Collection Care blog

47 posts categorized "Science"

25 June 2015

A CT Scan of the St Cuthbert Gospel

A CT scan of the St Cuthbert Gospel – the earliest intact European book dating to the early eight century - has been published in a ground-breaking new book launched this week: The St Cuthbert Gospel: Studies on the Insular Manuscript of the Gospel of John, edited by Claire Breay, Head of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts at the British Library, and Bernard Meehan, Head of Research Collections and Keeper of Manuscripts at Trinity College, Dublin. Colleagues from Collection Care and Medieval Manuscripts took the pocket gospel to the Natural History Museum for CT analysis to understand the structure of the ancient gospel, which was found inside the coffin of St Cuthbert in 1104.

On the right, three BL staff members stand. On the left is a computer, and in the centre is the scanner.

Figure 1: The British Library project team at the Natural History Museum. From left to right: Claire Breay, Flavio Marzo and Christina Duffy.

X-ray computed tomography (CT) is a non-destructive technique which creates 2-D cross-sectional images from 3-D structures. The St Cuthbert Gospel was scanned using a Metris X-Tek HMX ST 225 CT scanner with an operating voltage of 225 kV at the Natural History Museum.

To protect the gospel during scanning it was placed inside a custom-made phase box and then secured upright in a bespoke piece of polyethylene foam.

Two images stitched together. Left: someone places the volume into the box. Right: The closed phase box stands upright surrounded by a piece of grey foam.

Figure 2:  The St Cuthbert Gospel was placed in a phase box which was secured in a piece of foam.

A facsimile of the gospel produced by Jim Bloxam and Kristine Rose was generously made available to the team during the CT scan. This enabled a direct comparison of materials known to be used in the facsimile with those unknown in the original St Cuthbert Gospel. Both volumes were placed inside the CT chamber on a precision rotation stage between an X-ray source and a detector.

Two images stitched together. Left: The actual volume and its facsimile are placed side by side and held together with a cord. Right: The two volumes enter the scanner.

Figure 3:  The two copies were placed side-by-side in the CT chamber.

As the volumes rotated on the stage through 360⁰ a conical beam of X-rays took digital projections in 0.5⁰ increments. The CT image pixels are displayed in terms of their relative radiodensity allowing us to scroll through the image slices revealing the materials underneath the leather binding.

Two images stitched together. Left: Four people sit in office chairs surrounding a desktop computer, looking at the results on the monitor. Right: An image of the computer monitor showing a couple of black and white images, these are the results from the CT scan.

Figure 4:  The results were poured over in the lab. From left to right; Christina Duffy, Claire Breay, Nicholas Pickwoad and Dan Sykes.

The results were initially examined by the British Library team and Professor Nicholas Pickwoad, whose chapter in the new publication draws on the CT scan results and discusses how the central motif on the binding appears to have been made using a clay-like material, rather than gesso or cord as previously thought.

Two images stitched together. Left: The cover of the St Cuthbert Gospel, in a dark red leather with a raised floral motif in the center surrounded by a frame of Irish designs. Right: A magnified view of the raised floral motif.

Figure 5:  The St Cuthbert Gospel with raised plant-motif decoration examined under high magnification.

The scan of the Gospel and the facsimile. Scans of the raised floral motif of both the original and the facsimile. The material in the facsimile which creates the raised area is a starker white than the material of the facsimile. Scans of the original volume's boards and leather covering.

Figure 6: Analysis of the internal structure of the binding.

CT datasets contain vast amounts of information and samples can be visualised in many ways using various software tools. Drishti, which stands for vision or insight in Sanskrit, is an open source volume exploration and presentation tool. It allows volumetric data sets to be both explored and used for presentation of results.

The image of the Gospel in the software in an ivory tone.

Figure 7: A screen shot showing the St Cuthbert Gospel as visualised in Drishti.

CT scanning can provide tremendous amounts of information on the condition and construction of books and their bindings. This level of detail is unavailable through visual examination and can often lead to speculation. More information about the project can be found over on the Medieval Manuscripts blog. The new publication, The St Cuthbert Gospel: Studies on the Insular Manuscript of the Gospel of John, can be bought in the British Library shop or ordered online.

Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)

 

07 May 2015

Public event - Magna Carta: Under the Microscope

We’re delighted to announce that the conservation team behind the work done on the British Library collections in our latest exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy will be speaking at a public event on Friday 26 June 2015 18:30 - 20:30 to share their findings. Speaking on the night in the British Library Centre for Conservation will be Head of Conservation Cordelia Rogerson, conservator Gavin Moorhead, conservation scientist Paul Garside and imaging scientist Christina Duffy. Book your place here.

A set of four images. Top left: A conservation scientist cuts white foam on a green cutting board. Top right: A customer inspects the frame which lays on a table. Bottom left: A conservator uses a knife to prise open two layers of a mount board with the Magna Carta inside. Bottom right: An imaging scientist inspects the Magna Carta under magnification. The Magna Carta rests on a flat surface with a microscope above it; the magnified image appears on a computer screen.
Join our project team of conservators and scientists on 26 June 2015.

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The project spanned over three years in preparation for this year’s 800th anniversary of the 1215 Magna Carta and involved the reframing and scientific analysis of all of the Magna Carta charters held in our collections, including the two 1215 original versions.

The item rests on a soft surface while Gavin inspects it. The charter is house in cream mount board.
Conservator Gavin Moorhead works on the 1215 Articles of the Barons (Additional MS 4838).

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The team undertook an initial examination of the original frames to determine their structure and composition. At the event you’ll hear how probes were manually inserted into the frames to take samples of the air inside in order to determine what kind of micro-environment the charters were living in! The stability and compatibility of new materials, which would be used for mounting in the new frames, was ensured using infrared spectroscopy, pH tests, and lignin tests.

A pile of folded red and blue textiles rests on a table.
Mounting materials were tested before incorporation into the new frames. Join us to find out what the blue and red colours indicate.

