Stories

The DNA on medieval manuscripts might give a new view of history

Thanassis Stavrakis / AP

Scientists may have discovered a new way to gain a window into our past: DNA samples from parchment made from animal skin, per The Atlantic.

  • How it came about: Matthew Collins, an archaeologist at the University of York, realized that medieval manuscripts around the world provide a chronologically-sourced repository of animal DNA available for study.
  • The advance: The team collected and analyzed DNA from eraser crumbs left after routine cleanings of the parchment. Scientists have used DNA collected from the environment (eDNA) to test for the presence of elusive endangered species in creeks, for example, but it hadn't been used to study books.
  • Why it matters: The technique, if verified through peer review, could offer researchers new insights into history via the study of DNA — like uncovering information about old trade routes and epidemics.