05 December 2007

Saving our Cultural Heritage

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Parchment, made from partially-tanned animal skin, has been used since the 2nd century B.C. and it undergoes the irreparable damage caused by time

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Parchment, made from partially-tanned animal skin, has been used since the 2nd century B.C. and it undergoes the irreparable damage caused by time. To limit this ageing process, European scientists studied and isolated the reasons for its degradation within the framework of a 3-year programme supported by the European Union. An online data base containing the results of the study has been created.

Expertise gathered from the IDAP ("Improved Damage Assessment of Parchment") project has made it possible to define the products which physically and chemically degrade collagen, the main substance from which parchment is made. Global warming has been pinpointed as one possible factor contributing to the premature ageing of parchment.

The results of these three years of observation are currently available over the Internet to public and private conservation experts worldwide in order to help them optimise their parchment conservation and restoration methods.

The IDAP project was divided into 3 stages: the first stage was to create a protocol for the visual evaluation of parchment which was easy to use and inexpensive and which could be adopted by libraries, national archives and private conservators. Researchers at the Copenhagen School of Conservation in Denmark studied the transparency, flexibility and colorimetrics of parchment using extremely precise light and colour measurements.

In the second stage in the IDAP project, experiments were performed using sophisticated chemical analysis techniques in order to pinpoint the main causes of the deterioration of collagen, the principal substance which parchment is made of. The Danish scientists from the Copenhagen School of Conservation worked on the relationship between the premature ageing of collagen and temperature variation, raising the question of the harmful effects of global warming on the conservation of parchment.

The data base which is currently on line represents the third stage of the Europe-wide project and contains all the observations gathered during the three-year parchment study.

 
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