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With the frames removed the team had a rare opportunity to investigate the condition of the manuscripts using near-infrared spectroscopy and high resolution digital microscopy. Unpublished images of the ink and parchment at up to 200 times magnification will be shared with the audience.

A up-close shot of the Magna Carta under a magnifier. Part of the charter is visible in the image along the wax seal.
What does 800-year-old ink look like at 200 times magnification? 

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You will also delve deep into the exciting world of multispectral imaging and see versions of the charters and their seals under ultraviolet and infrared light. The incredible results of the text recovery project on the damaged 1215 Canterbury Magna Carta, from which much of the ink was lost, will be shared.

Once our tests were complete it was time to rehouse the charters – you’ll hear from our conservator Gavin Moorhead about the challenges and decisions required to mount for display one of the most recognised manuscripts in the world which would feature as the dramatic finale to the exhibition.

The Magna Carta in its frame sits in a displace case in the exhibition.
The British Library's London Magna Carta at our exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy.

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Don’t miss out on this great event and book your place now! We look forward to meeting you!

Christina Duffy

12 February 2015

Photographed by the Hand of a Sinner

Senior Imaging Technician Kristin A. Phelps takes us behind the scenes of the British Library’s Imaging Services where there are several ongoing digital projects at any given time. 

Click here for an Arabic translation of this article, as translated by the Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation and Dar Al Kutub Manuscript Project.

In the foreground is an open volume, cut off about halfway by the camera, with an illumination on the left page and text on the right. In the background is a computer screen showing the digitised illuminated page.This page shows a seated figure in blue and red robes writing on a piece of paper.

Prior to the 14th Century, Byzantine artists who painted icons preferred to shun hubris and leave their works unsigned. Their work would be placed in churches to be seen and revered by thousands of the faithful over the centuries. Occasionally, an artist would sign their work with the phrase “Painted by the hand of a sinner.” This allowed the sacred value of the icon to remain unfettered by human presence.

Fast-forward to the modern world and a secular context: millions of digital images are accessed every day on websites of museums, libraries, archives and other collections. These images are taken by unseen photographers and are unsigned. The anonymity of the process allows for ‘pure’ and non-distracted understanding of the object by a viewer. But, who are these modern day artists who make invaluable works of art, faith and history accessible to all of us? How does their particular art form impact what we are able to view on our computer screens, tablets and smart phones?

To answer these questions we are going behind the scenes of the British Library’s Imaging Services where there are several ongoing digital projects at any given time. One project in particular, the Greek Manuscript Digitisation Project (GMDP), is working to digitise centuries old Greek manuscripts, some of which include illuminated portraits of the Evangelists executed by anonymous hands. The British Library’s third phase of the GMDP began in April 2014 and is scheduled to be completed March 2015 with a target of digitizing over 300 manuscripts, which is roughly equivalent to 120,000 images. The project has been funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the A.G. Leventis Foundation, Sam Goff, the Sylvia Iannou Foundation, the Thriplow Charitable Trust and the Friends of the British Library, among others.

Three images in a row. On the left is a camera mounted to a photo stand. The centre image is a wider shot of the photo stand showing the camera mounted above a book which is being photographed. On the right there is another book being photographed. The books are held at a 90 degree angle, so the page being imaged is flat, and the other side of the book is strapped to a soft cradle.

A series of 8 photos in two columns showing Imaging Services staff. Many of them look into a camera's viewfinder or at the set up of the photo stand.

The British Library’s Imaging Services currently employs eight full time photographers, or Senior Imaging Technicians, who represent approximately 110 years combined of photographic experience at the Library. While two of these photographers have been tasked with working on the GMDP, all of the photographers will work on the project at one point or another. 

The eight photographers come from a variety of backgrounds including more traditional photographic backgrounds as well as artists, a former school teacher, a former 3D graphic designer with a specialty in computer gaming and a former archaeologist.

Once a book is delivered to the Imaging Studio, the physical digitisation process can begin. Every manuscript is unique and its physical condition can vary widely. For this reason, a conservation assessment is being performed for each manuscript to be imaged for any of the digitisation projects. This written report guides the photographer responsible for the book to ensure that manuscript is returned in the same condition it was received.

 Once the assessment has been read and understood, the manuscript is set up for capture on a cradle. Many manuscripts can be photographed using an L-shaped cradle, designed by the Conservation Department, to allow photography without damage to the material. When the manuscript has been appropriately set up, it can be photographed in RAW format page by page utilising Phase One cameras with digital backs.

A book rests strapped into its cradle. Above this the camera has caught a human hand in motion--it looks as if someone has perhaps just finished strapping the book in and you get a blur of their hand moving away. Senior Imaging Technician Neil McCowlen looks at his computer monitor.Once the images are captured, they are reviewed and edited in Capture One (minor adjustments only including cropping, straightening and exposure adjustments).  

Finally, the RAW files are processed into both Tiff and Jpeg files before being passed back to the various digital project teams for online publication.

Does this process sound simple and straightforward? It rarely is. Often times, a manuscript needs to be carefully propped up to become level, or has a page which is not flat. The photographer is then responsible for manipulating the manuscript with a very gentle and cautious manner to make the resulting image provide the best view of a page. In addition, items may be housed in glass which cannot be removed for imaging. Senior Imaging Technician Tony Grant gets a book set up in its cradle prior to digitisation.Or, objects may be large and unwieldy or extremely small. Lighting conditions may need to be changed if the manuscript contains significant amounts of gold leaf decoration. And, of course, there are always physical adjustments of the camera position and settings as well as employing a variety of lenses. Throughout the process the photographers have to use their judgment and experience in order to “do no harm” and yield images that represent faithfully the original material. After observing everything which must be considered to photograph a manuscript, the question arises: are these professionals artists or technicians? The Library photographers themselves are split when it comes to answering this question. Half of them consider their particular type of photography an art form whilst the rest view it as form of scientific imaging.

