Tag Archives: Iron gall ink

Success

In December 2011 David and Graham visited the Norfolk Archives, based in Norwich, to discuss the Apocalypto project with Antoinette Curtis and her conservation staff. To assist  in our initial scanning and virtual unrolling experiments, the Norfolk Archives graciously donated some non-accessioned objects of parchment with manuscript using iron gall ink.

One of the items is a small roll of parchment, that would be very damaging to unroll in order to read or photograph by conventional means. It is long and thin and in a damaged state that makes it impossible to unroll to read. This immediately attracted our attention, as it would be a real test of our ability to read an otherwise unreadable document.

Rolled parchment from Norfolk Archives
Rolled parchment from Norfolk Archives

The scroll was scanned in our MuCAT-2 microCT xray scanner with a 30 kV X-ray spectrum. Once the scan data was mathematically reconstructed, we could start to explore the scroll.

Norfolk Archives scroll x-ray cross-section, with an inset view of part of an inked letter.
Norfolk Archives scroll x-ray cross-section, with an inset view of part of an inked letter.

The first thing we noticed in the x-ray cross-section images is the metallic foil strip glued to the inner edge of the parchment. This shows as the bright shape at the top of the scroll in the image to the left. We can also see indications of the iron gall ink, again these show as brighter areas along the line of the parchment surface. The inset image shows a view along part of a letter on the surface. The high curvature and short depth of field of the scanned slices means that only a portion of the letter can be seen.

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Volume rendering the scan data and virtually removing the parchment reveals the metal components of the scroll. Applying volume rendering techniques to the scan data and virtually removing the parchment, we can explore just the ink and metallic components of the scroll.

The lime used in the manufacture of parchment also shows up well because of its calcium content which is a metal. Excessive liming of the parchment can mask the visibility of ink in the x-ray scans; however in this case, while it shows up as a mass of spots and general noise in the image, the ink is still easily visible.

Adding back the parchment in the volume render of the scan data allows us to see the ink on the parchment. Due to the highly curved surface of the scroll, it’s impossible to read more than a few letters of a word using this technique.

The text on the rendered scroll looks faded and delaminated. This is because the distribution of iron in the ink isn’t uniform, and it’s only the iron in the ink that provides contrast in the x-ray images.

For a full unrolling, the data was passed to Oksana and Paul, our colleagues at the School of Computer Science & Informatics at Cardiff University. They will take up the story from here.

A volume render of a section of the scan data, showing ink on the outer surface of the scroll.
A volume render of a section of the scan data, showing ink on the outer surface of the scroll.

 

Iron gall ink or not?

After being unable to see some of the ink on our parchment scrolls we began a study into which of our collection of parchment samples had iron present and which did not.  To assess the level of iron present in our parchment samples we used X-ray fluorescence (XRF). XRF is an excellent non-destructive analytical technique for chemical analysis.  An example spectra collected from two of our parchment samples is shown below where a clear iron peak is visible in the one sample and is missing in the other sample.

We found that most of our parchment collection had a presence of iron to a certain degree but using XRF we have now identified which parchment samples had a low fraction making them difficult to see.

The above graph shows the X-ray fluorescence spectra for two of the parchment samples in our collection dated 1775 and 1817.  In the parchment dated 1775 there is a peak present at 6.3 keV resulting from the presence of iron (Fe).  The parchment sample dated 1817 displays no visible peak at 6.3 keV demonstrating that there is very little iron present in the ink.
The above graph shows the X-ray fluorescence spectra for two of the parchment samples in our collection dated 1775 and 1817. In the parchment dated 1775 there is a peak present at 6.3 keV resulting from the presence of iron (Fe). The parchment sample dated 1817 displays no visible peak at 6.3 keV demonstrating that there is very little iron present in the ink.