Bruce Holsinger, international team of researchers investigate parchment's origins

December 7, 2015

Professor Bruce Holsinger has led an investigation into the origins and composition of parchment, specifically the variety called "uterine vellum." Holsinger, in collaboration with British scientists Sarah Fiddyment and Matthew Collins from the bioarchaeology department at the University of York in the United Kingdom, brought together international collaborators from several disciplines across the humanities and the natural sciences to look into what uterine vellum was actually made of. The composition has remained a mystery until recently, when the researchers figured out how to analyze the material without destroying it. They concluded that much of it could not have been made of premature or stillborn animals, nor of small mammal skins, such as rabbits or rats, as scholars have speculated; it was made of cow, goat, and sheep skin, in the medieval period anyway. Their research was recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Holsinger, a medieval scholar, has been studying the history, theology, technology and science of parchment for several years, with a book on the horizon for 2016