No matter what the answer to this question is, one thing is certain. These photographers deliver an impactful and important volume of work to the digital masses. Scholars from across the world have advanced their research without the need to physically visit the British Library. Thousands of people are able to connect with global cultural and religious heritage with a click of a button.

Of course, the GMDP project is just one example of a common wider trend of museums, libraries and archives digitising their holdings for online publication. In Europe alone as of 2014, 87% of cultural heritage institutions had digital collections. ENUMERATE’s 2014 survey found that the most important perceived reason for digital collections was academic research, which points to the growing field of Digital Humanities. With all the new material available online, a visual revolution of the democratisation of knowledge is happening. Now a scholar is no longer hindered by the inability to travel afar to libraries and museums to see objects; instant access to manuscripts and 3D objects is only a click away. Scholarship is becoming more diverse because open access to online collections allows those who wish to see something to be able to do just that. In fact, in its still young life, the third phase of the GMDP has already been the focus of scholarly research as well as being used and shared by a number of New Testament and Patristic blogs.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the diligent and specialised work of the photographers at institutions like the British Library. But if you asked one of the British Library Imaging Services’ photographers about their role in the process you receive humble responses, not dissimilar to what you would have expected from the original “sinners.”

Kristin A. Phelps, Senior Imaging Technician

A black and white image of Senior Imaging Technician Laurence Pordes standing before the photography set up.

21 October 2014

Paper cuts: small but mighty!

Hardly noticeable and barely bleeding, paper cuts are the mother of all library injuries. Anyone who deals with paper on a daily basis will have at some point suffered such an affliction. Paper cuts cause a seemingly out of proportion amount of pain due to the anatomy of our skin and the structure of paper. When very thin and held in place, a sheet of paper becomes inflexible and can exert very high levels of pressure – enough to slice through flesh! Yikes! Let’s go under the microscope to see what's happening...

An edge of a single sheet of paper, with the rest of the piece of paper blurred out and against a black background.

Figure 1: A single sheet of paper at x30 magnification.

A finger with a paper cut against a black background.

Figure 2: Paper cuts - small but mighty!

Most paper cuts result from new sheets of paper held strongly in place. A rogue sheet may come loose from the pack but remain held in position by the rest of the tightly-knit sheets. In paper, more resistance is felt when a force is applied parallel to a sheet of paper. This has to do with the paper’s tensile strength. Tensile strength measures the ability of a material to resist rupture when force is applied to one of its sides under certain conditions. Held in place, the sheet of paper becomes extremely resistant to buckling, stiffens, and acts as a razor.

The edges of a stack of paper with one sheet, about halfway down, sticking out from the stack.

Figure 3: A sheet of paper that strays from the pack can cause serious paper cuts!

A paper’s edge may appear to be smooth and flat, but on a microscopic scale paper edges are jagged. Paper cuts leave a wound more like one from a saw than a knife (a miniature papery saw).

The edges of pages of a book, looking quite sharp.

Figure 4: Pages from a copy book at x30 magnification. Fibres at the surface give paper a serrated edge. The black lines are page lines.

Paper cuts are remarkably painful. They usually occur in the fingertips, which have a greater concentration of nerve cells (neurons) than the rest of the body – an evolutionary trait to protect us during the exploration of our environment. Neurons send chemical and electrical signals to our brain, and some of them, called nociceptors, detect potential harm. Paper cuts stimulate a large number of nociceptors in a very small area of the skin. Shallow paper cuts don’t bleed very much so pain receptors are left open to the air resulting in continuous pain as the wound cannot clot and seal. As we continue to use our hands, the wound flexes open, continually distressing these neurons.

Not only do paper cuts part the flesh with a micro-serrated paper edge, but they also damage skin either side of the wound due to the composition of the paper. Pain receptors are continuously irritated by the combination of cellulosic wood pulp, rags, grasses, chemically-coated fibres, and bacteria that make up paper. Paper may also include other additives such as chalk or china clay to make the paper easier to write on. Sizing gives us a great variety of papers to suit the specific type of ink we wish to apply, but involves mixing many additives into the pulp to determine the correct surface absorbency.

Paper cuts from envelopes can be particularly stingy due to the layer of glue along the sealing tab. The glue is made from gum arabic, which although edible to humans, can pack a punch if embedded inside a wound. Gum arabic is the product of hardened sap taken from two species of acacia trees, and is also used as a binder for watercolour painting, and in traditional lithography.

Magnified, adhesive on an envelope looks shiny and jelly-like.

Figure 5: Gum arabic glue at x30 magnification coats the paper tab on an envelope.

A close up of an envelope tab with adhesive.

Figure 6: Gum arabic glue at x200 magnification coats the paper tab on an envelope. When the gum is moistened it forms a seal with the adjacent paper.

When skin closes around the paper cut these foreign particles become trapped inside causing a great deal of pain. This is why a cut from a razor blade is usually less painful than that from a paper cut: razor blades make clean incisions without leaving behind any foreign particles. It hurts initially, but the pain soon ebbs away. Bleeding caused by a razor cut helps to wash away any infection-causing particles, while paper cuts bleed very little (this also reduces your chances of getting any sympathy!)

Three blades of a razor are shown at close up, showing sharp edges.

Figure 7: A razor blade at x50 magnification.

The sharp and smooth edge of the razor is even more apparent at high magnification.

Figure 8: A razor blade at x200 magnification. The razor’s edge is smooth allowing a clean incision without introducing foreign bodies.

It might seem strange that sometimes needles for a flu jab require quite a bit of force to pierce the skin, yet paper (PAPER!) can slice through. This is due to the random orientation of collagen fibres in our skin allowing us to withstand pinpoint forces.

The tip of a finger is being poked by a needle.

Figure 9: Human skin feeling the pressure under a sharp pin (x20 magnification).

