Medieval Manuscripts Are a DNA Smorgasbord

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tags: DNA, Medieval Manuscripts

In 2010, bioarchaeologist Matthew Collins of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues realized that the parchment used in medieval manuscripts, which is made of scraped and stretched animal skins, was actually a repository of information about the history of domestic animals in Europe. 

Chris Baraniuk at New Scientist reports that Collins and his team have since begun collecting the dry eraser waste of skins left when conservators gently cleaned the manuscripts. Using these scraps, they've been able to draw out the DNA and proteins of the animal that sourced the parchment as well as that of any bookworms and humans that had come in contact with the page since.

At a recent symposium on bioarchaeology at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, the researchers presented an unpublished paper where they applied DNA techniques as well as traditional techniques to the 1,000-year-old York Gospels, an Anglo-Saxon manuscript, which is one of the few manuscripts to survive the Norman Conquest and the Protestant Reformation.

Read entire article at Smithsonian

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