Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Tome Team

My knowledge of bio-archeology is pretty much limited to watching Tony Robinson peer at skeletons on Time Team in the company of those wise in the ways of interpreting bones. Kind of like reading the runes, but with added science.

So it was a pleasure to spend time at the bio-archeology department at York University working on a possible project around surfacing a collection of manuscripts which had miraculously had DNA extracted from them in a non-destructive way. This might allow the discovery of which kind of animal the vellum came from, where and when.

I've always loved this kind of meta-data. The book as originally made, complete with text, illumination and binding for so long represented the entire artefact.

But the marginalia and annotations are very often more illuminating than the text itself. Aldred's annotation of the Lindisfarne Gospels. Newton's notes in his copy of Principia Mathematica or Eliot's scribbles on the typescript of The Wasteland.

The fascinating research done by Kathryn Rudy to determine the most read and used parts of a book, which can be determined by the wear and dirt of certain pages also reveals a whole new side to the life of the book. There's a great TED talk by her here.

So the analysis of the page itself propels us to a point where we can find out what animals were used, what time of year they might have been killed and whether the manuscript was consistent in it's use of material. It's likely to pose as many questions as it provides answers.