Unravelling the secrets of ancient parchments
|Image of scroll courtesy of Graham Davies and Tim Wess|
The first users on the I22 Non-Crystalline Diffraction beamline, Professor Tim Wess and his team at the University of Cardiff, have been able to analyse the state of the collagen within parchment and its degenerative change to gelatine. Understanding the deterioration process will allow them how to preserve parchment for future generations. In cases where precious parchments may be too damaged or at risk, they have developed techniques to image written work without unrolling the fragile documents.
Parchment has been used to document the written word for millennia, and to this day, parchment is still used to record modern British Acts of Parliament. Historical landmarks such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, Domesday book, Magna Carta and US Declaration of Independence have survived environmental assault through the ages. However, the progressive degradation of the dried animal skins they are written on leaves written history at risk in both iconic individual documents and extensive archives.
However, research by the Cardiff group suggests that the mineral content of the Dead Sea Scrolls may have led to stabilisation of the collagen in their samples and aided their preservation.
Prof Wess says, "Diamond will allow us to examine nanoscopic collagen structure in fragile and priceless parchments such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, to determine the advance of degradation without damage to the irreplaceable document."
In addition to identifying ways in which we might be able to prevent the loss of important records from both our past and future, the research also aims to understand how we might recover documents damaged in natural disasters across the ages - such as the fire at the Library of Alexandria, or more recently flooding in the Czech Republic, Italy and Poland, which could leave such archives lost forever.
|Image of scroll courtesy of the University of Cardiff|
Professor Tim Wess is the head of the Institute of Vision at Cardiff University. Throughout his career he has been involved in understanding the structural architectures of tissues within plants, animals and humans in healthy, pathological, post mortem, forensic historical and archaeological contexts. The work on historical parchment is part of his work in understanding the processes of degradation and remodelling that occur over long timescales. His work also investigates the relationship between science and art and the combination of cutting edge synchrotron technology to discover the secrets within vanishingly small priceless samples of antiquity.