Animal origin of 13th-century uterine vellum revealed using noninvasive peptide fingerprinting
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Tissue-thin parchment made it possible to produce the first pocket Bibles: Thousands were made in the 13th century. The source of this parchment, often called “uterine vellum,” has been a long-standing controversy in codicology. Use of the Latin term abortivum in many sources has led some scholars to suggest that the skin of fetal calves or sheep was used. Others have argued that it would not be possible to sustain herds if so many pocket Bibles were produced from fetal skins, arguing instead for unexpected alternatives, such as rabbit. Here, we report a simple and objective technique using standard conservation treatments to identify the animal origin of parchment. The noninvasive method is a variant on zooarchaeology by mass spectrometry (ZooMS) peptide mass fingerprinting but extracts protein from the parchment surface by using an electrostatic charge generated by gentle rubbing of a PVC eraser on the membrane surface. Using this method, we analyzed 72 pocket Bibles originating in France, England, and Italy and 293 additional parchment samples that bracket this period. We found no evidence for the use of unexpected animals; however, we did identify the use of more than one mammal species in a single manuscript, consistent with the local availability of hides. These results suggest that ultrafine vellum does not necessarily derive from the use of abortive or newborn animals with ultrathin hides, but could equally well reflect a production process that allowed the skins of maturing animals of several species to be rendered into vellum of equal quality and fineness.
Fiddyment , S , Holsinger , B , Ruzzier , C , Devine , A , Binois , A , Albarella , U , Fischer , R , Nichols , E , Curtis , A , Cheese , E , Teasdale , M D , Checkley-Scott , C , Milner , S J , Rudy , K M , Johnson , E J , Vnouček , J , Garrison , M , McGrory , S , Bradley , D G & Collins , M J 2015 , ' Animal origin of 13th-century uterine vellum revealed using noninvasive peptide fingerprinting ' Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America , vol. 112 , no. 49 , pp. 15066-15071 . https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1512264112
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Copyright 2015 the Authors. This work is made available online in accordance with the publisher’s policies. This is the author created, accepted version manuscript following peer review and may differ slightly from the final published version. The final published version of this work is available at: https://dx.doi.org/10.5284/1035166.
DescriptionThe authors acknowledge Science Foundation Ireland European Research Council (ERC) Support Award 12/ERC/B2227, Valeria Mattiangeli, and the Trinity Genome Sequencing Laboratory (TrinSeq) for MiSeq support. This work was supported by the Marie Curie International Fellowship PALIMPSEST FP7-PEOPLE-2011-IEF 299101, a University of Manchester Research Institute seedcorn grant, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship funding, and ERC Investigator Grant 295729-CodeX.
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