Though thousands of them have survived, until very recently, it was difficult -- if not impossible -- to totally nail down the age of manuscripts from the Middle Ages. Scientific American brings news that all of that is about to change:
Timothy Stinson, an associate English professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, has started using DNA testing to track the history and age of medieval manuscripts. His goal: to create a DNA database from the books with known publication dates and places (such as calendars and histories) in an effort to use the genetic information gleaned from them as a baseline to date those manuscripts whose backgrounds are unknown.
“There are these tantalizing hints that this would work for parchment,” he says of the DNA testing, “but no one was really using it.” He says that in addition to tracing the roots of written documents, genetic clues may help piece together manuscripts that were separated over time.The full piece is here.