The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at Penn brings manuscript culture, modern technology and people together.

Manuscripts: The Archaeolozoology of Animal Skin, April 10, NOON

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Please mark your calendars for this upcoming lecture on Thursday, April 10, at NOON in the Class of ’78 Pavilion, Kislak Center, 6th Floor Van Pelt Library. The presenter is Matthew Collins, professor of bioarchaeology at the University of York and PI on a project to use collagen samples to identify species of animals used for parchment, a project that Penn has been collaborating on since last year. It should be an interesting talk, hope you can make it. Please share this announcement widely!

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Manuscripts: The Archaeolozoology of Animal Skin

As Peter Tiersma has argued, writing made it possible to begin distinguishing myth from history. If we were able to capture and map the path of each and every written idea it would look like a fractal tree, with branches expanding as concepts are developed, refined and dissected. Historians try to reconstruct the diversification of these ideas and many see parallels with our planets other great writing schema, the chemical language of DNA.  The rules of DNA are simpler (although this simplicity is nuanced by new discoveries). DNA is the book of life and most geneticists at some point try to recapitulate the history of a population or group, by identifying errors in DNA transcription, missing or newly incorporated text found in different populations or organisms.  The sheer quantity of dated animals skins held in archives across Europe is staggering.  We estimate that in the UK there are more skins (as parchment) from the last 800 years held in libraries and archives than there are sheep living in the island today.

More than a decade ago researchers revealed that the genetic code of the animal was not destroyed when its skin was used for parchment production. However the last year has been a tipping point for parchment research as a consequence of the ability to use the waste from conventional conservation treatment for protein and DNA sequencing.  We will overview results coming out from the EU funded CodeX and Palimpsest projects and consider a change in the landscape of codicology, both in terms of the balance of the relationships between science and the humanities, but also in the scale and scope of questions that can now be addressed.

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