O projektu

Pametna integracija genetike sa znanostima o prošlosti u Hrvatskoj: uočavanje i premošćivanje jaza


Project call: H2020-TWINN-2015

Project Number: 692249

Project Acronym: MendTheGap

Project title: Smart Integration of Genetics with Sciences of the Past in Croatia: Minding and Mending the Gap

Starting date: 01/02/2016 (ended)

Duration in months: 36


Main concept of the project

This project is conceived to overcome and mend all present “gaps” and to enable smart utilisation of existing opportunities by enhancing the Sciences of the Past research activities in Croatia and broader as we are not aware of the existence of a similar group in the region. To make this possible we advocate the following strategy, here explained through several critical steps.

The prerequisite step was to define the target research group that has the potential scientific capacity to perform at the European level. Lack of strategic specialisation and separation to a large number of small, almost one-member teams, is among the weakest points of the scientific structure in Croatia.

We united several groups from various disciplines such as Genetics, Biology, Geoarcheology, Anthropology and Archaeology with varying research experience, all related to the Sciences of the Past, into the CrEAMA Initiative to perform as one research unit. This was necessary in order to reach a critical mass of researchers able to boost human resources and knowledge infrastructure, and thus provide a self-sustainable existence. Uncertainty is a weak point in the Sciences of the Past when conclusions are made based on a single discipline approach. So, in the formation of the CrEAMA Initiative we were challenged to establish a MIT disciplinary approach that can provide holistic and more confident answers.

Our main research focus is on the case studies linked to the Eastern Adriatic (Croatia) and hypotheses related to Animal genetics, Plant genetics, Archaeogenetics and Zooarchaeology, along with the cultural and environmental contexts of human-animal interactions in the past. These cultural and environmental contexts include the geological contexts of samples and sites (Geoarchaeology and Geomorphology), the past floral associations (Archaeobotany) and biocultural practices of past peoples (Archaeology and Human Osteology). We are aware that a functional MIT disciplinary research is difficult to establish, but on the contrary,the potential benefits of a good holistic approach are immense.

We have developed a strategy to integrate Genetics into the Sciences of the Past because recent technological developments in Genetics offer additional information that challenge numerous old and new hypotheses established within the Sciences of the Past. Considering the number of archaeological remains available, integration and enhancement of Archaeogenetics provides a smart opportunity.

The specific activities have been designed in order to enhance and intensify long-term scientific performance at the applicant institution, ensuring that it reaches the academic, scientific and funding performance level of first quarter EU countries. This is a very ambitious goal that is impossible to reach without the level of intensive scientific collaborations that will integrate CrEAMA into the European Research Area (ERA). Within the MendTheGap exercise we have initiated a number of joint research activities (field case study work within workshops and summer schools, writing project proposals, paper writing, reports on proceedings co-authoring and editing, new technology education, short term scientific specialisations) with our Twinning partners, University of Cambridge, Cambridge (UK) and University of Pisa, Pisa (Italy).

The University of Cambridge is among the top ten World Universities, often voted the best European Higher Education and research organisation, particularly with a leading position in the Sciences of the Past. Colin Renfrew, a former Disney Professor of Archaeology and Director of the McDonald Institute at the University of Cambridge coined the term “Archeogenetics” in 1999 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeogenetics) and has remained an advocate of the approaches adopted as the field developed both in Cambridge and elsewhere. His successor, Professor Graeme Barker similarly helped to promote the role of genetics in archaeological science in Cambridge, particularly in the study of horse domestication in Central Asia. Professor Martin Jones currently leads the George Pitt-Rivers Laboratory which is where Archaeogenetics has one of its bases in Cambridge.

University of Pisa is among the best 50 European Universities and at the same time strongly shares the interest in the history of the Eastern Adriatic. Both partners have previous research collaboration experience with some CrEAMA members. In addition, integration of scientific collaboration of all MendTheGap members with high-level experts has been planned through invited seminars, organisation of conferences and attendance of conferences for the CrEAMA Initiative members.

