A Hospital Visit Reveals Medieval Secrets Hidden in Books

Even in the Middle Ages, recycling was popular. Fragments of parchment salvaged from old handwritten manuscripts were often used to support other books. Researchers used CT scans to show hidden medieval relics under the covers of some books. Studying these medieval binding fragments can help reveal when, where and how early books were assembled. discover previously unknown manuscripts.

In Europe, books were reproduced by hand until the mid-15th century. The Latin etymology known as manuscript “manu” means “hand”. These written records were often works of art in themselves, with multiple colors of ink running on sheets of meticulously prepared calf, goat, or sheep skin. .

However, with the spread of the printing press in Europe in the 1450s, such manuscripts became less necessary. However, some bookbinders have chosen to reuse parchment pages.

“It’s possible that older, more durable manuscripts could be used to strengthen the structure of new printed books,” said Eric Ensley, curator of rare books and maps at the University of Iowa.

Binders would cut out pieces of parchment (sometimes whole pages, sometimes just thin strips) and glue them to places like the spine of a book. That way the book is covered and most of those joints are invisible.

“In fact, in the form of these fragments, there is an entire library within the library,” says Joris Dik, a materials scientist who studies binding fragments at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Joris Dik was not involved in the new study.

In recent decades, researchers have used non-invasive techniques to peer under the covers of books, find fragments of medieval bindings, and begin reading what’s written there. But many of those techniques have limitations, so Dr. Ensley and his colleagues decided to experiment with the same type of CT scans available in hospitals. His three-dimensional view of the technology solves the focus problem that plagues other methods, allowing scans that previously took hours to be completed in seconds.

A three-volume set of 16th-century animal encyclopedias was taken from the University of Iowa archives and inserted into a CT scanner at the University of Iowa School of Medicine.credit…Eric Ensley

The researchers scanned a set of three copies of the 16th-century printed encyclopedia of animals, History of Animals. The researchers decided to use one book as a control. The cover was damaged, and removal could reveal fragments of the medieval binding (featuring red and black ink) on the spine. The other two were fine. But the book appears to have been bound in the same workshop, according to University of Iowa historian and research team member Catherine H. It is said that he made a hypothesis that it is not.

Under the watchful eye of Gisele Simon, a conservator at the University of Iowa Library, the team placed three books on the bed of a CT scanner in Eric Hoffman’s lab at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine. The books fit comfortably and it took him less than a minute to scan all three.

Dr. Ensley, along with Dr. Tachau, observed the hidden text of some of the binding fragments that were revealed on the scanner’s screen.

“We both leaned over and started reading Latin together,” he said. “It was a moment that gave me goosebumps.”

Many of the medieval joint fragments in “History of Animals” came from 11th- or 12th-century Latin Bibles, the researchers reported in April. Published in Heritage Science magazine.

When researchers analyzed the CT scan of the ledger, they found that text written in red ink was the most prominent in the image. However, darker inks did not display as sharply. Various chemicals in the ink affect how X-rays are absorbed.

However, Dr. Ensley and his colleagues hypothesize that changing the energy of the X-rays emitted by CT scanners may allow better detection of black ink in future studies. there is

The fragments the team finds are eventually digitized. Fragmentarium, an online repository of over 4,500 medieval combined fragments. Archives are a way to disseminate the information contained in these hidden pieces of history, said William Duva, a historian at the University of Friborg in Switzerland, who coordinates the Fragmentarium.

“There is a treasure hidden in the spine of the book,” he said.

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