Sarah Fiddyment and Jiri Vnoucek examine a 12th C volume

The ‘Codex’ project, ‘Decoding domesticate DNA in archaeological bone and manuscripts’, will use state-of-the-art genetic tools to build up a ‘DNA data matrix’ of domestic animals over the last 10,000 years. The matrix could help identify key genetic changes that accompany domestication and subsequent animal management strategies.   

At York the specific focus is on the records that can be obtained from parchment. 

We determine the species of animal used to make the parchment through protein mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF) of the collagen molecules extracted from the eraser waste (see ZooMS-Proteomics). The collagen molecules are cut into smaller fragments (peptides) that render a unique profile for each animal (peptide mass fingerprint). Through this technique we have been able to analyse over 900 separate parchment samples. These analyses have provided us with vast information about geographic distribution of livestock and animal preference for codices vs archival records. In addition to this invaluable information we are currently working on the development of a Parchment Quality Index (PQI) which informs about the  potential  damage incurred in the parchment from its production (usually due to liming). We hope that this index will develop into an interesting tool for conservators that may help inform conservation decisions.