Our skin does not have a comparable strength against shearing forces such as those exerted by paper, and so, we are susceptible to the small but mighty paper cut. Libraries can be dangerous places. Be careful out there!

Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)

 

Further learning:

Paper May Be the Unkindest Cut, Scientific American, Volume 306, Issue 3 , Mar 1, 2012 |By Steve Mirsky 

Why Do Paper Cuts Hurt So Much? Scientific American - Instant Egghead #25

 

09 October 2014

Burnt Cotton Collection survey enables digitisation prioritisation

With the recent multispectral imaging of the burnt Magna Carta hitting the headlines following our blog post on the 800 year old Magna Carta revealing its secrets, there has been a lot of interest in the conservation work required to protect such items. The so-called “burnt” Magna Carta (Cotton charter xiii 31a) suffered fire damage in Ashburnham House in Westminster on 23 October 1731. This 1215 exemplification formed part of an exquisite library assembled by English antiquarian Sir Robert Cotton during his lifetime (1571-1631). Cotton’s library forms the basis of our collections at the British Library today, and a recent conservation survey of the burnt material has allowed us to categorise items based on their relative condition, enabling us to immediately identify items suitable for digitisation. This has vastly improved our workflow allowing digital access to a wider audience in a shorter time. 

This piece includes material from an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in Journal of the Institute of Conservation on 29 November 2013, available online at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19455224.2013.815122#.VFDzZvmsWtB.

You can see the Magna Carta is suffering from fire damage--the parchment is burnt, discoloured, and the text appears unreadable. You can see the seal hanging from the bottom of the parchment.

A close-up of the disfigured wax seal. The seal rests in a mount which is cut just bigger than its shape--this keeps it in place and secure.
The burnt 1215 Magna Carta suffered fire damage and subsequent interventive treatment. The vulnerable wax seal of the charter melted and distorted in the intense heat. 

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In the Ashburnham House fire a quarter of the manuscripts were either damaged or destroyed in the blaze, and attempts to extinguish it exacerbated that damage. The documents suffered shrinkage and distortion, bindings were carbonised, ink was lost, soot and dirt was ingrained, tide marks formed on the leaves, and parchment (animal skin) gelatinised. Gelatine is the brownish end-product of a rapid degradation of parchment collagen. Remedial work caused further damage with many of the manuscripts broken up and rebound during salvage. Incorrect reassembly impacted on the codicological history of many of the manuscripts. The darkened gelatinous material which formed along the edge of the parchment was trimmed away from some manuscripts. Unidentified fragments were gathered and put into drawers.

The collection was untouched until the establishment of the British Museum in 1753, where over the coming years invasive treatments were recorded. To separate the leaves which had glued together by gelatinisation, about 40 manuscripts were immersed in a hot aqueous solution (likely to be ethanol in water). Incisions along the parchment edges were made to allow the leaves to dry flat under pressure. Despite the efforts, leaves remained brittle and fragile. Inlaying of parchment fragments into paper was completed in 1856, but a huge number of fragments remained loose and unidentified. While the edges of loose fragments were protected by this inlaying method, over time the degradation of materials caused further concern. The brittle fragments were susceptible to break with every page turn, and acidic paper in heavy volumes tended to cockle preventing the volumes from closing.

The volume rests open, with the left side being supported by a foam wedge and the pages held open with a snake weight on the left side. The burnt parchment pages have been adhered to a tan paper, and all pages rebound.
Cotton Tiberius A. XII. Parchment fragments were attached to paper in the nineteenth century and incisions were cut along the sides to allow the leaves to lay flat.

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Our conservators surveyed 243 items from the Cotton Collection, including 21 paper manuscripts. Items were graded on their physical, chemical and overall conditions based on an assessment of the state of the binding and parchment substrate, and thus rated for treatment priority.

A bar graph showing different characteristics (active mould, old repairs, staining, etc.) and the percentage of items with that characteristic.
Results of the survey of 243 Cotton Collection volumes. From Figure 2 and 5 in The conservation of the burnt Cotton Collection in the Journal of the Institute of Conservation, 2013
A pie chart showing different grades of damage, from Uniform Good Condition (A) to High Degree of Damage (E).
Pattern of damage where D (High degree of damage) accounts for 61% of the total items examined. From Figure 2 and 5 in The conservation of the burnt Cotton Collection in the Journal of the Institute of Conservation, 2013.

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The nineteenth century treatments have been fundamental to the preservation of the Cotton Collection, and many items thought to be lost have since been rediscovered. The condition survey enabled us to quantify the damage and develop a strategy for the long-term preservation of the burnt Cotton Collection. Items identified as being fragile were immediately withdrawn from library use, while research to determine the best methods of stabilising and housing the items was undertaken. The use of analytical techniques such as near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy for assessing the deterioration or parchment has enabled a better awareness of the nature and condition of these manuscripts. This information has helped to support the choice and realistic scope of conservation methods. In the case of the burnt Cotton Collection, the future project is now directed towards a preservation approach, including digitisiation and multispectral imaging, rather than an interventive conservation one.

Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina), Imaging Scientist

 

Further reading

The conservation of the burnt Cotton Collection, Mariluz Beltran de Guevara and Paul Garside, Journal of the Institute of Conservation, 2013. Vol. 36, No. 2, 145 –161, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19455224.2013.815122

Collection Care fired up for BBC Four appearance, Christina Duffy: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/collectioncare/2013/08/collection-care-fired-up-for-bbc-four-appearance.html

Crisp as a Poppadom, Ann Tomalak: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2013/02/crisp-as-a-poppadom.html

‘Their Present Miserable State of Cremation' the Restoration of the Cotton Library, Andrew Prescott: http://www.uky.edu/~kiernan/eBeo_archives/articles90s/ajp-pms.htm

07 October 2014

800 year old Magna Carta manuscript reveals its secrets

Ground-breaking multispectral imaging work of the British Library’s burnt copy of the 1215 Magna Carta has recovered text which has not been read in 250 years.