It is a general perception within Croatia that research connected to Sciences of the Past is difficult to commercialise. Here, we were additionally motivated to build an example demonstrating the contribution of the Sciences of the Past to the local and regional economy. Our starting assumption is that a MIT disciplinary group of experts, with the help of a professional SME, is capable of producing several exclusive high quality contents, targeted for the “Museum Collections of the Cultural Centre Vela Luka ” which would attract national and international tourists as well as locals. The action is strengthened by the fact that some members of the CrEAMA Initiative are employed at the above institutions. The main value in the proposed activity is to build an example where Croatia extends its touristic offerings to a more sophisticated level. At the same time, active collaboration with the “Croatian Natural History Museum” and the “Museum Collections of the Cultural Centre Vela Luka” provide a good stronghold for further dissemination of the project to the wide public audience.

However, we consider dissemination to the general public an important part of the project as it provides transparency of the financial EU support, while also providing an interesting educational perspective to EU/world citizens.

MendTheGap aims to fill the spatial, scientific and economic gap in the Eastern Adriatic by boosting capacities in the Sciences of the past utilising the unique location-specific characteristics and advantages and thus becoming a positive example of Smart specialisation across the EU.



  • The first goal is to establish and integrate the existing MIT disciplinary scientific research community in Croatia.
  • The second goal is to upgrade and intensify scientific research of CrEAMA Initiative by utilising recent methodological achievements in genetics (NGS) and other biological disciplines (GMM).
  • The third goal is to foster integration of the CrEAMA Initiative into ERA. Our last goal is to commercialise and integrate the CrEAMA Initiative research with the needs of society (local community) at the local (Korčula Island), regional (Dalmatia), national, European (web) and global (web) level.


General objectives

In the Eastern Adriatic, largely situated in Croatia, a large number of archaeological sites and remains have been found and identified, although they are far from being analysed, exploited and/or commercialised to their full capacity. While located in Croatia, those archaeological sites are of outstanding universal value from the historical, aesthetic, ethnological, anthropological or educational points of view. Moreover, the information that we can retrieve when analysing these sites can help us to solve many of the problems we are currently facing. At the same time, they can stimulate the regional scientific community and add to the development of local communities. Thus, can we do better or can we intensify our current work on those archaeological sites is a logical question for a group of researchers in Croatia connected professionally to the Sciences of the Past.

‘Sciences of the Past’

Our term ‘Sciences of the Past’ includes a range of disciplines that study the past physical, biological,  and cultural conditions and processes that formed and shaped the Earth and its organisms, including humans. Archaeology, Geology, Palaeontology, and Anthropology are well known and established examples of such disciplines. Among the others that one could also include are Archaeobotany, Zooarchaeology Palaeoecology, Palaeoclimatology and Palaeoceanography. At the same time disciplines such as Genetics are also demonstrating their power to contribute to the field (Archaeogenetics) and, perhaps, in the future some other disciplines will emerge. We also use the term ‘Sciences of the Past’ because it is inclusive as well as MIT disciplinary in nature. Through the text we use the abbreviation MIT disciplinary substituting the expression multi-, inter- and trans- disciplinary according to the review of Stock and Burton (2011; doi:10.3390/su3081090).

Current status and SWOT analysis

As a first step we made a SWOT analysis, see Table 1, to identify where we are and how to proceed, particularly, as our main motivation was to change the current situation and to ascend to a higher level.

Thus, we see this project as an opportunity to utilise our location-specific advantages (the abundance of ancient organic materials in the Eastern Adriatic) and scientific potentials. Furthermore, we are enthusiastic to transform our approach and obtain MIT disciplinary expertise that is capable to enhance and create a new dimension of research related to the Sciences of the Past in Croatia through the realisation of specific objectives outlined below. The increasing number of MIT disciplinary projects in the EU serves as an indicator of the necessity for such an approach. In this project we are stressing out the importance of Genetics and its integration into the Sciences of the Past.

First, as know-how capacity in Archaeogenetics has not been developed, neither in Croatia nor in the broader region.

Secondly, as Genetics, as well as all scientific disciplines that rely on DNA sequence information have been fundamentally changed in last few years, impelled by the emergence and development of next-generation sequencing (NGS), allowing us to tackle fundamentals of life in nearly all aspects of human activities.

