DEvelopment of a multi-analytical strategy for the bioCOdicological study of parchment Degradation

OeAW Doc Fellowship; start 2020

Being first introduced as an alternative to papyrus in the 2nd century BC, parchment was employed as a writing support until the invention of paper production at the end of Medieval times [1]. Although parchment shows a quite high stability when preserved correctly, its degradation and therefore the degradation of collagen is induced under unsuitable conditions as well as inappropriate handling. Detailed knowledge of degradation mechanisms on the different structural levels of the material are necessary for the preservation of parchment. Parchment undergoes different degradation processes including gelatinization (promoted by moisture), denaturation (due to high temperature), oxidation and hydrolysis (induced by chemical (oxidative) stress, mainly from atmospheric air pollutants) and photo-oxidation (originating from UV radiation). The migration of components, such as sulfuric acid, which are present in writing materials, like iron gall ink, can induce acidic hydrolysis [2].

Among the analytical methods, which can be applied for the analysis of parchment degradation, mainly different spectroscopic and microscopic approaches, like spectrophotometry, Raman and FTIR spectroscopy, micro hot table (MHT) method and scanning electron microscopy coupled with energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDX) have been described in recent years. The introduction of proteomics by using matrix assisted laser desorption ionisation mass spectrometry and tandem mass spectrometry (MALDI-MS and MS/MS), which has so far almost only been applied for the species identification of the animal used for parchment production, now offers a novel approach to analyse the degradation of parchment on the molecular level.

  1. Fuchs, R., et al. Pergament: Geschichte, Material, Konservierung, Restaurierung. Karger Gazette 67 (2001), 13-16.
  2. Kennedy, C. J. and Wess, T. J. The structure of collagen within parchment – a review. Restaurator 24 (2) (2003), 61-80.