Ancient documents can provide fascinating looks into the people and cultures who came before us. Getting the chance to peek into our own pasts can give great insight into our current societies and even our personal lives. A lot of time, money and effort can go into recovering and preserving these relics – probably to a far greater extent than we imagine when viewing the results at a museum or online. These three examples of the pains taken to restore handwriting samples are likely some of the more extreme efforts.

Thawed Out Antarctic Exploration Journal

When conducting their ongoing summer “thaw out” projects at the site of explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s South Pole camp, the Antarctic Heritage Trust uncovered the observation notebook of Scott’s surgeon and photographer George Murray Levick. The only problem: This century-old book was completely saturated and packed in ice. The Trust brought in paper conservator Aline Leclercq to put the book back together, a process which they documented in the short CNN film below.

Read the full CNN article here:

Parchment DNA Testing

Sometimes it’s not the writing that provides interesting clues to the past, but the paper on which it was written. These writing surfaces, coming from living materials, can reveal interesting genetic information about the animals used to make them. For example, wool can provide insight into the genetic structures of sheep throughout the ages and therefore how agricultural practices have evolved. Running parchment and other antique fabric samples through DNA tests has become an increasingly common practice for researchers looking to better understand the development of human society and industry.

Spectral Imaging Used to Decipher Livingston’s Field Notebook

Spectral imaging is an incredibly precise type of photography that captures a complete colour spectrum at every point of an image plane. Often used in the scientific fields for looking at microscopic images, the technique was recently applied to decipher the faded field notes of the Scottish medical missionary Dr. David Livingstone. When he was stranded in the Congo in 1871, Livingstone kept extensive notes by using the juice from berry seeds to write on copies of The Standard newspaper. It wasn’t until teams from UCLA, the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Birbeck, University of London got together with spectral imaging technology that his writings were made legible. What they uncovered were deeply personal insights into a man torn between his missionary instincts and the brutality (including the Nyangwe Massacre) of which he had become a part.


For more information, check out the full article at The History Blog:


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