Scientists discover way to slow decay of old manuscripts
Scientists have discovered a way to slow the disintegration of old manuscripts. The technique involves bathing papers in an organic solution doped with alkali compounds and antioxidants. These help to tie up atoms of copper and other metals in the ink that may eat the paper away. It is the first successful treatment that is not water-based, the researchers announced at the annual conference of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Dublin on 5 September.
This means it can be applied to documents without fear of washing away soluble scribbles, causing books to swell or ruining leather bindings.
The researchers, who have applied for a patent, say the bath could help to protect kilometres of ancient documents and manuscripts throughout the world's libraries for many years to come. They think it should be ready for commercial use in a few years' time.
Conservators have long known that there is something corrosive about inks from the Middle Ages. Many documents, from sketches by famous artists to political treaties, have fallen apart over time, with holes appearing where the ink used to be.
To tackle this problem, Jana Kolar, head of the InkCor project based at the National and University Library of Slovenia in Ljubljana, and her colleagues sought to uncover the exact constituents of the inks.
Early analyses had indicated that medieval inks are often full of iron. Free atoms of this metal in the ink react with the air to create oxygen radicals, reactive atoms that break down cellulose, yellowing paper and making it brittle. To the horror of scholars, after hundreds of years this can cause the paper to fall apart.
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