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December 10, 2014 8:14 PM   Subscribe

This is very cool, thanks for the link. Possibly also of interest is the way that they've been collecting samples for this - the approach they've taken has made it possible to collect samples in quantities that would be impossible if one or more researchers had to travel to libraries, archives, museums, etc. to collect samples, plus people tend not to want to allow destructive sampling. So one of the researchers worked with conservators to find an acceptable way to get the material she needed for the analyses - detailed here (warning - PDF) - using waste residue from parchment cleaning procedures that were taking place anyway. They sent kits out to archives, libraries, museums, churches - and the conservators sent back waste residues from parchments they were cleaning. They got a massive response and lots of samples. There's a video of a relevant lecture by Matthew Collins and Sarah Fiddyment here. Matthew is also really active on g+ and always shares lots of interesting stuff there.
posted by you must supply a verb at 2:35 AM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think the lead author should do a sabbatical in Harvard.

Cool find. Thanks for sharing.
posted by kisch mokusch at 3:27 AM on December 11, 2014

Aw man, I was hoping that they were getting human DNA off of it or something, from people touching it, instead of boring old sheep.
posted by quaking fajita at 5:20 AM on December 11, 2014

This is cool, but seems mostly focused on the insights to be gained into animal breeding history. I remember hearing about this from another academic several years ago and what had him excited was the potential to be able to use it to figure out where/when some of the earliest works in the western canon (notably Beowulf) were actually first written. If you can figure out what kind of sheepskin was used, and you know where/when they had those sheep, you can make a good guess of where the manuscript was written. I want to know more about that effort!
posted by Wretch729 at 6:05 AM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, the problem is that Beowulf is known to be 1) an oral epic, and 2) the manuscript a later copy. It was composed orally at least 4-500 years before it was written down, and there is plenty of evidence that later editors changed the story, language, structure, and so on, before it came to its final shape. Any DNA evidence will only tell us the origin of the manuscript we have, which may or may not have been made by the final editor.

Indeed, the most useful manuscripts for the project they outline are those whose origins in place and time are already securely known.
posted by Thing at 6:33 AM on December 11, 2014

Aw man, I was hoping that they were getting human DNA off of it or something, from people touching it, instead of boring old sheep.

My army of Chaucer commandos must still remain a dream.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:37 AM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

But why won't they get a stuffed dodo and go Jurassic Park. Come on, guys. This one's easy.
posted by sukeban at 8:35 AM on December 11, 2014

...Or a thylacine, or a passenger pigeon....
posted by sukeban at 8:40 AM on December 11, 2014

Thing - I'm hazy on the details now and can't find a more recent update than 2010 but it was Michael Drout at Wheaton and I believe that he still thought being able to date and locate the origin of the early manuscripts would be helpful. Some of the justification from early on here. Annoyingly, the relevant part of Drout's website seems to be linkrotted, so I have no idea if anything has happened in the last few years. (This was always a side project for him, not his main thing.)
posted by Wretch729 at 9:49 AM on December 11, 2014

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