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Beasts to Craft: BioCodicology as a new approach to the study of parchment manuscripts

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - B2C (Beasts to Craft: BioCodicology as a new approach to the study of parchment manuscripts)

Reporting period: 2021-12-01 to 2023-05-31

The intention of Beasts to Craft (B2C) is to establish a new discipline for the study of parchment manuscripts—biocodicology—which focuses on the overlooked first stages in production, the raising of livestock and the preparation of the skins.

1. Parchment is an extraordinary but overlooked high resolution molecular archive. B2C will use progressively older parchments to study the history of improvement in sheep flocks as well as search for direct evidence of disease and fleece quality.

2. The size and scope of the parchment archive means it is one of the largest and most highly resolved records of a specialist medieval craft. We will explore how these skills develop and when and where regional patterns appear and decline.

These two remarkable, but largely overlooked records, together form a new discipline biocodicology, which must engage with and extend the existing scholarship. B2C will (i) furnish manuscript scholars with some of the information available to the scribe at time of production (ii) inform and shape attitudes to the conservation of artefacts (iii) demand new ways of linking datasets and promoting reuse.
The first stage of the project has been to set up our collaborations and to get each of the workpackages (WP) underway. For WP1 eZooMS: Species and parchment quality Sarah Fiddyment PDRA1 (SF) has been working on methods to extract more than just animal proteins with books and is working with the Wellcome Library on a “Spells and Spills” project, A major achievement of this WP has been the publication of Bacollite, a tool to automate the identification of parchment from eZooMS data. The software is available on GitHub

For WP2 DNA: The flocks (and herds): Matthew Teasdale (MT, PDRA2) has been working to unlock DNA records from parchment. In collaboration with Anglo-Saxon historian Prof. Joanna Story (University of Leicester) and they have identified a number of Anglo-Saxon animal bone deposits from the UK to target for sampling. MT has been joined by Laura Viñas, who is funded from a Marie Curie TALENT program and MCs DNRF award to explore the genetics of Merino Sheep in Spain.

WP3 Health and disease: Annelise Binois (AB, PDRA3)
Annelise Binois worked briefly as PDRA3 on B2C for three months before taking a full time lecturing position at Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. With JV (PDRA4) she has been conducting a visual analysis of parchment for evidence of diseases and delivered a presentation at Namur. Sam Johns (SJ PhD1) was recruited in Bristol University and is part paid by B2C and part by a Carlsberg Foundation project on archival beeswax and has been exploring the idea of detecting stress markers..

WP4 Direct evidence of production methods: Jiri PDRA 4 is developing standards for production of parchment for scientific analyses building the interdisciplinary research based on the study of the craft and beast and is exploring helping to understand of natural aging, degradation and various forms of damage of parchment, which should help in conservation and preservation of parchment.

WP5 Comparison with ancient textiles and bones: Jane Malcolm-Davies (JM-D, PDRA7)
took up her one-day-a-week post at the beginning of February 2020. Jane located knitted wool material which is more specifically dated by context (the Grabung Plessenstraße in Schleswig) to the medieval era (12th century) held at Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen at Schloss Gottorf. In February, Jane visited the collection and secured permission for the item to be examined and samples taken for comparative analysis.

WP6 A conservation legacy: We have started a collection of parchment samples - the B2C Parchment collection. These are all legal deeds whose purpose is to enable the research community to have material to build comprehensive datasets Beasts2Craft - B2C Parchment

WP7 Workshops: We have held the first two planned workshops and in addition due to the move to Cambridge ran a Kickoff meeting in January 2019: B2C Kick-off meeting, University of Cambridge.
During the visit members of the B2C team provided instruction on the “Archaeology Practical: Medieval Europe in Global World” workshop for BA and MPhil students at the Parker Library.

B2C Parchment workshop May 2019 Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D.C.
This collaborative workshop brought together historians, literary scholars, bio-archaeologists, conservators, and craftspeople to initiate new interactions

B2C workshop: October 2019 The Genetics of parchment Museum d’Histoire Naturelle,, Paris - -
consisted of presentations representing advances in the field of animal genetics and ancient DNA of interest to the B2C project from invited speakers. In addition to these workshops the B2C have been involved in a very wider range of activities including sessions at the Leeds International Medieval Conference in 201, and presentations both to conferences, departments and summer schools as well as public events such as Danish Culture Night.
To this point the progress has primarily been to highlight the new research area of Biocodicology, and to introduce a wider community. This is evident in the range of outreach activities and through publication of an open-access article "So you want to do Biocodicology?" We are pleased to have made BACOLLITE available to the research community and are interested to see if this software will be adopted to speciate parchment.

In addition most team members are now hired and the grant has added two new beneficiaries Cambridge (to to reflect the PIs move) and Bristol, the latter not only providing a cost-effective solution for our planned radiocarbon dates, but involving a new member of the team, our first and only PhD student, Sam Johns. A further delight has been that we have added a number of satellite PhD students such as Laura Vinas, and Tuuli Kasso, who have been able to draw on the depth and experience of the B2C team to enhance their studies.
Workshop 1: B2C and Friends at the Folger Conservation studios, Washington DC
Jivi Vnoucek at the Royal Library on Denmark's Culture night
Sarah Fiddyment teaching at the University of Cambridge
Workshop 2: Visiting the MNHN labs
Workshop 1: Developing new research directions
Annelise Binois lecturing at Workshop2 in Paris
The B2C team meet with Masters students at the University of Cambridge