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Using DNA to Date and Authenticate Manuscripts

Scientists are working out methods to use the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to learn more about the origins of medieval manuscripts. Notable in this effort is Christopher Howe at Cambridge University. From Howe’s webpage:

There are striking parallels between how mutations accumulate in DNA sequences as they evolve, and how changes were incorporated into manuscripts when they were copied by scribes in the days before printing. In a novel interdisciplinary collaboration with manuscript scholars around the world, we are applying the techniques of molecular evolutionary biology to the analysis of a range of texts from the Bible to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. We are also interested in trying to recover DNA from the parchment that texts were written on.

From the BBC:

Dr Howe said: “If we had a manuscript that came from Italy and we could show the DNA was closely related to that, it would show that the Canterbury Gospels came from the same place and time.”

Once developed, Dr Howe said he hopes the technology will help to identify the origins of “huge numbers of manuscripts that people are not certain about”.

[tags]medieval manuscripts, pcr, christopher howe, authentication, dating[/tags]