Scientists Solve The Mystery Of 800 Years Old Scroll

Posted: Sep 8 2017, 6:57am CDT | by , Updated: Sep 8 2017, 6:59am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Scientists Solve the Mystery of 800 Years Old Scroll
Credit: G. Vendittozzi

Purple spots on ancient scroll were caused by marine bacteria, new study reveals

About 800 years ago, a young soldier named Laurentius Loricatus accidentally killed a man. He felt guilty about the murder and spent his next 34 years in a cave near Italy to expiate his sin, self-flagellating and wearing instruments of penance.

His story was written in year 1244 on a 5 meters long parchment roll, which is made of goat skin and is smeared with mysterious purple “spots.”

The damaged areas are the first and the last page of the document, which are completely covered by the purple spots. Since 18th century, the parchment is stored at the Vatican Secret Archives in Vatican City and the damage is most likely done before it was taken to the Vatican repository where it is kept under suitable environmental conditions.

Since these infuriating purple spots are often found in very important ancient documents and make them difficult to read, several efforts have been made to understand its cause. But the reason was never clearly known.

Now, researchers report they have finally identified the cause of the spots. The spots are caused by certain types of marine bacteria that trigger pigments in the parchment and leave unusual purple stains. The discovery is a real head-scratcher because the parchment had been nowhere near the sea.

“I found marine microbes.” Study author Luciana Migliore from Tor Vergata University in Rome told Gizmodo. “Where did they come from, in a goat parchment that had been written eight hundred years ago? This was absolutely surprising.”

To arrive at this conclusion, researchers detached tiny pieces of parchment both from damaged and undamaged areas of the scroll, isolated the DNA and send it to a lab in Texas for processing. Researchers found that purple spots harbor numerous bacteria but the most common were Gammaproteobacteria, bacteria that are mostly found in high-salt, ocean – like environments. The microorganisms were absent or rare in the undamaged areas.

“None of the several identified microorganisms has been unambiguously considered as a putative causal agent, and no unambiguous source of biodeteriogen microorganisms has been identified: Authors attributed colonization to air-dispersion, to animals acting as vectors, or to direct inoculation by human handling.” Study reads.

Researchers hope that the breakthrough would open new perspective to document preservation and perhaps help restore those already damaged.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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