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Analysis of the Book of Kells

Laser analysis of the Book of Kells

Analysis of the Book of Kells

As part of a Long Room Hub research project, the Preservation and Conservation Department, in collaboration with the Manuscripts and Archives Research Library and the School of Physics, has been investigating the materials used for the Book of Kells. The project aims to identify the pigments and binding media, as well as their source of supply, and also to evaluate the degree of change of the materials in relation to the stability of the manuscript and to the original intent of the creators. Due to the importance of the manuscript all methods of examination must be non-destructive.

The first investigations were carried out using micro-Raman spectroscopy with results presented at the BA Festival of Science 2005, and in the Journal of Raman Spectroscopy in 2009.

For the study a HORIBA Jobin Yvon labRAM HR was fitted with remote probe superheads with two separate laser wavelengths (632.8nm HeNe and 532 nm Nd:YAG). With this technique some of the predominant pigments used on the more richly decorated folios have been confirmed. The results highlight the sophisticated use of a restricted palette of organic and mineral pigments. These have been applied with great creativity, as pure colour, and as simple mixtures. Variety has been achieved though considered juxtaposition and simple layering.

Pigments identified include:

blue (indigo), red-orange (red lead), yellow (orpiment), green (indigo and orpiment; verdigris), black (carbon and iron gall ink), and white (gypsum).