Visualising Macroscopic Deterioration of Parchment and Writing via Multispectral Images (a short report)

Monday at lunch time we gathered in the Seminar room to listen to Alejandro Giacometti’s talk about multispectral images and their potentials in helping recover data in damaged manuscripts.

Before I get into details about the talk I have to admit I don’t know much about multispectral images, nor about the physical properties of cultural heritage documents. I found my point of interest where the RGB spectrum gets broken down into smaller chunks and specific wavelength ranges, including infrared and ultraviolet, could help reveal a hidden world we thought destroyed and long gone.

After Alejandro introduced us to the project, showed us how he and his team deteriorated a deaccessioned 1753 parchment manuscript through chemical and mechanical agents to simulate damages that could occur to documents through time, he then demonstrated how multispectral images, coupled with custom metric, can help recover information and also determine what possible events the manuscripts went through.

The differences between images can be impressive, for example an image partially covered with aniline dye looks blackened to the naked eye, but would reveal a still readable text when the wavelengths are leaning towards the infrared. It’s basically like a filter was applied and the content revealed based on what you were looking for.

Imaged sample of the treated parchment.
Imaged sample of the treated parchment.

Although the results of this experiment are immediately recognisable when focusing on the text, Alejandro’s project was not specifically trying to find lost texts, but to create a register of imaging methods and wavelengths with a statistical record of how effective each was at recovering text lost to different kinds of damage.

This is new and early research, with a large potential for further work, but with the opportunity to keep the study going, Alejandro sees the potential to run more tests, combine several agents to simulate real life events to broaden and refine the metric that could give historians a very powerful tool to recover more data from cultural heritage documents, whether they were damaged by a glass of wine dropped by an absent-minded scribe, a fire in a library, their parchments scraped and used multiple times or simply because of the natural course of time.

Next month is time for a tougher audience: Alejandro will be presenting in front of the Viva committee and this is our chance to wish him good luck!

Also working on this project:

  • Alberto Campagnolo
  • Lindsay MacDonald
  • Simon Mahony
  • Melissa Terras
  • Stuart Robson
  • Tim Weyrich
  • Adam Gibson

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