This work has been completed by British Library conservators and scientists in preparation for next year’s 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta. The so-called ‘burnt’ copy of the Magna Carta is one of four original manuscripts from 1215 which survive. In February 2015, the four manuscripts will be brought together for the first time in history for a special 3-day event, which will allow further academic study of them side by side, as well as the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for 1,215 people to view them together.

Megavision multispectral imaging camera with Magna Carta.  A multispectral colour image of a section of Magna Carta showing loss of legibility.

A processed image of the charter revealing text thought to be lost forever.

Figure 1: Top left: The “Burnt Magna Carta” ready for multispectral imaging. Top right: A real colour image of a section of the charter. Bottom: A processed image of the charter enhanced to reveal text thought to be lost.

The British Library owns two of the original 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts (the other two are held at Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals). The story of the ‘Burnt Magna Carta’ (Cotton charter xiii 31a) held in our collections is a truly remarkable one of survival against all the odds. In 1731 it was damaged in the Cotton Library fire, and subsequently staff at the British Museum Library used 19th century techniques to try to flatten and mount it, which has contributed to its current condition today rendering the text very difficult to see.

The multispectral imaging of the burnt Magna Carta was conducted as part of a major project involving the reframing and scientific analysis of all the Magna Carta charters held in our collections ahead of the 2015 anniversary. The Collection Care team provided an initial examination of the original frames to determine their structure and composition. All original mounting materials in contact with the charters were tested using infrared spectroscopy, pH tests, and lignin tests to determine their stability and compatibility with new materials. Once the charters were removed from the frames, near-infrared spectroscopy and high resolution digital microscopy was used to investigate the condition of the ink and parchment as part of the overall condition assessment.

With the frames and glass removed there was a rare opportunity to employ the cutting-edge technique of multispectral imaging enabling us to virtually peel away the layers of damage currently affecting the manuscript.

Conservator Kumiko Matsuoka Conservation Scientist Dr Paul Garside

Conservator Gavin Moorhead Imaging Scientist Dr Christina Duffy
Figure 2: Clockwise from top: Temporary housing is prepared to store the charter when removed from the frame; the original wooden frames are removed to enable access to the charter; the charter is released from the mounting; once the charter is free from the frame it can undergo condition assessment.

The "Burnt Magna Carta" also known as Cotton charter xiii 31a.  A microscopy image showing detail of iron gall ink loss.

Figure 3: Left: The “burnt” copy of the Magna Carta, Cotton charter xiii 31a, is one of the four original manuscripts from 1215 which survive. Right: Much of the ink has been lost with only a few remaining initials (shown here at 50x magnification).

Multispectral imaging is a non-destructive, non-invasive imaging technique using different colour lights, including ultra-violet and infrared, to recover faded and lost text. A high-resolution camera is securely mounted directly over the charter, which is then illuminated with LED lights ranging from the ultraviolet at a wavelength of 365 nm, through the visible region, and right up to a wavelength of 1050 nm in the infrared region. The chemical composition of the material in the charter is varied (ink, parchment, etc.), and so reacts differently to the lights. We are able to see, and capture, additional information undetectable by the human eye.

Figure 4:  An animated gif comparing the original colour and processed images. 

Ultra-violet colour image created by combining three captured images (UV light with R, G, and B filters).

Figure 5: A colour UV image reveals regions of text which are completely faded to the naked eye.

Using this technology and expertise available to us in the 21st century, we are able to preserve the Magna Carta for the next 800 years and present these iconic documents in the best possible condition for visitors who come to see them during the anniversary year.

Multispectral data is still being processed and will be published along with other scientific data collected after the British Library’s exhibition ‘Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy’, which runs from 13 March – 1 September 2015.

 

Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina), Imaging Scientist

29 July 2014

Collection Care Top Ten

The Collection Care blog is a year old this week! It has been a wonderful 12 months for the blog, due largely to you, our loyal readers. Since fluid, food and flames are generally considered our nemeses, we'll hold off on the champagne and birthday cake. Instead, to celebrate, we have compiled a list of the top ten most popular posts. Boy, do we know how to party!

10. A-a-a-choo! Collection Care's Dust Busters: In this post we shared the work of our dust busting team who monitor dust in order to protect our collections. We took a look at what exactly dust is, and how to balance the benefits and risk of dust minimisation programs. Who you gonna call? Collection Care! 

The tops of two rows of various-coloured books are shown with ample dust visible on top of the textblocks.

 

9. Goldfinisher: He's the man, the man with the Midas Touch: Doug Mitchell is our book conservator and gold finisher extraordinaire. Doug demonstrated the blind tooling technique and showed us the variety of tools involved in the process.

A conservator picks up a piece of gold foil. Next to him is a book in a wooden press, with the spine facing upwards.

8. Sea Snails & Purple Parchment: Did you know that the colour purple found in many of our manuscripts comes from sea snails? The snails are essentially "milked" to extract a gland secretion in a very labour intensive process. 

A variety of small snails in shades of brown, tan, and white on top of a rock.

7. A Guide to BL book stamps: You've seen them on our collections and online, but what do they mean? Library stamps are generally divided into four types according to when they were in use, ranging from 1753 to the present day.

Two British Museum stamps: one in blue and one in red. The stamp features a circular crest in the middle with a crown on top. On the left side of the crest is a lion and on the right side is a unicorn. Below the crest and animals is a banner and above is text which reads BRITISH MUSEUM.

6. Digitisation as a preservation tool; some considerations: This post by Qatar Project conservator Flavio Marzo confronted the growing public expectation for online access. Marzo challenged the conservation community to use mass digitisation as an opportunity for the long term preservation of historical items and their features.

A screenshot of Microsoft Sharepoint. This shows various items arranged by shelfmark, and what stage in the conservation workflow each item is at.

