Honors Theses

Date of Award


Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis


Chemistry and Biochemistry

First Advisor

Jason Ritchie

Relational Format



This paper examines the physical and chemical composition of iron gall ink, how such composition has changed throughout its use in history, and the current chemical, digital, and multi-spectral methods by which the digital humanities use to preserve ancient texts inscribed with such ink. By using spectral technology, I hypothesized it possible to date and locate the geographic origin of ink based on its chemical composition. Uv-vis, fluorescence, and micro-XRF spectrometry were used to analyze elemental composition. Ink samples were made to simulate the ink on ancient manuscripts for UV-vis and fluorescence spectral analysis. Micro-XRF was performed on the Vercelli Book and Codex A, two ancient manuscripts located in the Museo del Tesoro del Duomo in Vercelli, Italy. A multi-spectral light system and camera was also used to take photographs of the ancient manuscripts upon various wavelength exposures. I also hypothesized that thermography could help historians detect lost and valuable inscriptions within the parchment binding without damage to the manuscript. Thermographic imaging was performed on the same ink on parchment samples used for UV-vis and fluorescence analysis. While the UV-vis spectroscope and fluorometer were not promising in distinguishing the difference between chemically different inks, the micro-XRF proved sensitive enough to provide information regarding the chemical makeup of ink on parchment. This information can be used to further date and locate a manuscript's origin. The multi-spectral camera proved its capacity to obtain data on ink absorption during ultraviolet, visible, and infrared exposure. After micro-XRF analysis, the chemical makeup of the ink within the Codex A and Vercelli book strongly suggest the ink is of the iron gall and Theophilus type, respectively. The thermographer also proved successful in relaying ink presence across a leather binding.

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