Beasts to Craft: BioCodicology as a new approach to the study of parchment manuscripts


The intention of Beasts to Craft (B2C) is to document the biological and craft records in parchment in order to reveal the entangled histories of animal improvement and parchment production in Europe from 500-1900 AD. B2C will lay the foundations for a new approach to the the study of parchment manuscripts —biocodicology— which draws evidence from the overlooked first stages in production, the raising of livestock and the preparation of the skins. 1. Parchment is an extraordinary but overlooked high resolution zooarchaeological record and a molecular archive. Livestock genetics is revealing breed diversity and markers of character traits such as fleece quality. B2C will exploit this new-found knowledge, using progressively older dated archival (sheep) parchments to study the history of improvement 1300 - 1900. Visual examination of the skins will search for direct evidence of disease and fleece quality. 2. Craft skills can be read from parchment and, when combined with chemical data and comparison with modern analogues, will produce the first European wide record of the craft from 500-1900. The size and scope of this the parchment archive means it is one of the largest and most highly resolved records of a specialist medieval craft. We will explore how these skills develop and when and where regional patterns appear and decline. These two remarkable records requires a large interdisciplinary team. However biocodicology draws from and informs upon a wide and diverse spectrum of existing scholarship in conservation, the arts and sciences. A third strand of the project will (i) furnish manuscript scholars with some of the information available to the scribe at time of production (ii) inform and shape attitudes to parchment conservation (iii) provide high resolution biological data on animal management, movement and health and (iv) explore methods to link datasets and promote data reuse.


Duration 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2023
Funding EU
Program Horizon 2020

Department for Bulding and Environment

Center for the Protection of Cultural Property

Principle investigator for the project (Danube University Krems) habil. Mag. Dr. Patricia Engel
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