As an add-on to my journey to Salon St. Petersburg, and as part of my ongoing pursuit of information related to parchment/vellum, I visited the University of York to meet with Professors Matthew Collins, Professor of Archaeology, University of York and Stephen Milner, Serena Professor of Italian, Department of Italian Studies, University of Manchester.

They along with an interdisciplinary team of colleagues are collaborating on projects using ZooMS (ZooArchaeology by Mass Spectrometry) for species identification of parchment manuscripts, documents and early printed books using noninvasive peptide mass fingerprinting.

ZooMS uses the collagen, which is what parchment is made up of, as a molecular barcode to read the identity and quality of the animal skin, be it goat, calf or sheep.

Using ZooMS, research is ongoing to advance the understanding of these noninvasive biomolecular techniques to inform those in the fields of humanities, science and conservation about what lies on the surface of parchment documents, much like a microbial palimpsest.

It was truly thrilling and inspiring to hear about the progress of this work. I am grateful to Stephen and Matthew for hosting me in beautiful York, England and for sharing their respective research.

For those interested, the following video describes the process of ZooMS, as it relates to species identification of parchment using peptide mass fingerprinting.

You may also click here for a related article on a study to identify the animal origin of the vellum used in the prolific production of 13th century pocket bibles titled Animal Origin of 13th-century Uterine Vellum Revealed Using Noninvasive Peptide Fingerprinting.”


Matthew Collins is Professor of Archaeology at the University of York and founder of BioArCh, a joint initiative between the Departments of Biology, Chemistry and Archaeology. Professor Collins is recipient of a Niels Bohr Professorship.

Stephen Milner is Serena Professor of Italian, Department of Italian Studies, School of Arts, Languages and Cultures at University of Manchester. Follow his work using ZooMS for Manutius in Manchester at manutiusinmanchester.wordpress.com,  on facebook, and on Twitter at @ManutiusinManc.

Identifying Parchment Origins in York