Gold of the Great Steppe

The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Displaying artefacts from incredible new archaeological find

Exhibition Design, Graphic Design

Gold of The Great Steppe at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge is the first-ever reveal, anywhere in the world, of an archaeological sensation, comprised of hundreds of outstanding gold artefacts recently discovered in the extraordinary ancient burial mounds of the Saka people of East Kazakhstan. The temporary museum features exhibition and graphic design by Nissen Richards Studio.

Nissen Richards Studio was asked to tell the rich stories behind the objects that form this incredible discovery, along with the ongoing archaeological processes that brought them to light. Visitors are encouraged to investigate the exhibits, discover these stories actively and take part in their own ‘archaeological’ experience. The main design challenge revolved around how best to contextualise and display these sumptuous but small-scale gold objects.

Nissen Richards Studio’s design concept is based around the area’s incredible landscapes and the availability of superb photography of the burial grounds, with the galleries’ material palette directly inspired by these colourful landscapes. Plinths and showcases rise out of a ground plane within the exhibition, using a rectilinear language derived from the methodology of an archaeological dig. Conceptually, the objects are rooted in the land, with taut, layered-format fabric screens featuring atmospheric prints and a strong use of colour. Objects are displayed on these beautiful fabric panels and highlighted with careful lighting, so that individual gold pieces glint and catch the eye as visitors move round the space, whilst gold seams follow the path of the landscape imagery across the space.

David Evans, Exhibitions Manager at the Fitzwilliam Museum commented ‘We are overjoyed at the opportunity to make an exhibition that demonstrates the incredible artistry and sophistication of this heritage material from East Kazakhstan. Nissen Richards Studio helped make evident our joy in sharing these artefacts with our museum visitors. The openness and expanse of the Steppe, the immediacy of the excavation, and the intimacy of the jewel-like objects all inform the design of the exhibition galleries and display. Having a chance to show such amazing material artistry without losing the dignity and meaning of the objects is a delicate balance. Bringing these works into the light without losing any of their magic has been the achievement of careful, well-informed design and part of why this exhibition represents a milestone for our museum.’


The Fitzwilliam Museum




Exhibition Design
Graphic Design


Studio ZNA

Gareth Gardner