Thirdly, we recently established a collaboration related to the phylogenetic analyses of ancient lagomorph bones (RGB-Net, EU framework programme COST-TD-1101; http://www.biocomp.unibo.it/rabbit/). Lastly, there is a group of researchers showing excellence in Genetics that is highly motivated for MIT disciplinary approach, with future plans to establish an ancient DNA (aDNA) laboratory.

Strengths Weaknesses
  • Individual scientific excellence in many disciplines
  • Motivation for MIT disciplinary research
  • Strong interest for international collaborations
  • Abundance of relevant/attractive archaeological sites, with high potential for future economic development in the cultural heritage sector
  • Abundance of archaeological artefacts, biofacts and features
  • Large number of fragmented and small research units (<4 researchers) in Croatia
  • Lack of participation in MIT disciplinary research
  • Low publication record, particularly in high-impact journals
  • Low participation in EU projects (FP6 & 7, etc.)
  • Poor financial and administrative research support
  • Lack of access to cutting age technologies relevant to the Sciences of the Past
  • Low number of innovations*
  • Lack of connection between industry/commercial entities, SMEs and scientific research


  • Establishment of a MIT disciplinary research group operating at ERA level
  • Capacity to use cutting age technologies in analysing existing artefacts, biofacts and features
  • Increased number of publications in high-impact (open-access) international peer-review journals
  • Establishment of the team that is motivated and competitive in applying to EU grants
  • Intensive collaboration on the promotion of sustainable Archaeotourism
  • Inertia of the system
  • Administrative barriers
  • Inadequate future public funding in Croatia

*In general, it is relevant to note that the Innovation Union Scoreboard (2014) classifies Croatia as a Moderate Innovator. Out of 28 EE member states, Croatia is at the 23rd place.


Targeted (specific) project objectives

Our ultimate vision is to develop a research group capable to use a MIT disciplinary approach, integrating Genetics with the Sciences of the Past as a powerful innovation force to enhance resolving contemporary issues. We identified four specific objectives as the first steps toward the realisation of our vision.

Objective one (OBJ1)

Objective one (OBJ1) is to establish and integrate the existing MIT disciplinary scientific research community in Croatia related to the Sciences of the Past under the umbrella of the Croatian Eastern-Adriatic Multi-, inter- and trans- disciplinary Archaeology Initiative (CrEAMA Initiative). This will be accomplished through partnership with two leading institutions of EU15 countries, University of Cambridge, Cambridge (UK) and University of Pisa, Pisa (Italy), that display proven success in archaeology and genetics, a prestigious scientific reputation and efficient management structure at both University and Departmental/Institute level.

Objective two (OBJ2)

Objective two (OBJ2) is to upgrade and intensify scientific research of Croatian Scientists involved in the CrEAMA Initiative by utilising recent methodological achievements in Genetics and Biology [Next-generation Sequencing (NGS), DNA refinement of ancient materials, Geometric morphometrics, Bioinformatics,…].

Thus, for example NGS methods have increased capabilities far beyond that of traditional Sanger sequencing, allowing millions of bases to be sequenced in a short time. Since then, our knowledge of genomics has grown exponentially, while the costs and capabilities of these technologies continue to improve, allowing us to analyse huge data sets and, consequently, to tackle fundamentals of life, fitness, health and disease. It is interesting to point that costs of genome sequencing are decreasing even faster than computing costs (http://www.economist.com/node/16349358; “according to Moore’s law computers double in power roughly every two years”).

Objective three (OBJ3)

Objective three (OBJ3) is to foster integration of the CrEAMA Initiative into the European Research Area (ERA) by intensifying scientific communications (invited seminars, workshops), visibility (published gold open-access papers, conferences, creation of interesting and educational web content) and collaborations (field summer schools, joint papers) ending with submission of grant applications, as is H2020, to fund large-scale international projects.

Objective four (OBJ4)

Objective four (OBJ4) is to commercialise and integrate the CrEAMA Initiative research with the needs of society (local community) at the level of local (Korčula Island, Zagreb), regional (Dalmatia, Zagreb area), national (Croatia), European (web) and global (web) level. According to the Ministry of Economy (http://www.mingo.hr/page/kategorija/programi-i-projekti-eu) tourism is one of the three horizontal themes that are important and need to be implemented in the smart specialisation strategy of Croatia.

