History of Writing: Black Inks and Writing Surfaces
This project aims at recreating a socio-geographic history of the production and use of writing inks and writing supports, such as papyrus, parchment and paper. We plan to conduct comparative analyses of the inks used in late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, including the use of papyrus and parchment during the transition from the book form of a roll common in Antiquity, to that of the codex that became common with the spread of Christianity. Similarly, we focus on the introduction of paper and its victorious spread in the Middle Ages. Determining the ink composition in manuscripts of that time, we believe, might uncover correlations between the type of the documents, their form and the writing materials used to produce it. In this work, we will closely collaborate with the project RFA01 dedicated to the studies of the writing supports in the first centuries of the Islamic era.
Determining ink types and compositions from different epochs and places will create a history of inks that allows tracing the transition from those based on soot, common in Antiquity, to the iron-gall inks commonly used in the Middle Ages. Within the studies of inks in the Middle Ages, this project will collaborate with the project RFA08 in the research field Artefact Profiling. Our preliminary results indicate that the process of transition in the Mediterranean world differed greatly from that in Northern Europe. In the course of previous research, we discovered new formulations, such as mixtures of soot inks with plant and/or primitive iron-gall inks. Unfortunately, these inks evade easy detection by the non-invasive protocol that consists of a reflectographic screening to determine the type of the ink, and a subsequent in-depth analysis using several spectroscopic techniques. Current efforts focus on developing new micro-invasive sampling techniques to upgrade the routine non-invasive protocol for ink analysis.
In addition, we conduct studies of the inks in Coptic documents in cooperation with the project Paths of the University of Rome La Sapienza. This cooperation is framed by a cotutelle agreement between La Sapienza and Universität Hamburg.