paintings, sculptures, manuscripts, etc.) and archaeological objects to investigations of chemical and physical degradation mechanisms of various materials.

Some of the most interesting talks included the presentation by Prof Francesca Modugno (from the University of Pisa) about the SuPerStAr project dedicated to the studying and preservation of street art and Dr Lucile Brunel-Duverger (from French Museums Research and Restoration Center) about the analysis of madder lake dyes in the Fayum portraits (from 1st to 4th century A.D). Also should be highlighted the presentations by Dr Maria Filomena Guerra (from French Museums Research and Restoration Center) on the analysis of objects covered with gold leaf and foil from the Egyptian Middle Kindom period, Dr Laura Pagnin (from the Polytechnic University of Milan) about data fusion of Py-GC-MS and FT-IR data to determine degradation in modern paints, and also Loïc Forma (from The National Heritage Institute in Paris) who talked about how to protect cultural heritage objects from vibrational damages. There were many eye-catching poster presentations, however worth mentioning is the poster made by Dr Louise Chassouant and her colleagues on the chemical and palaeobotanical study of Roman amphorae. In their research, they developed a multidisciplinary approach (applied in archaeometry techniques) to analyse the original content of the amphorae (e.g. components of wine, oils, etc.) and determine the waterproof resin coating components in the internal surface.

The highlights of our recent results

At the inArt2022 conference, we had three poster presentations from which we could present our research topics and results. Signe presented her poster “Quantitative mineralogical analysis of clay-containing materials using ATR-FT-IR-PLS method”, where an easy and quick quantitative method for determining the mineralogical composition of clays in different sizes and amounts of cultural heritage (i.e. pottery, sculptures, construction materials, etc.) samples using ATR-FT-IR spectroscopy with partial least squares (PLS) analysis is presented. Anu presented her poster „ Analysis of Early Modern Age medicine found in a shipwreck from the Baltic Sea“. In this study, ATR-FT-IR, pyGC-MS, and MALDI-FT-ICR-MS techniques were combined to determine the chemical composition of materials (like pine tar, essential oil, etc.) in the pharmacy jar found on a 16th-century shipwreck in the Baltic Sea. Shidong presented his poster “Classification of Archaeological Adhesives from Eastern Europe and Urals by ATR-FT-IR Spectroscopy and Chemometric Analysis”. This study showed that ATR-FT-IR-DA classification is a rapid and reliable pre-scanning method for analyzing archaeological adhesives (e.g. birch bark tar), which is especially suitable for small samples.

Overall, the inArt2022 conference gave our cultural heritage and archaeology objects researchers the possibility to introduce their scientific work results, hear presentations of investigation of different materials, obtain valuable tips for further research and have interesting discussions with other scientists.

Conference “100 years of Tullio Ilomets”

Yesterday, on November 18, 2021, Dr. Signe Vahur made a presentation about our cultural heritage investigation workgroup at the Annual Conference of the University of Tartu Museum called “100 years of Tullio Ilomets”.

This summer (July 13, 2021) would have been the 100th birthday of the legendary chemist, scientific historian, and cultural heritage protector and investigator docent Tullio Ilomets. This conference was dedicated to him, and different people who worked with him, were his students or were influenced by him made presentations. Dr. Signe Vahur was his student and thanks to his motivation and influence, we now have our cultural heritage workgroup.

The conference can be watched from here (it is in Estonian).

Tartu City Government acknowledged the organizers of Eurachem 2019!

On the 18th of February, the City Government of Tartu acknowledged the organizers of 14 international conferences that took place last year in Tartu, Estonia.

Mayor Urmas Klaas said that the high-level international conferences make Tartu visible in the field of conference tourism. In the future, the number of these well-organized conferences could be even higher, when Tartu becomes the European Capital of Culture in 2024 and additional flights from Tartu start to operate.

One of the acknowledged conferences was the Eurachem Workshop and General Assembly 2019, which was organized by the Estonian Center of Analytical Chemistry (ECAC)

Congratulations to the main organizer Riin and her team – Ivo, Anneli, Asko, Koit, Hanno, Jaanus, Pilleriin, Eliise and Siiri from our Analytical Chemistry Group for the well-deserved recognition! 

EU_FT-ICR MS short courses continue to be extremely useful

Another EU_FT-ICR-MS short course took place on the 10-12 October in Moscow, Russia, this time the topic was the basics of FT-ICR: dynamic harmonization and computer simulation. Two of our group members – Pilleriin Peets and Eliise Tammekivi – also took part in this interesting course. 

In the recent EU_FT-ICR-MS short course, scientists and students from the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) shared their work and knowledge in the field of FT-ICR. Prof. Jevgeny Nikolaev was one of the main organizers of the event and also gave lectures, where he explained the essence of a dynamically harmonized cell and the processes taking place in different ICR cells. In the seminars, the computer simulations that are used in the lab of Prof. Nikolaev for modifying ion motion were introduced and demonstrated.

Besides the lectures and seminars, the participants were shown around the Mass Spectrometry Lab and the facilities of Skoltech. Skoltech is an innovative and international university with students and lecturers from all over the world. The university was established in 2011 in collaboration with MIT and by now they have a nearly finished campus where students and researchers can cooperate with start-ups and industrial companies. To give some idea about their wide possibilities, weʼll give you an example – besides numerous “common” plastic 3D printers, they have several metal, ceramic and composite 3D printers that students apply in their projects and scientists in their research.