The animal-skin pages used in early medieval manuscripts contain genetic material capable of solving long-standing mysteries about the works, according to new research.
Before paper was widely used, European books were written on parchment made from the treated skins of calves, young sheep, and goats.
"What I was looking for was a way to date and localize these manuscripts," said Timothy Stinson, an English professor at North Carolina State University.
"In the past, we used an analysis of handwriting and an analysis of the dialects" of the scribes who created the manuscripts, Stinson said.
"But these were fairly inexact," he said, noting that dates determined by this method could be off by a half-century.
Stinson wondered if the pages held enough intact animal DNA to provide useful information, so he called his brother, C. Michael Stinson, a biologist at Southside Virginia Community College.
After several years of testing, Timothy Stinson will present the brothers' preliminary findings next week at the annual meeting of the Bibliographical Society of America in New York City.
If it works, this is damned kewl.
Sorry about the invective, but that's just awesome if true.