A biological reading of a palimpsest

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftartikelfagfællebedømt


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In the Middle Ages, texts were recorded and preserved on parchment, an animal-
derived material. When this resource was scarce, older manuscripts were some-
times recycled to write new manuscripts. In the process, the ancient text was
erased, creating what is known as a palimpsest. Here, we explore the potential
of peptide mass fingerprinting (PMF), widely applied to identify species, to
help reconnect the dispersed leaves of a manuscript and reveal differences in
parchment manufacturing. In combination with visual methods, we analyzed a
whole palimpsest, the codex AM 795 4to from the Arnamagnæan Collection (Co-
penhagen, Denmark). We find that both sheep and goat skins were used in this
manuscript, and that parchment differed in quality. Notably, the PMF analysis
distinguished five groups of folios which match the visual groupings. We conclude
that this detailed interrogation of a single mass spectrum can be a promising tool
to understand how palimpsest manuscripts were constructed.
Udgave nummer6
Antal sider12
StatusUdgivet - 2023

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