New method to help decode rare fragile manuscripts


London: Norwegian researchers are developing new high-tech tools to unlock the secrets hidden in fragile pieces of parchment that are difficult to study because of their age, rarity and susceptibility to contamination. Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Gunnerus Library are using a novel technique called hyperspectral imaging to determine the chemical composition of the pigments used in ancient manuscripts.

“The technique is quite effective for examining old manuscripts and yields much better results than other methods,” said Emilio Catelli, PhD candidate at the department of chemistry, in a statement. “Whole pages can be scanned and analysed in a matter of minutes with this technology. Fragile documents are also protected from marks and rough handling,” Catelli added.

ancient Indus civilisation manuscript
ancient Indus civilisation manuscript

Ancient documents are very sensitive and fragile and should ideally not be touched or exposed to light. “Throughout history, many methods have been used that cause irreparable damage to manuscripts,” noted Victoria Juhlin, conservator at the library.

Hyperspectral imaging uses a hyperspectral camera to scan the document. Advanced cameras can differentiate between 160 colours and have 1,600 pixel sensors. These cameras are good for studying art at a macro level, where details and colour pigments that were previously impossible to see are now made visible because of the high spectral resolution.

“Hyperspectral imaging turns out to be very useful for studying art. The method is also used in medical diagnostics, food science, archaeology and environmental observation,” study co-author Lyngsnes Randeberg said.