Vasile Opriș is the Head of the History Department at the Bucharest Municipality Museum. His work as a researcher is focused on the provenance, technological and functional analysis of prehistoric pottery and pigments, with a particular emphasis on Eneolithic period from Southern Romania. Over the past decade, he has gradually learned and applied various macroscopic and archaeometric methods of investigating archaeological ceramics from various prehistoric sites in Southern Romania and Transylvania. He graduated from the Faculty of History, University of Bucharest in 2010 and finished his BSc dissertation in 2012 at the same institution. He defended his doctoral thesis and obtained the PhD title in 2017 at the ‘Vasile Pârvan’ Institute of Archaeology of the Romanian Academy. Between 2011 and 2017, he worked as a team member in two UEFISCDI projects and starting with 2016, he is a team member of a joint project focused on tracing the provenance and characterization of prehistoric pottery and pigments applied on prehistoric pottery from Southern Romania. His role is to coordinate the team of chemists and physicists that investigate the Boian type pottery paste and pigments by archaeometrical analyses (PIXE, XRF, FT-Raman, FT-IR, XRD, SEM-EDX, RES). The first results of this collaboration were already published in two international studies (Opriș et al. 2019; Opriș et al. 2022).
Studying the craft of prehistoric colours: opportunities and challenges of an archaeologist in Bucharest
A visit to a local museum from Southern Romania will bring in front of your eyes a myriad of highly decorated Neolithic vessels. The labels near the showcase will inform you about their age, provenance and some elusive words are put about their manufacture and use. The artistry of the prehistoric potters is emphasised, while the symbolism of the incised or painted patterns is elusive described as religious or mystic. However, information on the materiality of the pigments is missing. That is because you can look for hours at the white colour applied on a pedestaled vessel from Early Eneolithic and all that can be said is that the white is indeed white, or maybe on one side the white is more yellowish that on the other. A decisive step for comprehending the meaning of prehistoric pigments is to explore their materiality. And there is where the hard part begins. Over the past century, the Romanian archaeologists intensively used the pottery decoration typology as a chronological marker and also to describe local phases of “cultural and material evolution”. Although there was some interest in the nature and composition of the pigments, the published studies on the subject are scarce and some of them are debatable. In order to fill this gap, in the past few years, I was involved in several attempts to determine the composition of the prehistoric pigments from pottery from Southern Romania by using archaeometric methods. Together with specialists in physics and chemistry from various institutions, we tried to answer specific questions related to pigments’ composition, raw materials sources, preparation technologies, application methods, local particularities and regional traditions etc. The whole effort ended for the moment with the publishing of two studies with international visibility (Opriș et al. 2019; Opriș et al. forthcoming). This presentation will be about my personal experience as an archaeologist caught in the collision between archaeology and hard science on the field of prehistoric pigments, developed in the last five years in Bucharest. The topics such as multidisciplinary approach, specialisation in archaeology, raw evidence and theoretical reflexion will be discussed, emphasising the accumulated personal opportunities and challenges.