Proteomics of Medieval Manuscripts

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/11/26/do-proteins-hold-the-key-to-the-past

Some excerpts:

“In recent years, proteomic studies of art works and archeological remains have yielded biological information of startling clarity, revealing gossamer-thin layers of fish glue on seventeenth-century religious sculptures and identifying children’s milk teeth from pits of previously unrecognizable Neolithic bones. In 2008, researchers were able to sequence the proteins of a harbor seal that remained on the surface of six-hundred-year-old cooking pots found at an Inuit site in northern Alaska. Three years later, chemists found a hundred and twenty-six different proteins in a mammoth femur. With new proteomic techniques emerging constantly, the field has a heady, chaotic atmosphere of possibility. […]

Righetti was elated to see seven-hundred-and-fifty-year-old proteins showing up clearly in the data. He described the findings in a paper, which added to the small but growing literature about the proteomics of medieval manuscripts. […]

Seventy-five years after his death, Bulgakov’s molecules were all over his papers, and Zilberstein had found them, while leaving the documents intact. “This was the opening of the Ali Baba cavern,” Righetti told me. […]

Since 2011, Collins has used the rubbings to gather biological information about medieval European cattle, sheep, and goats. He calls his work “bio-codicology”—an updated form of the traditional study of physical manuscripts. […]

I showed a draft of Righetti’s paper to Ulinka Rublack, a history professor at the University of Cambridge, who is an authority on Kepler’s life and writing. She, too, was unconvinced. Unlike Brahe, who was a wealthy aristocrat, Kepler was always hard up, and he avoided working with his hands, an unlikely combination for an alchemist.”


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