Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Breakthrough: A New Method for Dating Manuscripts

Dr. Emma Hoffnarr

            Today I am joined by Dr. Emma Hoffnarr, senior professor in Microengineering at the Delft University of Technology in Denmark.  She is here today to share some news of an important development in manuscript-dating methods.  Welcome, Dr. Hoffnarr.

Dr. Emma Hoffnarr:  Thank you.  Hello, friends in the United States.

JS:  Dr. Hoffnarr, please tell us:  what is sonic cavitation, and how does it help determine the production-date of ancient manuscripts?

Dr. Hoffnarr:  First of all, the limits of this new method must be emphasized:  it cannot be used on papyrus, and it does not necessarily indicate the date of the production of a manuscript, complete with ink and illuminations, but the production of the parchment from which the manuscript was made.  Old parchment could be accessed, in theory, by relatively recent scribes producing a manuscript.   On top of that, we have not ruled out the possibility that the ingredients in some pigments could throw off the results.  Lingering difficulties remain; this method does not solve them all.       

JS:  But what does it do? 

Dr. Hoffnarr:  This type of sonic cavitation involves a multi-step process.  First, most of a parchment sheet from a manuscript is immersed in a diluted phosphate-free non-ionic alkaline fluid.  Then a combination of massive infrasound-waves is combined with oscillating high-frequency sound waves.  A gentle electrical charge is introduced via piezoelectric transduction, causing a reaction similar in effect to triboelectric agitation – but instead of extracting a sample from the surface of the parchment, sonic cavitation uses a hydrophonic method of generating micro-bubbles, which affect the entire parchment. The risk of focusing on a contaminated portion of the sample, which can happen with simple triboelectric cleaning, is greatly reduced or eliminated.

JS:  Doesn’t that damage or destroy the parchment?

Dr. Hoffnarr:  The amount of extracted material is enough to facilitate dating, but still very small.  In our experiments, the owners of the manuscripts we used when developing this method said that the only difference they could see, after the process, was that their manuscripts were slightly cleaner than before. To the naked eye, even the patina remains intact.

JS:  Please continue.

Dr. Hoffnarr:  This process is then repeated, focusing exclusively on the fold-line area of the parchment.  This provides a check on the first sample.  After the sample-sets are collected, they both undergo rigorous radiometric tests, from which a production-date is established. 

JS:  How accurate are the results?

Dr. Hoffnarr:  Some test results have been recently delayed due to the widespread temporary shutdown of laboratories, but I can report that out of seven manuscripts which had their production-dates affirmed via colophons, sonic cavitation has resulted in the extraction of samples which were dated to within 50 years of the known production-date, in all seven cases.  

JS:  So this sampling method has a perfect record!

Dr. Hoffnarr:  So far, yes.  It is very promising.  The main disadvantage is the limited availability of the method.

JS:  Please explain.
Dr. Klaus Ulysses

Dr. Hoffnarr:  Danish government officials raised objections to our work when we first began developing sonic cavitation for the purpose of extracting sample-material from manuscripts, on the grounds that the generation of massive infrasound-waves violated a certain treaty which all European countries are obligated to observe.  [Probably the RUCCW – JSJ]  We believe that their concern was that the device which generates massive infrasound-waves may be capable of being adapted for nefarious purposes, and be turned into a superweapon. 
            As things turned out, the then-director of my department at the university, Dr. Klaus Ulysses, arranged to move the entire laboratory to a new location outside the jurisdiction of the European Union:  an extension-site of Faroe Islands University.   Although Klaus has since moved on to other projects, his dedication to this ground-breaking research resulted in the world’s first fully operational center for conducting sonic cavitation using massive infrasound-waves, not far from the village of Klaksvik.  Situated on the island of Kunoy, it is in an underground facility which was originally constructed as a bunker during the British occupation in World War II.  Solid mountain rock naturally protects the outside world from both the massive infrasound-waves and the oscillating high-frequency sound waves. 

Klaksvik, in the Faroe Islands
JS:  So, this process is completely safe?  No one has experienced painful headaches, or gone deaf?

Dr. Hoffnarr:  The researchers are not on-site during the sample-extraction, so there is no possibility that exposure to infrasound will induce painful headaches or deafness.  Our entire process is carried out remotely.  Some unusual sonoluminescence from a large pod of pilot whales in the area occurred on one occasion when the infrasound equipment was in use, but afterwards everything went back to normal.  Keeping our technicians safe is a high priority. 
            Discovering the production-dates of ancient parchments via sonic cavitation is completely safe.  And there is absolutely no risk that this technology could be re-engineered into a superweapon against which there is no defense.  Getting accurate production-dates through this method is also virtually non-invasive and ecologically benign. 

JS:  Truly exciting news.  Thank you for sharing it with us! 

Dr. Hoffnarr:  You’re welcome.  Have a happy Easter

For more information about sonic cavitation, see this article from the journal Annales Societatis Scientiarum Faeroensis – Supplementa.

Readers are encouraged to double-check the data in this post.


John Podgorney said...

All I can say is, Impressive work."

Steven Avery said...
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