By providing access to the scientific and administrative expertise and experience, both Italy (Pisa) and the UK (Cambridge), as partners in this Twinning exercise, will enable scientists at the host institution (Zagreb) to increase their capacity to obtain national, European and international (global) funding for research in a region which has much to offer to both the archaeological and scientific world in general.

The potential cultural heritage of the region is enormous, ranging through the full spectrum of human occupation from the Palaeolithic to present day. The scientific potential of such material can only be reached through the use of techniques and methodologies in which the partner organisations have great expertise.


Strategic long term goals and sustainability

Realisation of the four objectives outlined above will provide a stable institutional platform for researchers in Croatia to continue developing and integrating genetics with sciences of the past. Owing to the unique resources and its potential, this group will be almost immediately competitive at the European level and beyond (vis á vis North America). The work programmes have been specifically designed to create and implement structures that will be sustainable beyond the remit of Twinning project funding. These are: web sites, archives of video clips from presentations and YouTube interviews, exhibition materials displayed in Zagreb and Korčula and structures for organising and promoting MIT disciplinary research that can easily be borrowed and modelled by other colleagues (from disciplines included in this project and beyond). At the infrastructural level, the MendTheGap project will contribute to four long-term goals relevant to the sustainability of project objectives.

A) The Faculty of Agriculture within four years of the project’s completion intends to establish a laboratory for aDNA and archaeogenetic analyses (planned to be financed from Faculty, National or next ERA funding resources). The Twinning exercise will provide a comparative knowledge base for planning and staffing such a laboratory as well as the know-how for successfully competing for grants needed to set up such a laboratory. (Direct result of WP3 and WP4, as well as OBJ1-3). Project objectives (1-3) will be sustained through the establishment of such a laboratory.

B) Researchers from the CrEAMA Initiative will acquire the know-how and tools for developing their long-term capacity in using GMM in their research through infrastructure bids at the national and European levels. Project objectives 1-3 will be sustained through the provision and employment of this infrastructure and technology.

C) Researchers from the CrEAMA Initiative will have the know-how and resources to strengthen existing laboratory facilities for integrating the different disciplines of the Sciences of the past with more traditional archaeological research to provide a more holistic understanding of the past. Project objectives 1-4 will be sustained through continued collaborative research projects, museum exhibits and virtual (web) resources. Such collaborative initiatives will involve both partners in the current application and others, especially those expressing an interest as a result of the networks further developed through the present exercise.

D) The Cultural Centre Vela Luka will have the know-how and tools for bidding for local, national and European funds to bring the presentation and commercialisation of archaeological heritage on the Island of Korčula to European standards. The involvement in the Twinning call will surely strengthen the position of Cultural Centre Vela Luka to apply for EU funding as is H2020-REFLECTIVE-2014-2015. Project objective 4 would be promoted through the closer integration and sustainable commercialisation of archaeological heritage relative to other tourism resources/attractions. This objective would be further sustained through the adoption of the MendTheGap approach by other parts of Dalmatia (‘domino effect’ – and implications for Mediterranean development and sustainability as supported by Euromed Heritage programmes; more information on http://www.euromedheritage.net/).



This project aims to overcome and address any existing "gaps"  between the past explored through archaeology and new scientific, genetic advances, and to enable intelligent use of existing opportunities by advancing the scientific study of the past in Croatia and beyond. Several groups from different disciplines such as genetics, biology, geoarchaeology, anthropology and archaeology with different research experience work in the initiative as one research unit. Our research focuses on studies related to Eastern Adriatic (Croatia) and hypotheses on animal genetics, plant genetics, archaeogenetics, and zooarchaeology, along with cultural and ecological contexts of human-animal interaction in the past. We are aware that it is difficult to establish functional disciplinary research at MIT, but on the contrary, the potential benefits of a good holistic approach are enormous. We have developed a strategy to integrate genetics into the sciences dealing with the past because recent technological developments in genetics provide additional information that challenges a number of old and new hypotheses established in the sciences dealing with the past. Considering the number of archaeological remains available, the integration and extension of archaeogenetics opens a new perspective for progress. MendTheGap aims to bridge the spatial, scientific and economic gap in the Eastern Adriatic by strengthening scientific capacities and exploiting unique site-specific features and assets to become a positive example of smart specialisation in the EU.

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