DNA analysis may shed light on origins of medieval books

January 13th, 2009 - 1:30 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Jan 13 (ANI): A researcher from North Carolina (NC) State University, US, is using modern advances in genetics to develop techniques that will shed light on the origins of important medieval books.

Thousands of painstakingly handwritten books produced in medieval Europe still exist today, but scholars have long struggled with questions about when and where the majority of these works originated.

Many medieval manuscripts were written on parchment made from animal skin.

Now, NC State Assistant Professor of English Timothy Stinson is working to perfect techniques for extracting and analyzing the DNA contained in these skins with the long-term goal of creating a genetic database that can be used to determine when and where a manuscript was written.

Dating and localizing manuscripts have historically presented persistent problems because they have largely been based on the handwriting and dialect of the scribes who created the manuscripts techniques that have proven unreliable for a number of reasons, Stinson said.

According to Stinson, genetic testing could resolve these issues by creating a baseline using the DNA of parchment found in the relatively small number of manuscripts that can be reliably dated and localized.

Each manuscript can provide a wealth of genetic data, because a typical medieval parchment book includes the skins of more than 100 animals, Stinson explained.

Once Stinson has created a baseline of DNA markers with known dates and localities, he can take samples from manuscripts of unknown origin.

Stinson can then determine what degree of relationship there is between the animals whose skins were used in manuscripts of unknown origin and those used in the baseline manuscripts.

Stinson hopes this DNA comparison will enable him to identify genetic similarities that would indicate the general time and locale where a book was written.

On a larger scale, Stinson said, that this research will also allow us to trace the trade route of parchments throughout the medieval world a scholarly achievement that would provide a wealth of data on the evolution of the book industry during the Middle Ages. (ANI)

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