Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the University of Birmingham's online course, The Birmingham Qur'an: Its Journey from the Islamic Heartlands. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds SARAH KILROY: So in this section we’re going to look at how modern technology can help us understand more about manuscripts. And I’m going to talk about multispectral imaging and what that can tell us about palimpsests. So a palimpsest is when a manuscript has been reused or recycled. So you have a parchment manuscript and then let’s say a couple of hundred years later, they need the parchment again. So rather than create a new parchment, they wash it, scrape off the old text, rotate the parchment 390 degrees, and use it again as a fresh manuscript. And that is known as a palimpsest. So I’ve got an example of a palimpsest in the collection here.

Skip to 0 minutes and 47 seconds This is an Arabic Christian manuscript, but underneath, it is originally a Greek manuscript. And it’s a really nice example of Greek underwriting and Arabic overwriting. In fact, that the Greek underwriting is still quite clear on this in most parts. But in some palimpsests, it’s quite difficult to discern the underwriting. It’s not always visible to the naked eye. But on this example, it is. And I’m just using this as an example to show you. But this is one of the technologies that we’ve employed in the Birmingham Qur’an because there was a lot of question. Is it a palimpsest? Has it been reused, recycled? Is it a really 7th century text?

Skip to 1 minute and 28 seconds So we had a form of imaging done, called multispectral imaging, and it would have shown anything that was not visible to the naked eye. So multispectral imaging takes a series of images through different colours of the spectrum. And we can process the results and it will heighten anything that isn’t visible to the naked eye. With the Birmingham Qur’an manuscripts, when we had multispectral imaging done, you’ll be able to see in the photographs that there was no evidence of any underwriting. And we had this palimpsest multispectral imaged at the same time as a known palimpsest, and we were able to compare the results. So we get a nice result where we can see the underwriting clearly coming out on this.

Skip to 2 minutes and 10 seconds And we can see on the Birmingham Qur’an, there’s only one set of writing. This helps us establish the authenticity that the Qur’an is of the 7th century. So another form of scientific analysis of manuscripts that I’d like to talk about is species analysis. So species analysis can be carried out on parchments by analysing the collagen. And there’s no need for any form of destructive testing to do species analysis. The byproduct of the cleaning process, which are razor gratings, contain a small amount of collagen that they lift from the surface of the parchment. And that collagen can be extracted and the species established just from that very small amount. And this is a technology that’s being developed at York University.

Skip to 2 minutes and 57 seconds And very kindly, they did do testing for us on the Birmingham Qur’an manuscript. Currently, it was inconclusive. We had too much human keratin contamination to be able to establish for sure what kind of animal the parchment was made of, whether it was goat or sheep. Collagen analysis to establish a species is really helpful, because conservatives in the past have had to look at the follicle pattern on the skin to establish what kind of animal the parchment is made of. So a skin that’s made of a cow or skin that’s made of a sheep will have a slightly different follicle pattern. But it can be very difficult.

Skip to 3 minutes and 36 seconds If you think, a manuscript can be 1400 years old, to see that pattern still. Manuscripts are also prepared by different preparation methods, such as putting a chalk layer over the surface. No this chalk layer could then sit into the follicle pattern and obscure it to make a lovely, smooth, flat surface, but it doesn’t help us if we want to establish what kind of animal it is. So this new technology of species analysis through collagen analysis is really helpful.

Skip to 4 minutes and 9 seconds SPEAKER 1: Pleasure to listen to you, too. [LAUGHTER]

Skip to 4 minutes and 16 seconds SARAH KILROY: So what we’ve got here is a stack of images taken through different colours of the spectrum. And this is how the Qur’an was imaged with the multispectral imaging. And each image will show us something different. It reflects something different back from the manuscript. So it can tell us about damage, water damage, differences in the content of the inks. And then you can use this in conjunction with a science such as X-ray fluorescence, which we’ll probably do next on the manuscript, to establish things like the constituents of the inks. So we’re creating images for future research, and we have about a quarter of a terabyte of data that can be used for future research projects about this manuscript.

Skip to 4 minutes and 56 seconds So here, we’ve got the multispectral imaging that was done on our known sample of the palimpsest. And you can see quite nicely the comparison of the photograph in black and white, where the Arabic writing is very clear, with this processed image from the multispectral imaging, where the underwriting in Greek is clear. And you can see that running side to side. And that’s a nice example of how a palimpsest appears through multispectral imaging. And if I scroll up to the Birmingham Qur’an through the same kind of imaging, you can see it’s very pure. We just have the text that we know and can see with the naked eye running like that.

Skip to 5 minutes and 38 seconds And we can see there’s no example of any underwriting underneath.

Methods of analysis and technology

In this film, Sarah Kilroy discusses research using modern technology and methods of analysis.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

The Birmingham Qur'an: Its Journey from the Islamic Heartlands

University of Birmingham