Mystery behind 800-year-old scroll's purple spots finally solved

BY JAMES CARLIN | PUBLISHED: 09-11-2017

The parchment -- which is over 800 years old -- tells the story of Laurentius Loricatus, a teenager who accidentally killed a man in Italy before going to a cave where he would spend the next 34 years atoning for his sins.

A team of Italian researchers have used new-age technology to uncover why an ancient text stored in the Vatican Secret Archives is covered in mysterious purple spots.

The parchment -- which is over 800 years old -- tells the story of Laurentius Loricatus, a teenager who accidentally killed a man in Italy before going to a cave where he would spend the next 34 years atoning for his sins. While still intact, the scroll -- like so many others -- is covered in strange purple spots. Though this process is common, researchers have never been sure why it occurs.
That is, until now.

In the study, the researchers took detached squares of parchment from both purple and unstained pieces of the scroll, and then isolated their DNA before sending it to labs for analysis. This revealed957 kinds of bacteria on the purple spots, as well as407 kinds of bacteria on the undamaged ones. Roughly 140 of the 1224 total species were shared between the two, and the most common bacteria on the purple spots was an oceanic microbe known asGammaproteobacteria.

"I found marine microbes," lead author Luciana Migliore, a researcher from Tor Vergata University told Gizmodo. "Where did they come from, in a goat parchment that had been written eight hundred years ago? This was absolutely surprising."

The reason such microbes were found on the parchment is because the scroll came from goat skin, which is typically preserved with salt brines. In addition, the scroll went through a stretching and scraping process that would have left it with a salty outside and less salty inside. Such an environment would have been perfect for bacterial colonies.

While the study used new technologies to shed light on an old mystery, there are some limitations to the research. For example, the methods only rely on a certain subset of DNA sequences, which means there is a chance some data could be missing.

However, the data in the paper seems to provide sufficient evidence on how the spots got on the parchment. It may also help researchers better understand the aging process of old scrolls for future preservation.

"The new information on the colonisation and deterioration processes, including the kind of damage to the collagen fibres and the chemical composition of the purple spots, open new perspectives to the restoration and conservation of ancient damaged parchments," the authors concluded in their study, according to International Business Times.

"A better understanding of the possible role of Halobacteria could be useful, as they can survive for huge times, being a possible "time bomb" in the ancient undamaged parchments."

The new research is published inScientific Reports.

 

 

Comments
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 19, 2017
The parchment -- which is over 800 years old -- tells the story of Laurentius Loricatus, a teenager who accidentally killed a man in Italy before going to a cave where he would spend the next 34 years atoning for his sins.
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 19, 2017
The parchment -- which is over 800 years old -- tells the story of Laurentius Loricatus, a teenager who accidentally killed a man in Italy before going to a cave where he would spend the next 34 years atoning for his sins.
Wilson Soto - Sep 19, 2017
The parchment -- which is over 800 years old -- tells the story of Laurentius Loricatus, a teenager who accidentally killed a man in Italy before going to a cave where he would spend the next 34 years atoning for his sins.
Dan Taylor - Sep 19, 2017
The parchment -- which is over 800 years old -- tells the story of Laurentius Loricatus, a teenager who accidentally killed a man in Italy before going to a cave where he would spend the next 34 years atoning for his sins.
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 18, 2017
The parchment -- which is over 800 years old -- tells the story of Laurentius Loricatus, a teenager who accidentally killed a man in Italy before going to a cave where he would spend the next 34 years atoning for his sins.
Joseph Scalise - Sep 18, 2017
The parchment -- which is over 800 years old -- tells the story of Laurentius Loricatus, a teenager who accidentally killed a man in Italy before going to a cave where he would spend the next 34 years atoning for his sins.
Joyce Clark - Sep 16, 2017
The parchment -- which is over 800 years old -- tells the story of Laurentius Loricatus, a teenager who accidentally killed a man in Italy before going to a cave where he would spend the next 34 years atoning for his sins.