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Unlocking Historical and Molecular Archives

GoTriple's project summary

"Europe’s rich historical record has been plundered for information about climate and weather in the past. From instrumental data, to correspondence and even paintings, climate historians have tried to link direct human record with molecular records from trees, lakes, caves and oceans. My fellowship seeks to explore a new avenue, the rich collections of parchment held in archives across Europe.The corpus of handwritten parchment represents one of the major cultural assets of European heritage. Research has tended to focus on the written texts, but we propose an overarching investigation that attempts to explore the potential of parchment records to be annual records of molecular change.Parchment is comprised predominately of collagen, a protein that is easy to isolate and purify. Skin collagen turns over once a year, thus the collagen in parchment represent a molecular signal from a year of skin production.In this project we will focus on the potential of the Archbishops’ Registers held in the Borthwick Archive in York. The series of York archiepiscopal registers begins in 1225 and continues, with only brief gaps, until 1972 when the practice of keeping registers was discontinued; 700 years of near continuous record keeping.This project aims to achieve an optimized microsampling technique in order to obtain the most amount of information with the smallest possible sample size of parchment. With the use of protein mass spectrometry we will determine the species used to make the parchment and assess its state of preservation. The use of stable isotope analysis will allow the dating of the parchment as well as possible associations to climatic conditions at the time the parchment was created.The research will also aid historians working on the provenance of manuscripts and the identity of scribes and authors; on peripatetic households; on the nature of medieval and early modern record keeping and the development of ecclesiastical and secular bureaucracies."

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