Manuscript Monday: Introducing the Penn Parchment Project

We are pleased to announce the Penn Parchment Project, a collaboration between SIMS and a team at the University of York Department of Archaeology. The team at York is working to produce a “rapid, inexpensive, and non-destructive method of species identification based on collagen analysis.” (See for more information)

Over the next several months, Penn will be sending dozens of samples to York for testing. Will Noel, the director of SIMS and the Special Collections Center (and a world renowned expert in medieval manuscripts) will be guessing the source for a small selection of these samples, and we invite others interested in manuscripts, both professionals and students, to join in the game.

Every week, we’ll post a few photos and a short video of one manuscript, pointing out any features that might help determine the animal source of the parchment (differences between hair and flesh side, indications of the size of the sheets, suppleness). Post guesses in the comments area here on the blog. Let us know if you need more information – we can always post more photos if needed.

The first entry for the Penn Parchment Project is LJS 26, an Italian manuscript dated from between 1225 and 1275. It is a mathematical treatise. To find out more about the manuscript, and to view a full digital facsimile, visit

A short video showing some notable folios in the manuscript.


A close-up of a folio from LJS 26. This is the folio sampled for the project.


Will Noel checking out the parchment in LJS 26.

Will has made his guess. What’s yours?


  1. My question: who is to say it wasn’t put together from the skins of various species? The more deluxe the book, the more greatly homogeneity would have been prized, but my impression of ‘average’ mss is that they were often put together from whatever parchment was available, which could mean some sheets one species, other sheets another.

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