Dating medieval manuscripts via DNA

A couple days ago the 60 Second Science podcast had an interesting story on dating medieval manuscripts. It turns out you can take DNA samples from the animal products in the pages. The hope is that the pages in undated manuscripts will have the same DNA signature as extant dated manuscripts, suggesting that the books were written around the same time.


2 thoughts on “Dating medieval manuscripts via DNA

  1. You mean parchment or vellum, right? If so there may well be a good chance since I imagine they were made from nearby flocks.

    I’ve heard grass pollen can survive with the DNA intact for incredibly long times, even in some kinds of fossils. A professor I knew speculated that this may well confound genetic analysis of ancient materials, but in the case of processed skin I think you ought to be able to clean off any contaminants really well.

    Of course, even if you can date the origin of the material there is still room for confusion because of the practice of using palimpsests.

  2. You’re right. I’m so used to equating “pages” and “paper” that I wrote the latter when I meant the former. Thanks.

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