"The Union's aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples. It shall [...] ensure that Europe’s cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced.”

Article 3 of the Lisbon Treaty

Background and objectives

Europe’s cultural heritage serves as a basis for communication of our common values, one of the world’s most diverse and rich patrimonies, attracting millions of visitors each year. It represents an important component of individual and collective identity, contributing to the cohesion of the EU and playing a fundamental role in European cultural integration. Preserving EU heritage is not only a priceless investment to support sustainable tourism, but, more importantly, a strong moral duty towards future generations in an atmosphere of openness, democracy, mutual understanding, and peaceful relations.

Most of the cultural heritage objects produced using biogenic materials are rich in protein residues. In addition to their role in nutrition, the chemical and mechanical properties of proteins have always been exploited in a broad range of applications. For example, proteins have been utilised for clothing (wool, silk and leather), artistic expression (tempera is protein-bound paint), construction (blood and milk were added to building mortars as plasticizers), tool assemblage (before the introduction of organic synthesis, wood glues were made out of proteins) and even for writing support (parchment), before the advent of paper. Protein mineral composites (e.g. shells, ivory and bone) have also been used to make tools and ornaments. Ancient proteins are found almost everywhere in cultural heritage. However there are very few trained specialists to analyse these ancient proteins.

Only very recently the introduction of revolutionary analytical approaches, most notably high-throughput mass spectrometry (MS)-based protein sequencing, allowed confident sequencing of ancient proteins. This new, robust and reliable approach: paleoproteomics, already demonstrated it can provide very innovative results in the study, diagnostics, and protection of cultural heritage collections.

So far however, the breakthrough in ancient protein investigation, enabled by the adoption of proteomics, has not been followed, and adequately supported, by a dedicated training program to institutionalise the preparation of highly competent specialists in this field. Consequently, at the moment, the almost complete lack of training in the study of ancient proteins is one of the factors negatively affecting the growth of paleoproteomic investigation. Ultimately, paleoproteomics still lacks, across Europe, a critical mass of researchers trained through a coherent curriculum to analyse degraded proteins from art, archaeology and palaeontology. TEMPERA seeks to address this structural weakness in European applied research by creating a training environment that, for the first time, brings together in a network the laboratories which have, largely in isolation, developed the techniques upon which ancient protein analysis is built.

The TEMPERA objectives are:

1. To develop a strategic, powerful training platform to equip the next generation of cultural heritage conservation scientists and technologists with the skills to exploit the latest biomolecular technologies and significantly advance Europe’s standing in an area in which we are regarded as world-leading.

2. To develop a close-knit community of scientists who are at ease in communicating confidently with each other about advanced concepts across highly specialised disciplines from both humanities and experimental sciences, as well as interacting effectively with other stakeholders in the field they are part of, such as private companies, policy makers and the interested public.

3. To train a cohort of versatile and polyhedric researchers who are able to transverse cross-disciplinary boundaries, to establish collaborative trans-sectorial initiatives on different research disciplines with a common intent in line with EU main policies.

4. To grow a generation of researchers who can have an impact on establishing common policy, scientific and ethical standards and protocols to the analysis of our shared European heritage.

5. To generate research that will establish innovative analytical methods, leading to the development of new products and services for the study and protection of European cultural heritage materials.

The TEMPERA network brings together in a single multidisciplinary cluster 10 leading high-profile research units, institutions and enterprises each with complementary expertise, to deliver an integrated, flexible training package that will provide a sound basis for academic independence and preparation for vocations in analytical chemistry, biochemistry, proteomics, archaeology, cultural heritage restoration and conservation, both in the public and in the private sector.

TEMPERA provides international and intersectoral training for early stage researchers (ESRs) to read ancient protein sequences and interpret the recovered information. This will improve knowledge about production techniques and chemical preservation of cultural heritage materials, ultimately improving their safeguard and conservation. Through the creation of a training environment based on the principles of constructive alignment and coherence, interdisciplinary knowledge, as well as specific research-related and transferable skills, will scaffold future ESRs’ professional thinking. The mind-set (or “ forma mentis ”) TEMPERA alumni will have acquired during their early-stage training experience will strongly affect their professional practicing.