5. The Bookie Monster: attack of the creepy crawlies!: Here we delved into the underworld of pesky pests who seek to eat their way through our collections. We identified some of the primary culprits and showed examples of damage to look out for.

A closeup of pest damage on paper. Small holes and tunnels are visible.

4. Cleaning and rehanging the Kitaj tapestry: What happens when creepy crawlies do successfully attack? This year we had to don our hard hats to remove the enormous R.B. Kitaj Tapestry If not, not from the St Pancras Entrance Hall for conservation cleaning. The tapestry was hoovered and frozen to remove all pests and surface dust before rehanging in the hall. It was a major operation and a complete success. We even made a time-lapse video!

Three people in hard hats stand on scaffolding and re-hang the large tapestry.

3. Fail to prepare for digitisation, prepare to fail at digitising!: Digitisation is much more than just taking a picture. With mass digitisation projects being announced every month, we shared what we've learned when it comes to preparation. We listed five main outcomes of pre-digitisation checks, which highlighted the potential risks in each case.

Four images showing books opened at various angles: the top two images are books open at gentle angles on black foam book wedges, the bottom left is a paperback book opened without any supports and the bottom right shows a hardback book being opened with no supports.

2. Books depicted in art: Being surrounded by books everyday is all part of the day job for us here in Collection Care. As you can imagine, seeing books in paintings can be quite thrilling. In this lavishly illustrated post we saw that some historical paintings contain a wealth of information about bindings that were not well-documented in the trade.

On the left is a painting of a man in black with white collars and cuffs in front of a book shelf. He is also holding a book in his hand. On the right is a closeup of some of the books on the bookshelf.

1. Under the Microscope with the Lindisfarne Gospels: Finally, in our most popular post, we shared microscopy images of the Lindisfarne Gospels collected by our team during a condition assessment. At up to 200 times magnification the medieval artistry and attention to detail blew us all away.

A magnified image of ink. Some brown dots sit high on the surface of the parchment. A brown ink shows the lettering with a teal ink resting inside letters (think filling in an o).

Many thanks to all our readers from the Collection Care team. As ever, we are truly grateful for your following and are always keen to hear from you. Do let us know if there are any topics you'd like to read about, and don't forget you can subscribe to the blog at the top of this page, and follow us on Twitter: @BL_CollCare


Christina Duffy (@DuffyChristina)

27 July 2014

Fleas, mould and plant cells: under a 17th century microscope with Robert Hooke

This week we celebrate the 379th birthday of Robert Hooke, a Fellow of the Royal Society and key figure of early modern natural history and natural philosophy, born on 28 July 1635. Many of Hooke's innovations paved the way for a more rigorous scientific analysis of materials, for which we in Collection Care are very grateful. To mark the occasion we are thrilled to host a guest post from Puck Fletcher who has just completed a doctorate on space, spatiality, and epistemology in Hooke, Boyle, Newton, and Milton at the University of Sussex:

Hooke’s most famous work is the Micrographia: or Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries thereupon, published in 1665 by the Royal Society. It is a descriptive work detailing sixty observations of specimens at magnification, starting with the point of a needle, ranging through silk, glass drops, hair, and various plants, seeds, and tiny insects, all viewed through a microscope. It closes with observations of the fixed stars and the moon as seen through a telescope. 

The top cross section is a circle. The  negative space is black, and there are two 'patches' of texture: cross section B on the left and A on the right. A is amorphous in shape, and somewhat giraffe-like in texture--it is made up of various dots which are not perfect circles. B shows a more rectangular texture and comes to somewhat of a point at the bottom. Below this is a branch.
Two cross sections of cork and a ‘sensible’ plant. In his description of cork, Hooke coined the term ‘cell’ for biological contexts. Image source.

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The project was a collaborative one started by Christopher Wren who, in 1661, so impressed Charles II with his drawings of magnified fleas and lice (possibly the ones on which the corresponding Micrographia engravings were based), that the King requested more. Wren persuaded Hooke to undertake the bulk of this work and over the next few years, Hooke amassed his collection of observations, regularly bringing new drawings to the meetings of the Royal Society for approval by the other members.  

An illustration of a flea in profile. The fleas face is to the right.
Among the drawings and observations in Micrographia is this famous and extraordinarily detailed large-scale illustration of a flea. BL Shelfmark: 435.e.19, XXXIV. Image copyright The British Library Board. Read more.

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The impressive folio volume contains thirty-eight highly detailed engravings, which turned the book into an instant bestseller and secured its reputation as the most beautiful and lavish work of early European microscopy. The sense of magnified scale is staggering. A head or body louse, for example, is just a few millimetres long, but the engraved image is 52 cm long, roughly two hundred times actual size, a level of exaggeration that is emphasized by the fact that, large as the volume is, the reader must still unfold the oversized plate to view it.

Head or body louse from below.
Engraved image of a head or body louse, roughly two hundred times actual size.

CC zero  Image source.

For his readers, Hooke’s illustrations brought a whole new world into view. Hooke captures this excitement in his preface, describing how, by means of instruments like the microscope, ‘the Earth it self, which lyes so neer us, under our feet, shews quite a new thing to us, and in every little particle of its matter; we now behold almost as great a variety of Creatures, as we were able before to reckon up in the whole Universe it self.’ Pepys was famously so enamoured of the book that the day after he brought home his copy, he stayed up until two in the morning reading it, describing Micrographia in his diary as, ‘the most ingenious book that I ever read in my life’. 

When looking at the large-scale, clear engravings in Micrographia, it is easy to imagine that this was the view Hooke had in his lens and that his task was simply that of looking and then recording what he saw. However, the practice was much more difficult and required considerable skill and experience – when Pepys looked through his microscope, he was disappointed to find that at first he couldn’t see anything at all! The lens making technology of the time meant that impediments to clear vision such as chromatic aberration or artefacts in the glass were not uncommon, and the view through a microscope was often blurred, distorted, and dark. It was difficult to make out true colours or to tell whether a shadow was a depression or protuberance, and the field of vision was quite small.1

Part of Hooke’s contribution in Micrographia was his skill as an instrument maker and technician. Although, as he reports, he had difficulties in seeing through his microscope, Hooke made his own adaptations to the commercially manufactured instrument, in particular devising an improved light source, which he called his ‘scotoscope’.  

A drawing of the 'Scotoscope'. The eyepiece one would look down is similar to what we use today, if a bit more 'pretty' with floral engravings. To the left of that is a flame providing light.
The microscope, featuring an improved light source.

CC zero  Image source.

Hooke also worked diligently and looked very carefully, making multiple observations from multiple angles, of multiple specimens, created with various preparation techniques, to gather enough visual information to be able to produce a single image of what the whole object looked like, as near as he could make out. For Hooke, the act of looking through the microscope and recording what he saw was an interpretive one.

Hooke’s observations have been praised by modern scientists for their accuracy, and Howard Gest even credits him with the first accurate description and depiction of a microorganism, the microfungus Mucor, described by Hooke as ‘blue mould’.2 

In this illustration, blue mould looks flower like, with stems coming from the surface, some of which end in circular balls and others which end in petal-like shapes.
The microfungus Mucor (‘blue mould’).

CC zero  Image source.

In his preface to Micrographia, Hooke heralds ‘artificial Instruments’ such as the microscope and telescope, and the methods of the new science based on observation and the careful and rational scrutiny of results, as at least partial correctives for the failings of fallen man and his limited sensory faculties. He also looks forward to the technology of the future, which he believes will enable man to see even more clearly.

‘’Tis not unlikely, but that there may be yet invented several other helps for the eye, at much exceeding those already found, as those do the bare eye, such as by which we may perhaps be able to discover living Creatures in the Moon, or other Planets, the figures of the compounding Particles of matter, and the particular Schematisms and Textures of Bodies.

Puck Fletcher

1Brian Ford’s wonderful book, Images of Science: A History of Scientific Illustration (The British Library, 1992), pp. 182–83, contains a photograph of the partial and distorted view through the sort of lens used by Hooke.  

2Gest, Howard, ‘The Remarkable Vision of Robert Hooke (1635–1703): First Observer of the Microbial World, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 48.2 (2005), 266–72 (p. 267).

19 July 2014

Secret underdrawings & cover-ups in the Mewar Ramayana

The Ramayana – “Rama’s journey” – is one of India’s oldest stories having first being written some two and a half thousand years ago. It follows the hero Rama from his birth and childhood in Ayodhya to his exile in the forest where his wife Sita is kidnapped by the wicked (and ten-headed!) demon king Ravana. With his valorous brother Lakshmana and helped by an army of monkeys and bears he leads the search for Sita, finally rescuing her from Ravana’s stronghold in Lanka. It is an epic story embodying the Hindu idea of dharma (duty). There are several thousand known surviving manuscripts and many different versions of the story across Asia. The Mewar Ramayana is one of the finest copies of the work, lavishly illustrated with over 450 paintings in large format. Recent digitisation by the British Library in partnership with leading Indian institutions has reunited the long-separated text and it can be viewed online featuring an introduction including links to contextual documents and high resolution images in ‘Turning the Pages’ with descriptive text and audio.

Multispectral imaging

We recently examined two paintings from the Mewar Ramayana using multispectral imaging to investigate the methods and workflow of the artist. Images are captured over fourteen spectral bands from the ultraviolet (UV: 365 nm) to the infrared (IR: 1050 nm) revealing information about underdrawings and techniques that can’t be seen under normal light. The two full page paintings are illustrations from Book 6 (Yuddhakanda, Book of war) of the Mewar Ramayana manuscript.

Book 6 fol. 27r (Add. MS 15297(1), f.27r)


Book 6 fol. 27r depicting the siege of Lanka in colour, ultraviolet, infrared, and blue light with an orange filter. Rama’s army of monkeys takes control of the four gates of the city as the ten-headed Ravana leads the defence after consulting his ministers.

Book 6 fol. 27r: Rama’s army of monkeys and bears hurl stones at their enemies. White pigment, possibly added as a later touch up, is observed under ultraviolet light on the elbows, arms and tails of the attacking monkeys.

Book 6 fol. 27r: Colour, ultraviolet, infrared sequence. In front of the gates to Lanka, a man struggles with a monkey. Under ultraviolet light the rough application of paint is evident on the man's hand where no attempt is made to stay within the lines. In the infrared image, the guidelines used to initially draw the figure (chest, back, elbow) are observed.

Book 6 fol. 27r: An archer fends off the monkey army. Incorporating high levels of detail in these paintings often led to a change in design layout. In the painting the archer is shown to be sitting cross-legged on the cart, but in the infrared image he is standing. The late addition of the cart is evident by the over painting of the wheel in order to indicate its attachment to the main frame of the cart. Other alterations were made such as the size of the soldier's orange foot in the top left, and the painting over of an isolated monkey tail on the horse's body in the bottom left.

Book 6 fol. 142r (Add. MS 15297(1), f.142r)

As the battle escalates Rama’s brother Lakshmana is seriously wounded by a spear. Hanuman the monkeys’ army general is sent to the Himalayas to pick up medicinal herbs.

Book 6 fol. 142r: Colour, ultraviolet, infrared, and blue light with an orange filter sequence of the painting.

Book 6 fol. 142r: Colour, ultraviolet, infrared sequence. Rama’s loyal brother Lakshmana is seriously wounded by a spear. In the ultraviolet image we can see touch-ups on the hands, arms and legs of the two monkeys trying to take the spear off Lakshmana. Under infrared light we can see underdrawings of the far left monkey who was originally positioned higher up.

Book 6 fol. 142r: Colour, ultraviolet, infrared sequence. In the ultraviolet image alterations to Rama’s clothing and the direction of arrows is observed. Under infrared light, the boat at the top of the painting with the three figures is shown to have been altered. It may have started out as a representation of deities in the sky similar to those seen in Mughal Mahabharata (Razmnamah) Or. 12076 f.76r. Other arrow positions have also changed.

Book 6 fol. 142r: In the infrared image, a different position for the ten-headed Ravana is shown to the right, where a single face in profile is revealed adjacent to a vertical line. This is completely obscured by the green pigment which we now see.

Multispectral imaging has proven a wonderful technology in allowing us to study collection items in new and exciting ways. These are just some of the observations made and we hope to share more in the future.

Christina Duffy (Imaging Scientist) and Pasquale Manzo (Curator Sanskrit)

09 June 2014

Know Your Yellow!

This rather ancient looking Qur’an is deceptively young. In fact, it is thought to date back to the early 18th to late 19th century. The style is typical of African manuscripts originating south of the Sahara, and was presented to Lt. Heygate of the British Army, in Nigeria in 1916.

A book in a rectangular dark brown leather wrapping lies on a grey background. The picture is sideways, so that the head edge of the book is on the right-hand side. The wrapping is decorated with concentric rectangles of dots and lines imprinted onto the leather. A triangular leather flap folds over the front of the book from the spine edge, which is at the top of the photo. A leather thong is threaded through the point of the triangle. The leather is faded and is splitting at the spine edge.
Front
The unbound textblock lies in the middle of the open wrapper, with a dark brown leather board on top of it. The leather of the underside of the wrapper is much paler leather of a light orange-pink colour. There is an old repair on the right-hand side of the wrapper, where a tear has been repaired with white thread.
Front Open

CC by Above: Manuscript in its wrapper. Below: Manuscript sandwiched between its boards with the wrapper open

It has a number of components; starting from the inside, there is an unbound textblock with thick tanned, haired goatskin boards on top and bottom. This in encased in a goatskin wrapper, which then fits into a goatskin satchel. This multi-faceted construction is similar to other 19th-century Qur’ans from West Africa, south of the Sahara.

A rectangular satchel with a triangular flap lies on a background of dark grey foam. The main body of the satchel is made from an orange-brown leather, and is decorated with square and diamond-shaped motifs of red-brown leather. The edge of the flap has a dark brown leather trim and the top edge of the satchel has a wide strip of the same, decorated with vertical and horizontal lines. The strap of the satchel is made from plaited strips of leather.
Satchel

CC by Satchel lying on inert grey foam, with acid-free tissue padding to retain shape

The manuscript lies open to its first page, on a grey background. The pages are a creamy-brown colour and have rounded corners, with creases and small tears to the page edges. A piece of paler paper with black handwriting on it lies on top of the first page. To the right of the textblock is the top board, with its underside facing upwards. This is still covered with animal hair, which has a black and white spotted pattern.
First page

CC by Left: Manuscript open at first page with the letter detailing its origin inserted

As exciting as it is to have this fascinating object in the studio, it is responsible for some real headaches as a result of one particular element of its composition. Before an object comes to the studio to be worked on, a conservator will often carry out an assessment of its condition and write a treatment proposal, estimating the time and materials likely to be used. In this case, when my colleagues carried out the assessment, a large proportion of the textblock was ‘blocking’. This simply means pages were sticking together, which meant that most of the book was unreadable.

Strangely, in the period of time between the book arriving in the studio and the point where I took it out of the safe to work on, around a third of the textblock had released itself. This is not something conservators are trained to expect; most things get worse over time, so to see something improve without our intervention was exciting!

The only conclusion we can come to is that the studio’s environment is slightly different to the one the manuscript came from. The difference in the moisture levels in the air is the most likely culprit. 

A page of the manuscript showing Arabic writing in red and black ink. The picture is sideways, so that the text flows from the bottom to top of the photo. There are yellow dots placed throughout the areas of text.
Pigment detail

CC by Detail of yellow pigment, orpiment

On closer inspection the ‘sticky element’ was discovered to be yellow dots painted intermittently within the text areas. These were tested by our Conservation Science team, and found to be orpiment (a poisonous, arsenic-based yellow pigment) mixed in a medium of gelatine. It is the gelatine that is fairly hydrophilic, which would have softened in a humid environment and stuck to anything in direct contact with it.

So the obvious solution to this is to change the humidity levels around the volume further, to release all of the sticky dots. If only it were simple! The brown ink you can see in the image is most likely iron gall ink, which has been used as a writing medium since ancient times. Its main characteristic is that once it’s a few years old it turns from purplish-black to brown. Another, less innocuous ageing property, is its potential to ‘burn’ through the paper it sits on. The extent of the damage can depend on the recipe the scribe followed to make the ink; some are more acidic than others. But it can also depend on the level of humidity the ink has encountered in its lifespan. The introduction of medium to high levels of moisture, even in vapour form, can solubilise ions contained in the ink, which can catalyse the oxidative degradation of the cellulose fibres of the paper. This leads to weakened paper and potentially a severely damaged collection item.

A page from the manuscript, featuring an illustration. The picture is sideways, so that the head edge of the book is on the right-hand side. The illustration lies across the centre of the page and consists of a rectangle divided into three panels. The two outermost panels are subdivided into smaller squares and triangles, coloured in white, yellow and red. The central panel has a pattern of red and yellow stripes interwoven with each other. There is also a small circular motif in black, yellow and red in the left margin. The text above the main illustration is in black and red ink.
Text

CC by Detail of one of the illustrations amongst the text

So keeping it dry is the best option for the ink, but pulling apart the pages without moisture could lead to skinning off the top layer of fibres, or even tearing paper.

We’re still deciding what to do about this sticky dilemma, but as ever with conservation decisions, we will have to balance our need to enable access by our readers to collection items with the wellbeing of individual items. Never a dull moment!

Jo Blackburn

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